A Picky Eating Manifesto

 

Is my kid eating kale salad, or peanut butter? You guess.

I don’t have a lot of patience for adult picky eaters, among which I may or may not number. Margaret Kim Peterson agrees with me, writing scathingly, “Deciding what one will or will not eat becomes a primary means of defining one’s own individuality.” She argues that instead of this identity-as-pickiness, a good eater finds herself realizing that “partaking readily of whatever is offered can be a way of affirming that eating together is at least as important as whatever it is that is eaten.”

Or, as Cat says in that tome of wisdom, Little Bear

“Can you really cook? If you can really make it, I will eat it.”

When it comes to juvenile picky eaters, my parents had three principles. I have two.

  1. Make sure your kid is polite. They can’t ask for special treatment and they should eat heartily and compliment the cook wherever they can.
  2. Pack snacks. A peanut butter and jelly sandwich can get a picky eater a long way, and then the obligation to find something for your weirdo isn’t on the host(ess).
  3. Try things. We don’t enforce this. My parents tried and it didn’t really seem to speed up my transition into a functional eater. In the end, it meant a lot of fights. Helping Your Child with Extreme Picky Eatingwhich I highly recommend if your child is not just stubborn but hysterical and anxious about trying new food, urges parents not to make food a battle field, and so we’ve tried to follow that route, despite our frustrations.

Mantra

For this recovering picky eater and child of a health inspector, potlucks are an act of faith and vulnerability, a chance to try new food, enjoy each other’s cooking, and, yeah, risk consuming out-of-temperature food. But I treasure the opportunity to engage in the social part of eating, and I’m trying to pass that down to two children who are both food-selective to varying degrees. When you eat something someone has made, it makes them happy. Be polite when you say you’d rather not have a slice of that. See if you can find something on the table you can enjoy. 

A recent personal victory occurred for me when we went to pick up a fellow parishioner for church. He’s Congolese and has some developmental delays and we think he speaks Swahili but it’s hard to tell because we do not. (It’s not common in Uganda as it is elsewhere in East Africa.) Greeting us in a mix of English and ?, he climbed into the car and handed me…Mandazi, I think, a little vaguely doughnut type thing. It reminded me of the Old Testament story: Manna being translated to mean, “what is it?” After decades when I would have gagged or demurred or both, I could finally accept his generosity and eat the damn thing.

And overcoming picky eating was, in fact, sweet as an African doughnut.

That’s what I hope for, in time, for my children.

 

 

 

The Special Kinship of Oxford

me at college.jpg

This month I’ve been re-reading A Severe Mercy and while I have limited patience for the lovey-dovey beginning, I love the Oxford era Sheldon Vanauken describes mid-book.

It’s always an energizing, painful experience, talking to other folks who lucked into studying abroad in the city of dreaming spires. There’s so much I wish I had done, seen, explored, but it was only a single fall term, and I was only 21, on a budget, and had to, you know, actually study, too (which may have been one of the best parts). Vanauken writes evocatively,

“Coming back to Oxford, we were always, it seemed, greeted by the sound of bells: bells everywhere striking the hour or bells from some tower change-ringing, filling the air with a singing magic. We explored every cranny of this city of enchanting crannies and unexpected breathtaking views of towers and spires. We were conscious all the time of the strong intellectual life of a thousand years. Despite the modern laboratories, Oxford is still ‘breathing the last enchantments of the middle ages’: this wall was part of a great abbey; the Benedictines built the long, lovely buildings that are part of one college quad; the narrow passage where we bought tea things has been called Friars Entry for centuries; the Colleges bear names like Christ Church and Mary Magdalen and Corpus Christi; and the bells with their lovely clamor have rung through the centuries.”

Unlike trying to find someone from the tribe we lived among in Uganda (hasn’t happened, eight years and counting), it’s relatively easy to find friends who enjoyed a stint at Oxford. A friend here studied at Oxford a whole year, including the Michaelmas term when I was there, and he attended Mass at ancient churches while I vacillated lackadaisically between the union and the Oxford Oratory.  Pip’s godmother was an RA for a study abroad program there the summer before I arrived and lived near Black Friars, far from the “slightly dodgy” flat I’d call home, near Christchurch. I keep in touch to some degree with two of my three flatmates and another woman who studied in our program but lived in a different flat. My freshman college roommate studied two terms before me, and caught so much more: May Day, for instance. And so we reminisce, and I think for the umpteenth time of all the things I didn’t do, forgetting the things I did do: learn to enjoy Indian food, talk endlessly with my flatmates, take early morning walks just because, never ride a bus if I could help it.

