Monthly Archives: April 2014

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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Just Say Hello

Last month’s issue of Oprah Magazine featured a piece called Just Say Hello. I loved discovering that many other people also experience loneliness, that it’s a natural phenomenon of the times in which we live. It’s not that I feel all alone in the world. Goodness knows I have plenty of love in this life; I know it too. Sometimes I just crave a little more than I’m getting, that’s all. I have visions sometimes (thank goodness, only sometimes) that everyone else but me is enveloped in vast circles of friends with whom, on a routine basis, they have fantastically fabulous coffee dates, dinner parties, and joint family vacations filled with depth and laughter in equal measure. When I recently learned of the term FOMO*, I thought, wait, I’m not the only one who feels this way? It’s been validating and reassuring to know–pun!–that I’m not alone in experiencing loneliness from time to time.
*In case you didn’t know, FOMO stands for Fear Of Missing Out. Because now everything is expressed in acronyms and abbreviations.

I was instantly on board with the Just Say Hello campaign, and wanted to share a story about a time recently when saying hello made a difference for me. So I’m sharing three.

1. While my 4-year-old son is in preschool three mornings a week, I typically walk to the nearby Whole Foods, where I spend the morning writing in the mezzanine café area. One time I spotted the mother of one of the new boys at my son’s school, seated nearby. After a while, we made eye contact, said hello, and started talking. We already knew that each is an O Mag subscriber. Turns out she’s a writer–nonfiction–who has been employed by various magazines and now generally works freelance. I told her I am writing my first book, that writing had always been my dream. I did it in my not infrequent “but please don’t think I have delusions of grandeur!” manner. It’s something that plagues me, but which I am getting better at overcoming. She, in turn, became an instant supporter of my dream, and the two of us now get together every week for writing dates while our boys are at school. We write together and talk about our writing, but we also talk about parenting, family, life. She has become a dear friend. In fact, we both now have tickets to see Oprah at DC’s Verizon Center in September! This is all happening because one of us said hello.

There are at least two other women who are also regulars there, with whom I routinely take turns watching each other’s things while the other one uses the restroom. We haven’t become friends, and that’s okay. But one of them has referred to me as her Whole Foods work buddy.

2. During another one of my writing mornings, I sat next to an elderly gentleman. I’d never seen him before, but he reminded me an awful lot of my beloved paternal grandfather, who died in 1999. Most people who sit in the café area are either eating a meal, or they have a book, a laptop, their phone, something specific that’s keeping them occupied. This gentleman had a newspaper opened to the sports section, and was looking at it only halfheartedly. He started to look up at me the moment I approached. I said hello. Then I kind of plopped down in the seat next to him and proceeded to my ritual: find a couple of disinfectant wipes to clean up the area where I’m sitting (my family has had a few recent bouts of illness), take out my laptop, iPod, huge bottle of water, and snack, turn on the sound and vibrate on my phone (in case someone really needs to reach me), remove my coat and other things, and put in my earphones. Come to think of it, it must be a pretty ridiculous spectacle–I take a good several minutes to do it all.

I could see him looking up at me from time to time. I would smile back, eventually wondering whether I was bothering him. He then said, “If you need me to move, I can move to make more space for you.” I couldn’t quite tell at first whether that was sarcastic, but I was definitely starting to worry that I was irritating him. I told him no, thank you, that I had plenty of room. Then he pointed at his clothes, smiled at me, and said, “You know, I’m wearing this suit, which I first wore in 1948.” Irritated? No. Friendly? Yes–whew! I said, “Congratulations, sir, that’s quite impressive!” I then went back to my tasks, writing an email, drinking my water, though not without noticing that he kept glancing up at me from time to time. A few minutes later, he got up, and said this to me, “I’ll be leaving now. But I need to tell you this. You have a very beautiful smile.” This moved me intensely. All I could say was, “Wow, sir, thank you. That is so kind of you!” I was also reminded that this wasn’t the first time I was met with the kindness of an elderly stranger at a Whole Foods. The previous time happened when I broke my toe a couple of years ago, the story is HERE.

3. The final story happened in the waiting area of a local hospital. My 4-year-old had dropped “the weight of the world” (this was how my husband referred to his toy globe, in the photo below) on his big toe at an awkward angle. It happened on a Friday, and by Monday morning, he was in a lot of pain, and the bloodied swelling of the toe looked pretty scary. At the hospital, after my sweet little man’s injured toe was drained by three, yes, three orthopedic surgeons, we were sent to the X-Ray Department to determine whether it was broken. It was after 1PM. We had spent the entire morning there. I had exhausted the snacks for my son, and I could sense that he was starving and getting antsy about going home. He had been a trooper, to be sure. I just also knew that his trooperness was fading fast. The only place to sit in the waiting area was next to a woman who was doing needlepoint work. I said hello to her, and to myself said a silent prayer that she wouldn’t get on my case about my child’s behavior if he started to get fussy.

