Category Archives: Parenting

Back to School

My son Eric started first grade last week. You’ve all seen the funny memes, gifs, and videos of parents doing a gleeful happy dance when school resumes at the end of summer. For some reason though, I really don’t feel that way. So I thought I’d break it down a little to understand why.

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First  –and I know I’m speaking as an at-home parent–  I like going at least a few weeks with absolutely nothing structured to do. I loved lazy summers as a kid, loved them as an adult before parenthood, and love them still as a parent. We get to sleep in and take a long time eating breakfast, no lunchbox needs packing, no running out the door, we travel, go out for the day or stay home … we just get to hang out. (And yes, there’s also a lot more TV. So what? It’s summer!) Why would I be in a hurry to be in a hurry every morning again? For the most part, I’m really, really not.

There’s also the part where I miss him and feel nostalgic, plain and simple. I’m sure it’s not unique of me to feel occasionally sentimental about the passage of time. You’ve heard it before: It goes so fast. And the feeling tends to hit me the hardest at the start of a new school year. When we turn a year older or mark the beginning of a new calendar year, we do celebrate, but then we go back to our relatively unchanged routines. A lot more changes with each new school year.

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Kindergarten graduation in June.

For instance, Eric graduated kindergarten in June. But it’s not until I see the new crop of kindergartners and their parents at school now that it really sinks in. There are new teachers and new classmates. He has a locker now instead of a cubby. He’s literally moved up one floor in the school building. He knows he’s one of the bigger kids now and very proudly displays a lot more independence in many different areas.

So between laziness and nostalgia, I love summer and feel less than thrilled about back to school.

And yet …

If researchers were to conduct studies on when even the most well-meaning parents are most likely to lose their patience with their kids and, shall we say, speak to them in a slightly raised tone of voice, I suspect they’d find a correlation between this phenomenon and summer, particularly its final weeks. I think both kids and parents get stressed knowing school’s about to start. No matter how much we love our school, there’s anxiety over change and the unknown.

Obviously, it’s all the togetherness, too. Let’s face it, Eric’s used to not being with his parents 24/7. And that’s a good thing. An important thing. My kid honestly doesn’t want me around all the time, and by the end of a few weeks of that, he’s probably ready to spend several hours a day where I don’t see or mediate most of his actions.

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Hugging it out in Venice, Italy this summer.

From my end, the more we’re together at home in the context of a daily routine, the greater the danger of me believing the terrible delusion that I can control all the influences my kid is exposed to, and that in the degree to which I control that, I can rest assured that he’ll mirror back and validate me and my values. I think plenty of parents, stay-at-home moms especially, are vulnerable to this. In the first week of school alone, Eric has come home saying some things that make me want to ask him where he heard it, who said it and in what context, what he said in response, and what he thinks about it all. In other words I’d thoroughly dissect everything with him. Then I’d tell myself it’s so that he has a chance to discuss and process it. But I’d bet that a good eight times out of ten, I’m doing it just so that whatever he’s exposed to goes through the filter of Mom, and I once again have the illusion of control.

So with everything Eric says that comes from school, I try to stay aware, and check myself first. If it’s something that could compromise his safety or ethics, I pursue it. If it just threatens me and my delusions of control over my kid, I rein it in. His knowing I’m not a needy hovering parent is at least as important as knowing I’m there whenever he needs me.

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More summer fun!

So, do I celebrate back to school? Yes and no, I guess.

Parenting someone so young and sweet is so much more precious that I ever imagined. And the separation we experience every year at back to school, more so than at birthdays or New Year’s, reminds me all too keenly of how crazy fast these years are moving. My heart aches a little. The tug is real.

But there’s something to be said for making it through another school year and summer together. It’s not a flippant reveling in having him “out of my hair” again though. Yes, there’s relief that the end-of-summer jitters have passed and the year has started out well. Yes, I do better when I have some time to myself for a few hours five days a week, and he does better when a portion of his time and interactions with people and with information aren’t controlled by his mom. Most importantly though, my boy is slowly yet assertively making his own way in the world. I honor that. That, I celebrate.

 

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Me and Star Wars: A 35-year saga

Picture it. Santurce, Puerto Rico. Summer 1980. I’m not sure why my parents thought it was a good idea to take their 4-year-old daughter –who’d probably never seen the first Star Wars movie– to see Empires Strikes Back.

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My older siblings and me around 1980.

All I know is my 7-year-old brother was eager to see it, so all of us went. We must have gone to a matinee, because I remember the sun being very bright. It was hot. And the line outside the theater went around the block. People in the line were fanning themselves with whatever they could find, including pieces of cardboard they must have torn off some box(es) somewhere. Soon I started to feel funny. I pined for a bit of shade, and the makeshift cardboard fans provided only minimal relief. My dad must have noticed something, because he went to move me out of the sweltering sun into the shade. Next thing I knew, I was flat on my back, blinking up at the sky, at Papi’s worried face, and at the pieces of cardboard in the hands of well-meaning strangers fanning me back into consciousness.

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An old movie house in Santurce, PR.

Turns out I have an abnormally high sensitivity to heat. That was my first time fainting, but I’ve been collecting similar embarrassing stories ever since. (Just ask my husband David about our hike in the Grand Canyon when we’d been dating less than a year.)

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David and me the day after I “survived” the Grand Canyon.

Thus was my introduction to Star Wars. I don’t remember anything about the movie except for the fainting, and the incredibly jarring scene where Darth Vader cuts off Luke Skywalker’s hand. It sucked.

By the time Return of the Jedi came along, and we once again went as one big happy familia, I actually adored the ewoks, and the power of love in the final showdown between the emperor, Luke, and Darth Vader moved my 7-year-old soul deeply. But it wasn’t until the prequels came out many years later that I really got into the high anticipation for each new release, and the terrific excitement of watching them in theaters.

The Force Awakens has been an all new experience. I’m 10 years older than I was at the last Star Wars theatrical release, and am now the mom of a young Star Wars fan. There’s also social media. On opening weekend last December, friends’ Facebook statuses featured a lot of Star Wars-screening-related updates. I also saw folks who were earnestly out of the Star Wars loop and were moderately interested at best. Then there were the ones who are so above it all, who had great fun baiting their Facebook friends by faking an innocent I-just-don’t-get-what-the-big-deal-is! shrug and headshake. David and I (make no mistake about it) were super excited to see it. We were also okay waiting a couple of weeks.

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At the movie theater for The Force Awakens. Funnily enough, this was also in Puerto Rico. We loved it! And not just because I didn’t faint this time.

