I don't have a clock in the kitchen -- there's probably one in a box somewhere, but I haven't managed to take it out and plug it in. When I started trying to feed him, though, it was light out, and now twilight is dripping blue through the kitchen window, and the fireflies are shouting silently to each other in the parking lot. I made noodles, which he wouldn't eat, and cut-up hot dogs, which he threw on the floor, and stewed carrots, which I knew weren't going to go over well but I was out of ideas. Then I gave up and gave him some candy. I washed off the hot dogs, and I really meant to eat his rejected dinners myself, because we can't afford to be wasting food right now. And I'm trying to eat it, but mostly I'm so wiped out that I'm just staring, sitting at the plastic-covered table with my hands between my knees and letting it all go cold. I watch my son meticulously sorting M&Ms, a cool blue angel in the fading light.

I overcooked the noodles pretty severely while I was talking to Mom on the phone, and I wonder if maybe he's simply a budding gourmand. He's not fussy, I tell myself, not ornery, not in his terrible twos -- he just likes his pasta al dente. I mean, look at him with those M&Ms. I haven't turned on the light in the kitchen yet, and everything is washed in a darkening blue. The peach-colored light of the parking lot lamps backlights his fine web of hair, but the colors of the M&Ms are dulling into obscurity -- the red going slowly black, the blue weirdly vivid but barely distinguishable from the green. It doesn't seem to faze him. He is fixated, his chubby hands carefully picking color from color. Yellow and orange to one side, blue and brown to the other, greens directly into his mouth. Reds get flung on the floor, but I'll pick them up later. I'm tired now, and these hot dogs are terrible. He's a smart kid, not to eat my cooking.

It worries me that he's so fussy (discriminating, I correct myself). Not for the reasons everyone thinks, though -- not because I think he'll end up malnourished, like my neighbor does, or because I think I'm doing something wrong, like my mother does. I didn't tell anyone this when I was pregnant, because it might have sounded cold or like I wasn't fit to be a mother, but I helped raise my brother and I know how tough kids really are. People talk about them like they're something complex and fragile, a tiny clockwork bird in a china egg. But a kid's hard to break, and heals fast, and thrives like a weed in even halfway-decent conditions. The world's going to throw some shit your way, when you have a kid, even if you're not young and single with everyone looking at you like you couldn't take care of a cat, let alone a child. But if you can be half as tough as your kid, you'll make it through. Even if he doesn't like to eat, and even if I do some things wrong while I'm trying to be his mom, my son is going to be okay.

But this little food critic, who won't eat my cooking, who won't even eat the red M&Ms... how soon will he see what his mom really is? How long do I have before he notices my tired eyes, my hair like overcooked spaghetti; before he realizes that I don't shop where his friends' mothers shop? When will he start to squirm away from me in public, embarassed by my inferiority, and his own at being associated with me? How long before he understands "high school dropout," and how much sooner will he understand "father"? And how can I expect him ever to understand that your biggest mistake can be your greatest blessing, when I don't completely understand it myself?

He's not the noodles and hot dogs type, this one. He's got better things ahead of him, school and games and girls and summer camp and chocolate with a bright candy shell. He'll be on a sports team one day, maybe, or I'll teach him to paint. I won't teach him to cook. And he'll grow bigger and brighter and further away from me, like a firefly becoming a streetlight becoming a star. I wish I could believe that when he chooses the colors of his life, his mom won't be one of the ones he throws on the floor. But I'm the limp, sad noodles, no match for the sweet and the bright. I'll work hard and I'll do my best and I'll lose him someday.

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