The woman immediately put down her needlepoint, and started talking to me. “What a beautiful, handsome boy you have.” “Thank you,” I said. He and I spoke a little more, in Spanish, and she added, “Oh and he’s bilingual. Good for you for raising him bilingual from such a young age!” “Thank you,” I said again. Then came, “Is he your only child?” Therrrre it is. Okay. It used to be that women asked me, “Is he yours?” They see a Hispanic woman out and about with a baby in the middle of a weekday, and they assume she must be the nanny. I was asked this countless times. These days, I’m most often asked whether he’s an only child.

“Yes, he is. He’s our one and only!” I responded. And then I waited for it. Here it comes. Now she’s going to tell me that children need a sibling, that it is selfish and unnatural to not give my son one. Ah yes, the footloose and fancy-free lifestyle of two parents who, after crunching numbers and considering health and other issues, decide that if they stop at one child, and live very strictly within their means, they can afford for the mother to give up gainful employment to stay home and parent their child full-time in the way that they envision parenting. It just screams selfishness, doesn’t it? Honestly? I have seen people who view the choice to have just one child even more harshly than the choice to remain childless. But I digress.

The woman now got out her bag to put away her needlepoint, and turned to me in earnest. She obviously meant business. I braced for impact. And here’s what she said. “Well, let me tell you something. I had an only child until I was 50. Then I adopted two children. I love them dearly, don’t get me wrong. But let me tell you, I am 84 years old now, and they are still giving me grief. I am exhausted. You’re smart to stick with the only child, honey.”

Whoa! Did not see that one coming. I love it when people surprise me. Can’t wait to keep saying hello!

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You won’t know if you never ask. Part 1, Paris.

I hate being told no as much as anyone, and sometimes I’ve chosen to play it safe and haven’t bothered asking for something. But I’ve realized I regret not asking more than I lament being told no, and some good stories have come from the times I’ve been brave enough to ask. One of these times was ten years ago–this week!–when my boyfriend David and I were on vacation in Paris. It was Easter weekend. David and I had been dating about a year and half.

We took a red-eye flight from DC to Paris and arrived in the late morning. After a long taxi ride and a good nap and shower in the hotel, we headed out to dinner, stopping at the nearest ATM to withdraw Euros. The bank was already closed for the day, but with a machine right on the sidewalk, that was fine. David got cash first, then I swiped my card, entered my PIN and desired amount of Euros (300), and waited. The machine gave me 200 Euros. Then the receipt printed, indicating that the machine had given me all 300 Euros, and that the transaction was complete.
Well … !
Obviously we’d have to come back the next morning and try to get the rest of my money. It felt like a long shot and I was already feeling self-conscious about it, but 100 Euros, then and now, is a lot of money. What was the worst they could do? Say no, right? But I also had this bizarre fear that they’d arrest me and throw me in a French prison like Jean Valjean. (I have weird fears like that.)

Breakfast the next morning consisted of a baguette each for David and me. This was the thinnest, daintiest baguette I’ve ever seen in my life, and it had about an inch’s worth of perfectly softened salted butter spread along the inside. It was easily the simplest meal we had that entire trip, and anything I write ten years later couldn’t do justice to the beauty and comfort of that perfectly fresh crusty bread and butter with piping hot café au lait for me and hot chocolate for David. The non-English-speaking waitress was also a delight. We spent our time with her shrugging and chuckling at our mutual incomprehension, even as we still managed to understand each other on a level that we knew counted for something. Encouraged by such a breakfast, and “armed” with my ATM card, the receipt from the previous evening’s transaction, and my passport, we were ready to face the bank.

“Parlez-vous anglais?” we asked.

“No,” they answered.

I knew only a little bit of French, and the situation wasn’t super easy to explain. But once English was ruled out, we knew that our only hope for communication lay in my multi-lingual abilities. My German in college was decent so I tried that. No dice. And I’d studied Portuguese in grad school.

“Pas de portugais.”

I should say that this entire time and despite our linguistic limitations, the folks at the bank seemed genuinely interested in helping. In my anxiety, I looked at David and said something to him in English that included a Spanish word or two, probably Dios mío.

Then I hear, “Espagnol? Oui. Un peu.”

So what’s French for “Duh!” No, it had not occurred to me to ask about Spanish. But there it was, one male employee who spoke very limited Spanish.

I explained what had happened to him as slowly and carefully as I could, and watched as he translated for his colleagues. A female colleague then got up and left the room with a large key ring. The keys to the vault? Do banks still have vaults? Anyway, I assumed she was in charge. While she was away, the rest of the employees kept talking amongst themselves in French. After enough time had passed, I grew nervous and said to David something along the lines of, “Either she can’t get the vault to open, or this is the part where they confiscate my passport, cut up my ATM card, and have us arrested for trying to rob the bank, you know, go all Interpol/Bourne Identity on our asses.”

A few minutes later, the woman with the keys reemerged. She was looking at a newly-printed receipt she had in one hand. In her other hand? My 100 Euros!  Honestly, for all the misgivings we’d had, it all seemed rather easy once it was over. Something in their system probably confirmed the truth of my story. We’d been so nervous, yet all we’d had to do was ask. To celebrate, I went out and bought this hat which I’ve never worn since.

Pont Neuf with new Parisian hat.
Know what else? After dinner at a tiny, ridiculously charming restaurant on Île Saint-Louis that night, David and I got engaged! Ah, Paris in the springtime. It was a very good trip.
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