After some debating, we decided our 5-year-old Eric wouldn’t come with us. We really didn’t think he was ready for all that nonstop action and loudness (and drama!). Since he hadn’t yet finished Empire Strikes Back, and he himself wanted to be caught up on the stories, the decision was easy.

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Reenactments are a frequent scene in our house.

Eric had declared, right before his 5th birthday last March, that he was going to start watching Star Wars after he was 5 years old. He remembered it, too. He was a little scared in some scenes but made it through A New Hope after a few sittings. We started Empire Strikes Back with him in July. By now he was deeply invested in the characters, and as soon as things started to go awry for Luke and Han, he demanded that we turn it off.

“What if Luke dies?”

“He won’t die. We’ve seen it. We know.”

“But he could die!”

“He doesn’t.”

“BUT HE COULD!!!”

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So we let it go for a while. Eventually, the frenzy of The Force Awakens got him interested again. He finished Empire Strikes Back almost exactly 6 months after starting it. David and I were on pins and needles over the scene where Darth Vader reveals his true identity. But Eric seemed more concerned for Luke’s hand than the weight of Vader’s revelation. (I don’t blame him.) And there you go. After that, Return of the Jedi was a breeze. We watched it soon, and quickly.

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It’s dawned on me that my kid started watching Star Wars precisely 35 years after my parents took my siblings and me to see Empire Strikes Back. What vastly different experiences. I love few things more than a good hero’s journey tale where evil is redeemed by good. I don’t say this in a religious sense or to sound Pollyanna-esque. There’s immense life-affirming power in the triumph of light over darkness, and that draws and resonates deeply with many of us. This, for whomever doesn’t “get it,” is the reason why we love these stories. Experiencing and discussing them with my sensitive, inquisitive young boy is wondrous in ways I never could have dreamed back in 1980. (Not losing consciousness helps.)

My little man turns 6 in a couple of weeks. Can you guess the theme of his birthday party?

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This is Eric last Halloween, helping with the groceries.

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Three S’s for 2016

Okay. Yes. I made New Year’s “resolutions.” But no, they are not aimed at losing weight or making money. Instead, I set intentions for myself in the new year. The idea came after a bout of anxiety in the final months of 2015. Folks who, like me, are prone to periods of anxiety never know when they’re going to strike. But it’s captured quite well in this internet meme.

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My initial sneaky trigger last fall was a worry about my son Eric and illness. Think the usual worries most moms feel, multiplied by … a lot. Soon, the Paris attacks happened, and the negativity and anger that surfaced afterwards were deeply upsetting. I started a blog post about it and simply couldn’t finish it. My husband David was also travelling overseas a lot in those weeks, and I was in a state of constant fear for his safety. It was all just a little too much.

I went into a bit of a personal hibernation (despite the abnormally mild start to the winter) in which I was just productive and present enough in the daily wife & mom grind, but rendered pretty powerless in most other respects. I rallied and cheered up for the holidays, yet the start of the new year still found me feeling more than a little bit vulnerable.

So I set three intentions for 2016. Coincidentally, they all start with the letter S.

The first one is self-care. I’m sure you’ve heard it before: It’s often hard for moms to take time for ourselves. Even when you’re at home, like me, the time your kid is in school can easily be spent dealing with family and household stuff. Add to that a lot of stressful stress, and toward the end of the year, I wasn’t writing or seeing friends or going to yoga class. I was barely exercising, and wasn’t even reading much. I thought of returning to New York City, a hugely re-energizing solo trip I’ve made every February since 2012, but then wondered if I could justify it, since I’ve finished my novel set in the City. I usually know better than to be a martyr mom or to draw all identity or worth from parenting, but it’s such an easy place to hide when feeling emotionally lousy, that I found myself using family as the excuse for everything I simply had to or couldn’t do.

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On the second day of 2016, David and I watched the sunset off the West coast of Puerto Rico, and talked about what self-care means to me.

Thankfully, my knowing better caught up with me, as it usually does. And I realized I was in woeful need of some serious self-care. For me, it starts with taking time for myself without feeling guilty about it, or trying not to … baby steps, you know. Time for my writing, for reading, for exercise, for personal space and quietude. It’s eating right, and while I’m on the subject of what I take in, also learning to discern amongst the many —many— thoughts that enter my head. I mean, I can be discriminating about food but then accept every wild and crazy thought (and I have some real doozies) that assaults my mind like it carries a truth about me and my world? Uh, no. Right?

My self-care also entails saying no to things I’ve been accepting, which compromise who I am and my values. When I was in the throes of some internal struggles right around New Year’s, I came across this beautiful article. The highlight:

“The sapling doesn’t look to its elders for approval. It just grows toward the light … it all comes down to how each of us dares to say no when asked to be other than who we are.”

It can be hard to say no, but sometimes there’s too much at stake not to. I’m talking here about no as a complete sentence, without apologizing for it. And oh — yes, I am going back to New York City this month!

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Clichéd but true.

My second intention with the letter S has to do with my relationship with the concept of should. Because come on, think about it. If you’re anything like me, you obsess over what you should be like. And over how someone else should be behaving (usually someone who’s pissing you off). Or exactly what a given scenario should be, look, and feel like. Frankly, I am exhausted! The thing about should is, it conjures expectations. Obviously, right? And I don’t know about you, but I could seriously use a reality check on expectations, and a firm, honest sense of what I can and can’t control.

Which brings me to my third and final S, the Serenity Prayer.

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I think of the term change in this prayer as closely paralleling control. Iyanla Vanzant says that the greatest human addiction is the addiction to control. That we fear what we can’t control, and since we don’t want to be in fear, we try to control, control, control. Something like that. Though I may not be in a 12-step program for substance abuse, I must honestly confess that I have been addicted to control, in one form or another, my entire adult life. And it has been at the heart of So! Much! Needless! Suffering! I suspect I’m not alone in this. Enough, please.

Among the many reflections I’ve made on aging and life since turning 40 recently, maybe the most important lesson learned is, growing pains never really end. And at the same time, growth is always worth it. So, time to grow up, like the sapling, toward the light. Time to say no when it matters. Time to seek wisdom about what I can and can’t control. To embrace acceptance when something’s out of my hands, and courage when I do have power over it. Most times, the only thing I’ll be able to control is the story I choose to tell myself about what’s happening within and around me. And maybe, that’s power enough.