Sometimes I regret that I only studied one term, instead of staying a full year, but I would have had to delay our wedding, which seemed like craziness after dating since 17, and I still stand, reluctantly, by that decision. What’s more, I was comforted by Vanuaken’s reflection, after spending three whole years in Oxford, that:

“[T]here we did feel that despite all that became part of us — bells and spires, C. S. Lewis and a host of friends, the face of the Warden of All Souls and the River Cherwell on a sunny day — there was something more, something still deeper, that we hadn’t time enough – world and time enough — to reach. We didn’t at all feel that we were unable to reach it, only that there wasn’t time enough.”

SV argues that this is evidence that we are out of place in time, made for eternity. Our longing that we continue to be surrounded by such beauty is natural, or rather supernatural: we are meant to be surrounded by the beauty of God, forever.

What’s more, Oxford isn’t a forever place for most of the students passing through, even if they’re lucky enough to take a degree there. It’s part of the wild, wandering freedom of college, if you’re fortunate and get to do things right, without the obligations of a family or earning an income as you go along (noble as those things are, of course). Vanauken notes,

“In a way all of us at Oxford knew, knew as an undercurrent in our minds, that it wouldn’t last for ever. Lew and Mary Ann expressed it one night by saying: ‘This, you know, is a time of taking in — taking in friendship, conversation, gaiety, wisdom, knowledge, beauty, holiness — and later, well, there’ll be a time of giving out.”

Though we might be wistful for that time of taking in as we find ourselves deep into an era of giving out, it’s a lovely thing to have the memories.

back cover? 2.jpg
“All this grey magic of Oxford”

 

Easy Only Means Easy

I have a confession: In my life right now, I have an easy kid, and a not-so-easy kid.

At the moment, it’s not evenly distributed — not as if one sleeps better and the other eats better, or one has fits about x while the other throws tantrums over y. One kid is just mostly sunshine and the other…is not.

I feel bad admitting this, but let me tell you what it doesn’t mean: I don’t have a favorite child. Instead, let me argue this:

Easy really only means easy.

Think of some of your favorite children of history and literature. Anne Shirley? Probably a tougher child to raise than Diana Barry, even before you factor in the damage done by loveless years, but whose favorite is Diana? Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer also provided more than their fair share of irritation to their caregivers, but there’s a reason most of us prefer the spice of Jo to the purely angelic Beth, even if one was probably a much easier child to raise for Marmee.

Or think about it another way: I can’t imagine raising Jesus was an easy prospect, especially for Joseph, tainted like the rest of us fallen parents with original sin. Knowing it was always your fault? Probably not a comfortable situation to experience with your six-year-old. I think most pint-sized saints would have been a similarly challenging undertaking.

Easy also doesn’t mean much in the long run, I don’t expect. Will I have a closer relationship with my easier child when everyone’s grown up? Who knows! Will the stormier kid grow up to create a more lucrative, successful or rewarding life? We’ll have to see. Stubbornness and feeling things deeply and getting fixated on interests and failing to learn social skills as quickly as their peers — these are all tropes we are familiar with from the biographies of the kind of people of whom biographies are written.

In the meantime, I just try to make sure I’m not doing anything on my own part to contribute to an easy/tough dynamic: I try not assume that the shrieker is always the victim, and try to look for points of connection with my thornier babe.

And I wait it out. Because this, like so many perplexities in parenthood, is probably just another stage.

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Unrelated photo meant to further obscure which particular children I’m talking about

 

On Curls and Treasuring the Moment

If you want to become dead to me, go ahead and tell me Scout’s hair won’t always be curly.

And yet, I know it’s true. It’s strange to consider, because right now it’s what people comment on most about her, her identity to the world, having finally left behind her newborn bug eyes.

When she’s running wild in just her diaper, her scrawny 23-pound-frame and giant halo of golden curls make her look like some sort of fairy child, 90% uncontrolled hair. She is my faerie second born.

When Pip was a very small baby, I misread a label on one of his onesies as “Just One Year” instead of “Just One You” and thought with panic, “Just one year? It feels like eternity.”

Probably one of my favorite pieces ever published on the internet* compares babies to cake: it’s a sweet, rare, special time, sure, but awfully rich, and sometimes overwhelming. If you haven’t had cake in years, you long for it; if someone’s forcing you to wake up every two hours for cake and expecting you to enjoy every slice, it’s pretty frustrating.

Maybe it’s that I’m almost five years into motherhood now, or two kids deep, but I think it might be Scout’s curls that finally helped me to start concretely savoring these little years as such a brief season. Scout’s hair will certainly darken and possibly straighten in coming years. Someday, soon, Pippin will lose his last, delicious, babyish hand dimples, and stop wanting to snuggle me, as oppressive as snuggles from a sturdy preschooler can feel. Soon we will have the delight of this new little girl, yet unknown to us, but it will never again be just Pippin and Scout, squabbling in the backseat and making uncouth poop jokes.

Summer and second trimester are coming to their respective ends and change looms: heartburn and homeschool and potty training and so much I can’t yet anticipate. So for now I’ll run a hand through these unkempt curls and try to enjoy what we have in this single, unrepeatable moment.

