Dinner time shouldn't suck outright. We should all be gathered around the table with joyful bowls of colored vegetables passed with delight from hand to hand, steam fogging the lenses of my husband's glasses as we chat about the day in a state of civilized harmony. But instead of one meal, prepared in klonapin calm, dinner consists of two meals, sometimes even three, prepared in a vociferous clamor. I do a lot of sighing and clanging of dishes while my children beg and cajole and wrinkle their noses at the smells coming from my grown-up dishes.
My kids eat a tiny bit of something and a whole lot of nothing. Each has a very specific set of parameters and contingencies that have been established over years of my own desperation and fundamental bad values. I'm one of those parents, who has completely caved to the needs and desires of her children's appetites, and whose will has been crushed by the desire to see food enter their mouths at dinner time. In my house there are three food groups: Cereal, Pizza and Peanut Butter.
In my parent's house growing up, this kind of thing would never have been tolerated or even been considered possible. My own mother was a cooker of wonderful, healthy meals, who exposed us to all kinds of food, simply and elegantly prepared. I have memories of eating artichokes when I was seven, at first just sucking the melted butter off each leaf, but later accidentally scraping a molecular amount of the pulp with my teeth. Later still I hoarded the heart and circled back on piles of tooth-marked leaves, looking for one more scrape of matter, the fronds translucent from repeated bite marks. My kids watch me eat an artichoke now with stupefied looks of horror and disbelief. How could someone eat a medieval mace dipped in butter? And furthermore, when all those leaves are picked off, if there isn't a plastic Pixar prize in there, why bother?
Where did I go wrong? I love food. Let me say this again. I LOVE food. I'm an imaginative and dedicated cook. I enjoy the ritual, the preparation, the offering and the devouring of meals. There isn't a food I wont try. Sure, I don't want to eat goat balls, but if some guy in a head wrap offered me a goat ball in the desert, by God I'd try it.
I recently wept over a squid ink risotto in Paris. I'd never had squid ink, and was basically unschooled in risotto, Trader Joes brands notwithstanding. When I saw it on the menu, violins played in my cerebral cortex and I vowed that my delicate squid would not have inked in vein. When the first bite hit the front of my tongue, my eyes misted over, and my friend reached out and touched my hand.
I remember a peach I ate in front of a train station in 1985.
I really, really love food.
I've read all the material on getting your kids to eat well. Reintroducing foods dozens of times. Not preparing special meals. Not harping on them to eat. Presenting variety in their diet. And perhaps most importantly, leading by example. In all but the last I have failed every test. I know the advice is sound, but I think it is offered by assholes. The people who recommend you covertly mash squash into the pancake batter are not people who really understand what's good about pancakes. If you can't convince me that it tastes the same, then you certainly wont convince the tiny Sherlock and mid-sized Poirot sitting at my table that its the same. Those little bastards can sense something good for them from 50 yards. They're having none of it.
I also wonder about the people who can so devote themselves to the repetitive and soul-crushing tasks of preparation and rejection. My soul simply cannot endure seeing another beautiful bite of my life being scraped into the trash. Thus the 2o pounds I've gained in the past seven years. Yes yes, reintroduce. And watch those introductions steam in my cinch sack yet another night? I can't bear it. Will these dietary geniuses be there to pay for my therapy, or my groceries for that matter?
The only cure I can see for this disorder is age. Already things are shifting, and it gives me hope. Lily will eat a pile of broccoli. Louis will guzzle a liter of "green juice" (that costs more than a gallon of fuel oil). Their taste buds are mellowing, growing more curious. For this I am grateful. But I've also decided that in this area, if they want to squander their youth on bagel pizzas and mini-carrots, be my fucking guests. In the meantime, I'm going out to find me some goat balls.