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Roasted Kale Chips

My beloved picky eater Eric came home from PreK one day and announced that his class had made kale chips with their gardening teacher. That he’d had some. And more importantly –wait for it!– that he’d liked them. I went straight to his teacher to ask if this was true, and she confirmed it! Whuuut?

So after several tries, this is my very own foolproof recipe for crispy roasted kale chips. Eric’s teacher wasn’t kidding. Whenever I make this (true story, I swear), he says, “Kale for dinner tonight! Yeah!”

(Oh yeah, and right as I perfected my recipe, I saw this at Whole Foods.

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Really? Don’t you just love it when that happens? “Like this or that? Yeah well that is sooo yesterday’s trend.” Bah, don’t believe ’em.)

Start with one bunch of curly kale*. Odds are pretty good you already have the other two ingredients for this recipe: olive oil and salt. Preheat the oven to 375. kale1

Pull the leaves off the stems, discard the stems, and rinse the leaves well (at least twice, depending on how much dirt you start out with).

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Make sure the kale is dried very, very thoroughly. I always use a paper towel after the salad spinner to be extra thorough. Otherwise, if it’s still too moist, it won’t crisp up in the oven. Drying the leaves is probably the most time-consuming part of this recipe.

kale6Arrange the kale leaves on two (half-sheet) sheet pans. Drizzle each sheet pan with a 1 1/2 tablespoon (a tablespoon and half) of olive oil. Toss to coat the leaves in the oil. Then arrange them in a single layer (this is why you’ll need the two sheet pans).

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The single layers is another step that ensures that the chips crisp up properly. If the leaves are layered on top of each other, they will only steam, and stay soft.

*My quest for crispy chips is an important reason why I use curly kale and not the more popular (if we believe Food Network) dinosaur or Tuscan or “lacinato” kale. Tuscan kale is too flat. The effect is similar to roasting the kale in multiple layers or without drying it well; it comes out soggy. Curly kale, on the other hand, allows some air underneath the leaves that helps the chips crisp up. Plus Tuscan kale is often more expensive. This one’s a no-brainer.

After the leaves have been tossed in olive oil and arranged in a single layer, sprinkle each sheet pan with about  1/4 (a quarter) teaspoon of kosher salt.

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kale12Cook each sheet pan (individually) in preheated 375 oven for 10 minutes. When the kitchen starts to smell like someone in your house has bad gas (about 2 minutes in), that’s how you know the kale is cooking properly.

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The kale chips will come out looking wilted, drier, and slightly browned once they’re done. But they’ll burn easily if you’re not careful!

Sprinkle with an additional pinch of salt the moment they come out of the oven (optional). And voilà. Enjoy!

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kalepicstitch1Any leftover chips can be stored in the refrigerator for two or three days. Just take them out of the fridge about two minutes before eating them, and they’ll taste just as crispy as when they were freshly made!

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ROASTED KALE CHIPS

Ingredients

  • 1 bunch curly kale
  • olive oil
  • salt

Cooking instructions

  • Preheat oven to 375
  • Remove kale leaves from stems, discard stems, and rinse leaves well.
  • Dry thoroughly in salad spinner followed by a towel.
  • Place kale leaves in two separate sheet pans. Drizzle each one with 1 1/2 tablespoon olive oil, toss and arrange the oil-coated leaves in a single layer.
  • Sprinkle each sheet pan with 1/4 teaspoon of salt.
  • Cook each sheet pan (individually) in preheated 375 degree oven for 10 minutes.
  • Sprinkle with an additional pinch of salt while the chips are still hot.
  • Ignore obnoxious trend-fixations and enjoy your superfoods!

 

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Wanderlust

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Of all the unexplained compulsions in human behavior, wanderlust has got to be my favorite. I blame my parents. In my early childhood in Puerto Rico, when my father was in medical school and my mother was the sole bread-winner for our family of five, they still managed to scrape together enough money to take us to Disney World a couple of times.

Orlando (1977 & 1979). I’m the youngest.

Later, in the three years we lived in Albany, NY while Dad was a resident in rehabilitation medicine, we’d pack the five of us into the family car, and set off for Manhattan, Toronto, DC, and many other places. There was never a lot of money, but my parents understood well the importance of expanding our horizons. So I learned early on, for example, that eating food from a grocery store–rather than a restaurant–for at least one meal a day is an excellent way to save money on a trip.

Roadtripping in the early 80’s

Upon completing his residency, my father moved our family back to Puerto Rico, and made a vow: That one day soon, he’d take the five of us to Europe. The year was 1985.

In summer 1987, la Familia Falcón embarked on a three-week tour of Europe. And that was it. THAT WAS IT! Before the trip, I thought historic sites in Europe were these boring, abandoned places, visited only by a handful of rich eccentric types. It was confusing that my parents wanted to take us there. But I quickly “got it.” There’s a whole world just beyond my own, awaiting exploration. There are people very different from me … and ultimately not that different. The world is terrifically big and wondrously small. It’s okay to see things differently, and to think and be different from my previous beliefs. Magic is real, and wealth isn’t a pre-requisite for it. It’s possible to be many miles away from home and still experience a powerful sense of belonging. These were just a few of the lessons learned.

The Falcón’s at the Roman Colosseum (1987)
My parents have made good on that 1985 promise many more times than their children or grandchildren could have dreamed.
Madrid (2006)
And they sent each of us on plenty of solo adventures, too.
Clockwise: A summer in England (top two on the left -1992); semester abroad in Spain (1994); camel ride in Egypt (1999); eating pizza sold by weight in Verona (1999); Santorini (2000).
Imagine my delight when I met my husband David, and learned that he suffers from the same travel restlessness as me. Soon, we were engaged, and the adventures continued. Which brings me to the present(-ish), and to my point. Mark Twain said it best.
Oh please, please-please, SEE the world as much as possible. It’s one of the best things you could ever do. And with enough planning and flexibility, it can also be done on a budget.
After we had our son Eric five years ago, our travels definitely slowed down. We are now a very frugal single-income household. Last year we had hopes of visiting Spain on the 20th anniversary of my semester abroad there. Alas, the expense would have been unwise; we didn’t go. Yet David and I continue to agree that any extra money is set aside so we can see our country and the world as a family. Both he and I count travel–and a love of reading books–as the most profoundly enriching experiences of our formative years. This is precisely what we dream for Eric during his childhood. Not surprisingly, he is a natural little wanderer like his parents.
This world map with color-coded pins for places dreamed, planned, and visited is one of the best Christmas presents David has ever given me. (2013)
When we returned from a 12-day roadtrip to Canada and New England last summer, the moment Eric realized we were done travelling, he sat down on the family room floor, and cried, “But where are we going tomorrow?!” Here’s a picture from our trip to London when he was a year old.
Did you know you can fit your stroller–opened, with your baby strapped in–into the backseat of London’s famous black taxis? He loved that! (2011)
Guess what? We’re thinking of taking him again in just a few weeks. David has a work trip. Eric and I could tag along. This trip has been over a year in the making, and we have never thought longer or harder over a travel decision. Among the factors to consider? 1-I’d be alone with Eric in London, not seeing David until the very end of the day. On the other hand? 2-I could be alone with Eric in DC, doing our routine stuff, not seeing David for an entire week. Only one of these options gets me eating scones with clotted cream and jam … in friggin’ England. Yeah, I like what’s behind door #1 better. Do I still wonder if it’s the 100% sensible thing to do? All the time. Our finances are a far cry from when we had two incomes and no kids. Just in case, don’t tell Suze Orman on us, alright? Not to mention my anxiety-prone self is coming out full force, conjuring fantastically awful mental scenarios about things that could go wrong. (I am a superior catastrophizer.)
But we’re still seriously considering it. With David’s expenses covered, the trip would be a fraction of what it would cost for the three of us. There’s this wonderful phenomenon called tax refund. The curiosity and wonder of a five-year-old child are like lightning in a bottle. For me, besides the chance to give my boy an invaluable experience, it’s also an opportunity to overcome an anxiety. And a priceless reminder that the world is still within reach and a relatively safe place, no matter what dire news stories tell us; that it is ours to experience and love; that I can go on travel adventures long after my carefree “younger” years, this time, as the mom. I still don’t know how my parents took their three kids on all those trips. Sometimes, it occurs to me, they must have decided to just go for it. Life is short. There’s a time for prudence … and a time for scones. This time I want the scones. I hope you will find whatever your metaphorical “scone” is, and go after it. Dream it, map it, plan it, and go. I’m telling you, it can be done, and it is WORTH IT.
You see, I’m not kidding when I say we love to travel. Here’s a sampling of some of our pre-parenthood trips. Clockwise from top left: Toledo (2003); Grand Canyon (2003); Paris (2004); Ireland (2007); Innsbruck (2008); and Maine (2008).
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On Martin Luther King, and teaching kids right from wrong (spoiler alert: It’s hard)

MLK1-19-Martin-Luther-King-ftrMy four-year-old son was asking me a few days ago why school will be closed on Monday. He doesn’t care for school being closed, and asks to know the precise reason why he has to endure this. I told him it was in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, and asked him what he knew about Martin Luther King. Here’s what he said: “Martin Luther King was someone who used very big words when he grew up. And then he died.” Technically, what he said wasn’t inaccurate. Still …

My first reaction was to take issue with his school for not teaching him in better detail about MLK. Then I got over my momentary lapse into short-sighted self-righteousness, and remembered that I am the boy’s mother–oh, riiiight–and it is not, ultimately, the school’s responsibility if he hasn’t learned about Dr. King.

So I began to start to try to tell him. That’s when I realized he may not know, at this age, the difference between black and white, or any of the races, for that matter. I mean, it’s just not something we have talked about explicitly in our house. Apologies to anyone who feels that my husband and I have been negligent in this regard. The boy is four years old, and he gets along with everyone (with about two exceptions) of every race that he’s ever met. He knows he is half-Puerto Rican. His friends have been white, black, Hispanic, Asian, mixed like him, etc. I simply don’t think it’s ever occurred to him that these differences can cause people to act differently–more importantly, unfairly–toward each other. In a sense, the reason why my boy doesn’t have school on Monday is because of racism. To explain the holiday to him was to burst his bubble. And that made me kind of queasy.

But I started. It was Friday afternoon. We were driving to Baskin Robbins after I picked him up from school. (I highly recommend surprising your kid with an impromptu after-school ice cream run.) I told him Martin Luther King is an American Hero, on the hunch that using the term hero would hold an appeal for him. I was right. He perked up, and instantly became interested. I fumbled and stumbled my way through a summary of how once upon a time, black people were treated very, very unfairly in America. Fairness is another concept that I know resonates with him. Naturally, though, my mind was screaming in protest about the once-upon-a-time part. If recent events in our country have revealed anything, it’s the staggering, nauseating, deadly pervasiveness of prejudices and inequalities based on racial differences. But. MLK was the topic at hand, and I told myself there’s no reason to force dire nuances on the kid if he’s not asking to know them at this time. He will learn soon enough–and no, I do not and will not defer to school to do the work of teaching him about this.

So I continued. I told him that Martin Luther King thought that everyone should be treated the same, whether they were black or white, or of any color. I consciously choose to use black as the more accurate term. Extreme political correctness all too often comes off as trite and inauthentic, in my opinion. See the story about CNN’s Chris Cuomo just last week using African-American incorrectly. So I try to stick with more transparent language. I told my son that MLK suffered injustices for defending everyone’s right to fair and equal treatment. That he was very brave, and never gave up. So we honor his birthday on Monday, again, because he’s a hero. My son seemed satisfied enough with this explanation. Once we got to Baskin Robbins, the one item on the agenda was chocolate ice cream on a sugar cone.

The challenge One of the countless challenges in teaching a young child ethics happens when doing so entails him being aware that sometimes in life, it feels as though things really suck, with no rhyme or reason. It’s “easy” enough for him to grasp this concept when he is affected by it on a very personal level, like when the answer to something he wants has to be no, and he’s pissed about it. In those moments, my response tends to be something along the lines of, “I know you are disappointed, I’m sorry you’re upset, we all feel that way sometimes, I love you, the answer’s still no.”

For about a year when he started watching the movie Toy Story, we skipped the Sid scenes completely. Dude, Sid’s toys are flippin’ scary to a three-year-old. Then there’s the whole meanness issue. Over time, though, when we thought he could tolerate the scariness, we let him watch those scenes. We’ve used them to talk about kindness and unkindness. About consequences. About bullying and abuse. And about disabilities, how Sid’s toys might seem scary at first because they look different, but they aren’t “bad.” Some great conversations have come out of this. Ultimately, it’s a fact that there are mean people in the world, odds are good my son will encounter a few of them; why not discuss these topics at home, first?

When the world at large becomes involved, it obviously gets trickier. We see the entitlement in this generation of kids. And we don’t wish to contribute to it. But there’s a way of teaching kids about others who are less fortunate that can lead them to feel like wretched beings who are to blame for world hunger. To a degree, I was subjected to this type of morality growing up, and I really, really don’t want to do that to my child.

At Christmas, for instance, we make a shopping trip for non-perishables that we then take to a food bank. We also collect some of his old toys to give away. The idea, as we try to convey to him, is that if we want to receive gifts, we first make room in our hearts by giving and sharing. Again, though. I struggle finding the balance in teaching him that there are others less fortunate than ourselves, without feeling as though I’m guilt-tripping him. Nor do I like the idea of doing something like it’s an obligation you take care of and check off, then pat yourself on the back for it. “So be right(eous) for righteousness sake?” Uh, no thank you.

For now, I think he knows his actions have consequences for others, both good and bad. Beyond that, I strive to lead by example, and stay focused on one thing: that we are all the same. That–on the most basic, logical level–it makes no sense to do to someone else something we wouldn’t like being done to us. For what it’s worth, I think he has a sense of that. That’s what I tell myself, anyway.

You know, you have a baby, and you spend the early stages just trying to keep him alive, safe, fed, clean, and content enough. Then the realization dawns on you (or maybe it was just me being slow on the uptake) that you are responsible for delivering to the world a well-rounded human who’s not a pushover but who also gives a genuinely empathetic sh*t about others. Who knows he is worthy of love and joy, but doesn’t feel or act entitled. You know, all that fantastically easy stuff. No pressure. No big deal. And then … ? We all just do the best we can. How do you talk to your kids about (in)justice?

 

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The Midnight Poop

Pet peeve: When parents with one or two generally healthy, thriving children overstate the sacrifices of parenthood. My theory is moms do it more than dads. You know, the type who love to say, I’m a mother! like that explains all there is to know about them. Like motherhood equals that they never finish a sentence or a book or a movie, or get any sleep, anymore. Sometimes an entire meal for them is nothing more than the scraps left by their children. Worrying is a superior way of being. They wear their self-sacrifice like a badge of honor. I refer to them as Martyr Mamas.

Here’s a real doozy I heard one time: “A friend of mine went to brunch over the weekend. <Chuckle> Obviously he’s single. I mean, brunch? Ha. It must be so nice to be able to go to brunch! I don’t even know what that looks like since I had kids!”
Okay. Let me tell you what it looks like. You get in the damn car, and you go to brunch. Have a mimosa, maybe it’ll help you lighten up a little bit–consider having your husband or a girlfriend drive if, like me, you are a lightweight. Oh and guess what? Kids like brunch, too!

Last week I was in Puerto Rico with my four-year-old son, visiting my parents and siblings, and all of my boy’s cousins. My husband David stayed home in DC, working. A terrible, terrible habit I fall into whenever I’m not with David is I go to bed wayyyy too late. Last week was no exception.

Thursday was night three and I was dragging my Puerto Rican behind, feeling loopy and irritable from lack of sleep. Finally, at midnight, when I realized I was falling asleep with my finger resting on the screen of my e-reader–something I don’t recommend–I decided to put it down and call it a night. My son was in the room across the hall from mine. I still use a baby monitor at Mami and Papi’s house because it’s a large-ish concrete house where we sleep with all the doors shut to keep the AC from the individual units contained in each room. I thought I heard my son stir in his bed across the hall, but still fell asleep hard and fast.

One afternoon, he asked to go to bed for some quiet time. I gladly crawled into bed with him. The “nap” lasted about 45 seconds.

Then I felt the door to my bedroom open. “Caca,” was all my typically crazy-verbal boy said before heading to the bathroom. It was past midnight, and I suspect he was pissed–pun?–about being awoken by a call of nature when he, too, was exhausted from all the family fun that day. Naturally, I got out of bed to help him. He was loopier than me at that hour (this is saying a lot) and cried the whole time, that’s how bothered and inconvenienced he was. I understood the sentiment perfectly. We wrapped things up quickly and he was asleep again roughly 1.25 seconds after his head hit the pillow again. Mama, on the other hand?

What if this was the start of a tummy ache? Wow, even with the monitor on, I really can’t hear him get out of bed or leave his room, until he’s in my bedroom. What if he slipped all the way downstairs and past locked doors and dark rooms downstairs, and ended up in the pool? Damn it, we have yet to sign him up for the next round of swim lessons. That’s probably bad parenting. Ugh, that was a nasty big green iguana by the pool this afternoon. I wonder if it’s in my bedroom right now? [NOISE] What the hell was that?! My baby with a tummy ache? The iguana? Which one’s more upsetting? Good question. I have good ones like this sometimes. Did I say something unkind about that person during the conversation I had with Mami earlier today? I can’t stand the way I feel after I think I’ve been unkind. Boy, single moms are super heroes. I’ve been solo parenting my only child (who’s pretty darn easy going) for three days, and I feel so tired! I’ve got three new issues of O Magazine that I haven’t read–this never happens–and I haven’t even opened the one I brought on this trip. Man, parenthood is so exhausting–Wait! Shit. So there may or may not be a tummy ache, or perhaps an iguana that sneaked upstairs to my bedroom, and now I’ve turned into one of those Martyr Mamas?! Ugh!

These were just some of the thoughts I had in the hour(s?) I spent awake after the midnight poop. My boy, meanwhile, slept like a freaking log (no tummy ache, thank God(dess)!) the rest of the night … until he burst into my room again at 7AM. This time he was fresh as a cucumber and ready to face the day, asking (I think, I was mostly asleep and don’t remember) whether Abuela was awake, to see if it was okay for him to move on to her room as he continued on his top-o-the-mornin’-to-ya rounds. Needless to say I was not nearly as chipper.

At a mall in San Juan.

But I got over myself soon enough. Mercifully, even through the snipping (sorry, familia), sleep-deprived haze of the day, perspective reasserted itself. I wasn’t sleep-deprived because of motherhood: I was a fool who was going to bed too damn late! If I haven’t read O Magazine lately, it’s because every minute I don’t spend wife-ing or parenting, I’ve spent working on my novel. In truth, most of the time, I manage to finish movies and books and conversations. Maybe not in one sitting, but still! I don’t declare, I am a mother! in that tone that implies that martyrdom and disappearing as an individual are my methods of parenting. The midnight poop made me tempted to feel like motherhood is nothing but a succession of sacrifices, but ultimately, that’s just not the case!

Would you believe it, sweet boy was polite enough to go to the bathroom right before bed the following night! As I tucked him in and kissed him goodnight, I thanked him for pooping, and told him how much I love being his mama, that I was having a great time with him on our trip. Then I thanked life for him. And for the opportunity to visit my parents. And for my parents themselves, whose love and generous spirit never fail to draw and envelope all of their kids and grandkids. Life is good. Poop is good. And parenthood? Oh sure, it’s tiring. It is the hardest work I’ve ever done! I never had to be so selfless, and I worry way more than I should. Also, though–cliché but true–I have never been happier. Parenthood is by far a greater gift than it is a burden. Do not let anyone tell you otherwise. And guess what. I still go to brunch, too!

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Honestly? I think you’re crazy. That’s okay–so am I.

(https://www.facebook.com/MarkTwainAuthor)
Since last fall, I have spent most weekday mornings in the cafe section of a Whole Foods store near my 4-year-old son’s preschool, writing or reading while he’s in school. This is his last week at this school before starting PreK at a new school in a different neighborhood. That makes it my last week working in this setting on a regular basis. The cast of characters I have met there these many months includes two individuals, fellow “regulars,” who have given me a lot to think about. (Okay, I do a fair amount of staring. But that’s what makes me a noticer, and being a noticer is part of what makes me a writer. Right?)

First, there’s a gentleman who works somewhere in the neighborhood. He routinely comes in around mid-morning, buys a pastry with a pint of whole milk, and eats it in the cafe area. He likes to say hello. When we were still in the phase of simply nodding a greeting at one another, I thought he was Middle Eastern. Then one time, he stopped to talk to me, and spoke Spanish. Ah, so not Middle Eastern, then–things aren’t always as they seem. In hindsight, I thought that time that he’d gotten a little too close for my comfort zone when he talked to me. You could say that was a red flag.

Second, there’s the woman with the crossing guard vest. From where I sit at a bar-type space on a second-story mezzanine overlooking the store, I see people in the aisles, browsing and shopping. One day, months ago, I saw a blond woman wearing a crossing guard vest much like this one.
I thought, aw, must be a mom who just finished volunteering at drop-off at her child’s school–how nice! The woman bought her food, brought it up to the cafe area, and sat down just a few feet away from me. She got out one or two electronic devices, got on her phone, and proceeded to get into an argument with someone. Loudly. Even though I had my earphones in, I could see her gesturing pretty angrily, and she was being loud enough that I couldn’t help looking up from time to time. One time when I looked, she held her hand up to my face, the way I’ve seen celebrities do with paparazzi, and started waving it and blocking her face from my sight. She was saying things I couldn’t quite hear over my music, but she definitely wasn’t keen on me looking at her. I did one of those deals where you look over your shoulder to make sure the person is “talking” to you, you know? She definitely meant me. It startled me. I did my best to look away apologetically, while also feeling the burn of being unjustly scolded. I wasn’t the one making a scene! The image I’d created of her then shifted to, mom who just finished volunteering at her kid’s school, and who is likely going through a very bitter divorce. Her belligerence was jarring, but I decided to try compassion–we’ve all had rough times. A few minutes later, she’d turned her anger on different folks sitting near us, at which time I took her attack on me a bit less personally.
Meanwhile, the Hispanic (not Middle Eastern) man who likes to say hello to me continues to get a little too close each time. A few times, he has sneaked up behind me, and touched me in the middle of my back. It causes me to jump in my seat. I reeeeally don’t like that. Exchanging a few hellos doesn’t mean a person gets to touch me–maybe that’s just me–and certainly not in that way.Thank goodness the perch where I sit allows me to see who’s coming most of the time. I’ve recently taken to looking over my shoulder when he is paying for his food and approaching the cafe. Now I don’t even remove my earphones to say hello. I simply nod my head and mouth the word hola. Because boundaries. Yeah, back off, amigo.
The poor “angry” woman has continued to be a regular as well. She is impossible to miss, on account of the bright yellow vest, which she never removes. I’ve joked to myself–in moments when my kindness instinct is low–that she must even sleep in that vest. She makes her way up and down the aisles, confronting and berating strangers left and right. Is she a volunteer mom? I’m not so sure anymore. I’ve also realized, after seeing the way she’s laid into other people, that holding her hand up to my face the way she did that time was letting me off easy. In fact, she’s never bothered with me again, but of course, I’ve gotten good at avoiding eye contact. And she continues to be on her phone often, having some kind of agitated discussion with someone on the other end of the line …
A few Saturdays ago, I was at Washington’s Union Station, waiting to board a train to New York City. I bought a bagel and coffee at Au Bon Pain for breakfast, and hurried to my gate. As I passed the Au Bon Pain window, something caught my eye. Bright, neon yellow … The woman in the vest! She was sitting in a chair, surrounded by several bags very full of things (they did not look like the luggage of a typical traveler…), looking disheveled. Sleeping, in her vest. It stopped me in my tracks, took my breath away, broke my heart. She’s homeless?! But she shops at Whole Foods! Her hair looks well groomed! She sits with an ipad (or is it a laptop?) and talks on her cell phone for hours, and they always seem like very important conversations!
Nothing–nothing–is as it seems.You want to know what I think? I think we are all a little bit crazy. I think there is a “crazy” continuum, and we’re all on it. And just like there are functional alcoholics and addicts of different types, most of us are simply functional crazies.
From the beloved Disney movie Up. (Quotesandmovies.com)
In fact, most of the time I revel in my quirks. I mean, normal is boring, right? Who wants to be normal?And then, I remember my post partum depression four years ago. That wasn’t quirky. In fact, it put me much further along the continuum than I care to admit. And so do moments of anxiety and irrational fears, both of which are exacerbated by me being the type of mom who fiercely embraces worrying like it’s a measure of the caring. I know that worrying doesn’t equal caring. But hey, I only remember to know it on good days. Mercifully, good days far outnumber the not-so-awesome ones. But then I have lousy ones, too. And you know what those teach me? Patience, with myself and with others. Tolerance. Fewer instances of such self-absorption that I believe my woes are somehow more unique than someone else’s. Because I remember that everyone else struggles, too. Everyone experiences loneliness, fear, feelings of inadequacy.I talk about my depression all the time now, as though to prove that I am one hundred percent over it. The truth? Even four years later, I feel ashamed of it; even though I know better, I feel as though it was something I did wrong. That is the terrible power of the stigma.I think that the line separating me from someone who’s gone over the deep end is not only very thin and blurry, but it also moves all the damn time. There but for the grace of God go I–there but for the grace of God goes any one of us.
As sobering as the above statistic is, I wonder how many studies take mental health into account in this reality. I haven’t done any research, but I suspect that a lot of people–people we know–are not just one paycheck away, but possibly one deeply traumatic experience away from reaching a devastating point of emotional instability that is very difficult to come back from. One tragic illness or loss, and there’s no telling who could easily snap from functional to dysfunctional.
I’ve continued to see the woman in the vest–always in her vest–at Whole Foods after I saw her sleeping in the train station. She’s looked well put together, doesn’t have a bunch of ambiguously-homeless-looking bags with her, and is walking the aisles, shopping and confronting as she goes. So, is she homeless? No idea.
I do know she’s troubled. I’ve been troubled, too. Everyone has. So who are we to judge anyone, no matter how worse off they seem compared to us? It’s all an illusion.These days, I find myself in a bit of a(n internal) tizzy over my little boy starting a new school next month, and the sadness over saying goodbye to his first preschool and a teacher he loves. I know it’s only PreK, but it will be the first time that he’s in school all day, five days a week. And it feels a little bit as though he might as well be moving out of the house. I mean, it seems like only yesterday I found out I was pregnant! I look at him and still see my baby! Have I raised him properly enough to “release” him to the world on a full-time schedule? Without our afternoon quiet time, will I still get to cuddle with him? Oh God–PANIC–is this The End of the Cuddling?!See? This is me being over anxious. I bet some of you will think, “Tsk-tsk, the kid probably picks up on her anxiety; she shouldn’t feel this way!” That’s fine. I’m okay at not externalizing it when he’s around. And I would go insane right this minute if I had to control every damn thought I have, lest my child pick up on some of the bad ones. The best I can do is be aware and keep trying. Humor helps, too.

Change is a big deal, man, and an anxiety factor for many of us. I tend to experience many of life’s milestones through the filter of very, very raw emotion. And I believe firmly that this can be a great strength, not just a weakness. (As I bragged told about in a previous blog post, I was taught this personally at a workshop with none other than Alanis Morissette!) The good news is, for all my griping and over-analyzing, I rarely stay stuck. Common sense, growth; they win most of the times. Thank God(dess).

So I’m not at my strongest right now. So what? I’ve been worse. I’ve also seen worse. Being hung up on the past … ? Geesh! Yes, I’ve seen much worse. See what else I just did there? I judged. Am I exempt from the impulse to judge? Pfft, hell no. And because I’m pretty much taking everyone else down with me in this blog post, I’m going to venture to say that neither are you. Listen, we can’t all be Wayne freaking Dyer.

I embrace my crazy self. I work through my anxieties with exercise, meditation and prayer, healthy eating, gratitude, love. I’ve been in therapy, and could be again one day. And did I mention humor? I try to educate my judgmental self. The good news about moments of weakness is they afford me the sort of compassion that keeps my judgy side in check. But make no mistake about it. If the the gentleman in question at Whole Foods manages to sneak up on me and touch my back again, I am not going to hesitate to channel the troubled mystery woman in the vest and let him have it, thus, in the course of one action, enforcing an important boundary with one individual while eliminating the illusion of separation from another. And the thin blurry line is on the move once again. I think that’s kind of interesting, don’t you?

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To Mami on Mother’s Day

You know your mother did a good job at soothing and comforting when, at age 38, any time you are unwell, you still cry, “I just want my mom!” And you know you’re lucky when she’s still just a quick phone call away. Mami still has the gift of making anything better with a simple touch or word of reassurance. And though she’s in Puerto Rico and I’m in DC, I know I can still count on her to do just that.

Beautiful mother of the bride in May 2005.
My mother, Norma Ruiz de Falcón, is and always has been utterly devoted to her family. She is an undisputed hero to her three children and six grandchildren. And her children’s spouses adore her, too. I love watching the easy closeness she shares with my husband David, as well as her sincere admiration for him and how she laughs at his jokes … sometimes more than me!

Mami and David.

When I was wheeled away for an emergency c-section the day my little boy was born, she was the one who stayed strong, who comforted David and prayed with him, while also keeping worried family members in Puerto Rico informed of every detail every step of the way. (Thankfully, it was over quickly, and everyone went home healthy just a few days later!)

October of 2009, I was 4 months pregnant.
March 2010, when I became a mama, and really realized how much I need my mom.
My mom’s grandchildren know that there are always treats at her house. They know every Christmas, that one of their awesomest gifts is guaranteed to come from Abuelo and Abuela. They know she is the type of doting, adoring, indulging, silly-playful grandmother who is an easy joy to be around.
With her adoring children and grandchildren two Christmases ago. Serving one of countless holiday dinners. Getting into the spirit of silliness on a family Disney cruise (a gift from my parents to all their children and grandchildren). With my boy–one of her biggest fans.

Also, though? My mother has followed her own bliss. If she had stopped at devoted wife and mother (grandmother, sister, daughter, member of her church), I would be grateful to her, certainly. But I also would feel a sadness for her, and wouldn’t know what to make of her as an individual with dreams of her own and the need to thrive in her own right. I suspect it would be awkward to talk to her about my dreams, the ones that go beyond the realm of my own wife-and-mother identity. What earns my admiration and respect for my mother more than anything has been witnessing her pursuit of her own path and place in this world, not simply drawing her entire sense of worth from the various selfless roles she plays–very well, to be sure–in the context of her family and faith.

The logical choice for godmother of our boy? Abuela, of course!
The year before her 60th birthday, my mother earned a doctorate in theology. This, in turn, has sparked her interest as a constant seeker. Instead of becoming stagnant and entrenched in her old religious beliefs, my mother’s curiosity has increased in proportion with the growth in her scholarly achievements. And so has her openness grown. This, to me, makes my mom freaking awesome! She is present, never stuck in the past, ever-evolving, adapting, reinventing …
My mother is also assertive. The woman does not mince words, and–this is something I value very highly–is not given to platitudes in the interest of pleasantness. Ever. The last time she was in DC for a visit, her first words to me were to the effect of, “Honey, you don’t look so good.” (To provide some context, my family had been hit with a nasty stomach bug in the weeks leading up to her visit.) She will not hesitate to tell me I should buy some new clothes or replace a pair of shoes or maybe put on a little bit of makeup.

Trip to London in 2011.
With this in mind, words of admiration coming from her mean more to me than similar words from just about anyone else. Knowing my mother is honest, that she isn’t being trite when she compliments me, is one of the indescribable blessings of my life. When Mami tells me she thinks I am a good, devoted mother to my little boy, my heart swells. When she finds me funny, when she says she is in awe of my pursuit of my independent passions (and reassures me that that this pursuit doesn’t compromise my parenting), I believe her. When she said it made perfect sense to her when I started writing in earnest, because she always thought I expressed myself the way writers do, I felt simply exulted.
I am my mother’s daughter, and proud to be her baby. Whereas other parent-child relationships often become more distant after years of living apart, I am grateful for the close bond I still have with my Mami. I honor her. And I love her from such a primal and yet transcendent place inside me, that it’s a place probably only occupied by one other person, my own child. I admire and respect the many achievements and pursuits she has to her own name. I am inspired by her to follow my bliss, compelled by her example to be a tireless seeker. Finally, I need my Mama. Still. Always!
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Food lovers’ food fight

In September of 2010, our son was 6 months old when his first little tooth was starting to poke through. With the exception of a few weeks when my post-partum depression had been especially exquisite, and my husband David had to step in with formula a few times, our baby had been nursed exclusively throughout those first 6 months. We had been told that this was an appropriate age to start babies on solid foods. So, at our neighborhood Farmers’ Market one weekend, David and I bought a sweet potato to prepare for our sweet angel. I rinsed, peeled, cooked it until it was just tender, and pureed it. So exciting!

This was his reaction.

I can almost hear it, “What the hell, man?!”

Baby 1, Parents 0. Thus began our endeavor to feed our baby anything other than Mama’s milk. And then, one month in, with my mother in town, it just happened–Boom! Maybe she deployed a secret technique one evening that she was alone with him. All I know is, just like that, we went from the photo above to the one below. Baby 1, Parents 1. Win-Win! Then we couldn’t feed him fast enough.

What followed were several very happy months of experimenting and making him all sorts of food combos. When the time came for us to begin introducing our own foods to him, things started to change. Again. Maybe one mistake was to start him on bland and vaguely sweet stuff, per the recommendations of pediatricians and “experts” everywhere, before transitioning him to what we normally eat. It made enough sense to us at the time. We were rookie parents in this era of ever-increasing food allergies and unknown scary crap being put into our food. Now, I am convinced that folks who start their kids eating what the grownups eat from much earlier on have got it right.

That transition, in our case, has been an ongoing issue. When he was a baby, I had virtually no tolerance any time something new made him gag. Still, in fact. Is that so wrong? There were times when we probably gave up too quickly. I take responsibility for that. And four years in, enforcing that he eat something new or go to bed hungry is simply not happening; can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube.

Having your child help with the food shopping and preparation to get him interested in different types of food? Done, and done. He loves food in an abstract sense. And he has been exposed to a much larger variety in types of food than either my husband or I ever were growing up. These enthusiasms have simply never, or very rarely, translated to an interest in eating the foods.

Helping Mama make breakfast for dinner (with awesome veggie sausages). Trimming green beans. Declaring that monkeys live in broccoli. (Monkeys live in trees, broccoli looks like trees, it stands to reason…)
The truth is there’s no telling how different things would be based on changing a few key elements in our approach 4 years ago. These days, there are certain things that our son eats with consistent regularity. Oatmeal, fruits of any kind (just don’t try to get him to eat kiwi, kiwi freaks him out!), other cereals, rice, raw carrots, garlic-roasted broccoli, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, milk, yogurt, pretzels, anything sweet. Foods that he eats with varying consistency include chicken (only when it’s been prepared by me at home), couscous, peppers, feta cheese, olives, tortilla chips, pancakes, hard-boiled eggs, beans.

My goal? To be able to go into a restaurant and order something for him other than rice. If it isn’t the type of place that serves rice (and forget pilaf or wild), everywhere else we go, we bring his food. To that end, I spent some time one weekend bribing him with Disney videos on my phone if he would eat the chicken nuggets we ordered for him.

Feel free to judge. All these years, I have taken such pride in the fact that no fried chicken tender/nugget had crossed his lips. Eh, I was over it; now I wanted him to eat the chicken tenders!

This is particularly ironic given how much my approach to eating and cooking has changed in recent years. Home-cooked non-(or minimally-)processed foods, and no meat other than fish–and the occasional bacon. Some examples:

Cream of vegetable soup. Roasting the veggies with garlic first makes it extra special.
I have made more salads at home in the past year than I did in my previous 37 years. Raw brussel sprouts? Radishes? Never made anything with them before this year.
Fish and veggies every week, usually more than once. Sometimes I fry the fish, when we have a hankering for Baja fish tacos.

I obviously love to prepare rich, sweet, indulgent stuff sometimes, too. Using real sugar, dairy, and gluten–no subsitutes. Yet still made from scratch.

Last Christmas.
Because yum.

So you see, we eat pretty well in our house. It’s not as though we are trying to get him to eat lima beans. Boiled cabbage. Hemp loaf. Cabbage or hemp in any incarnation, really. And he has been excited to help shop for and prepare the vast majority of the things in these photos. Will not try a single one–except for the sweet stuff.

I marvel any time a parent tells me their child eats “pretty much everything.” Okay. What I really marvel at is whenever I confirm that they are actually telling the truth when they say this. But I get it. My kid won’t even eat pizza, and odds are good that theirs does. Most picky eaters will eat at least one of the items typically featured on restaurants’ children’s menus. And I have seen with my own eyes some kids who really are wide open, easy eaters. Kudos to the parents. Or congratulations on lucking out? Don’t know.

Meanwhile, we have the first of several summer trips in less than a week. Road trip to Florida. And we will likely go everywhere with our loaf of bread, and jars of peanut butter and jelly. Maybe I’ll throw a jar of Nutella into the mix, for variety. Pretty sure he’d eat a Nutella sandwich! Just don’t tell our pediatrician. And David and I will bemoan the fact that we can’t just order spaghetti, pizza, or chicken tenders off the children’s menu for him. Ah well. Ultimately, though, I’ll still be glad that he’s not eating the “chicken” tenders, that he has no concept of McDonald’s, and that thus far we have been spared the slippery slope of our kid enjoying and craving fried junk foods.

It obviously isn’t about keeping score or who wins or loses. We want him to be healthy more than anything, and thankfully, he is. We also wouldn’t mind a little more practical ease when traveling and going to restaurants and birthday parties sometimes, that’s all. Just eat the pizza, kid! But if modeling behavior is the most important way to teach our children valuable habits, then I have to believe that eventually, our sweet, highly demanding and discriminating little angel-man will indeed eat a very wide variety of foods, just like his parents do. I’m prepared to wait it out. I mean, right … ?

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