*I can’t find it. I’m sorry. Anyway, you’ve probably seen it: it goes around facebook constantly. I’ll add the link when it reappears.

Commonplace Book 35 (Week 27)

What is a commonplace book? For me, this is a space where I post interesting links, reflections on what I’m reading, and the newest recipes I’ve been trying out — a collection of miscellaneous micro-posts.

What I’m fixing:

  • Cheesy Lentil Mushroom and Rice Bake: something strictly vegetarian J likes, and coming just after an indulgent vacation, it makes me feel a little more wholesome. I would probably be wholesomer if I didn’t eat it twice a day, though, starting, usually, at about 9:30.
  • Sheet Pan Mustard Maple Salmon is not actually a very good recipe, as it gets the cook times all wrong, but makes good food. Another one going into our meatless Friday night rotation. (See the comments at the bottom of the recipe for revised cook times, or, you know, use common sense about how long it takes to cook potatoes.)

What I’m not fixing:

  • Jackfruit the Vegan Miracle Food. I saw this as a vegan barbecue option on a menu in Jackson City recently and thought maybe they meant some other jackfruit but NO. To be fair, I’ve only had ripe jackfruit, which is a big deal in Uganda, but it’s weird and almost foamy and decidedly not good. Maybe underripe, as they suggest here as a substitute for pulled pork, is better, but I’m not taking any chances.

What I’m reading:

  • It’s been awhile since we’ve talked children’s books, and J and I got an excellent laugh/cry out of the illustration below one recent evening. Way to sear the Lord’s Prayer into a kid’s memory, right? I usually really like Tasha Tudor but find this terrifying:

Whoa, wait, do I spot a mushroom cloud? Is that a corgi corpse in the second picture, or some kind of mutant hell hound? These are questions that will haunt us all.

Making It, Faking It

What do you find worthwhile to make and what would you rather buy? Let’s compare notes:

Make:

  • Stock: I like to roast a chicken whole in the slow cooker and then toss a carcass or two back in to cook on low overnight. Easy peasy.
  • Fancy bread (mostly ciabatta, 90% of the time): I will occasionally buy stuff, especially at the farmer’s market, but Pip eats almost nothing I make myself except ciabatta, so that’s a pretty strong incentive.
  • Iced tea: This is new, but J’s gotten into unsweet tea in a big way, and it’s sooooo much cheaper than buying bottles and then I don’t have to lug the bottles inside with my wimpy pregnant upper body (non)strength.
  • Pizza crust: It took awhile for me to find a bread machine recipe for the dough that I loved, but now I’m never going back.
  • Cookies, brownies, cake: I am not against a box cake (ok, I love box cake), but I recently suggested we make one and Pip was genuinely perplexed, and I realized maybe I’m doing some small part of this real foods thing right with him, even if he mostly subsists on fruit and Goldfish. He loves to bake, so I bake, and sometimes, he even eats it.
  • Cream of chicken soup: Use that stock!
  • Biscuits: These are one of the few things I can make now that are honestly my favorite way to eat them. Not that they’re objectively the world’s best biscuits, just that they’re exactly the way I like them. Do you have anything like that for you?
  • Granola: I like to mix it into my (storebought! for shame!) Greek yogurt.

Buy:

  • Bagels, sandwich bread: although I just ran across a recipe for bagel dough in the bread machine, and my brother-in-law made some beautiful bagels…
  • Pie crust: My mom makes terrific pie crust and I struggle to even work with frozen crust.
  • Pumpkin purée: Martha Stewart says this is OK.
  • Ice cream (90% of the time): It gets rock salt everywhere to make it!!
  • Pasta sauce (90% of the time): The only time I’ve routinely made it is when we’ve had a CSA, and that hasn’t been since Pip was born. Might be worth resurrecting, though, because I love the fresh taste when you puree it a bit and don’t cook it forever.
  • Yogurt: Trying to gather the discipline to do this again, because I have a yogurt maker and it saves a ton of money, but it’s so tedious.
  • Canned beans (vs cooking from dry): Why can I not make normal beans? This is supposed to be easy!!

I could list thousands of others, especially if I spent a little time looking at DIY tags on Instagram (no, I don’t make my own pickles!). Things are always in flux, of course, based on where we are in the life of our family. Sometimes it’s a struggle to make toast for the kids when I’m really morning sick, and sometimes, when the baby’s pretty old and I’m not pregnant yet and everyone’s napping reliably, I can really branch out and take on new skills and recipes.

What are your make-from-scratch priorities?

Granola for our mailperson last Christmas

Big Scary Purchases

I’ve had a mantra this summer as we’ve made several big, scary purchases:

It is my privilege to get to make these decisions.

When it’s overwhelming to decide on grouts. When there are delays in installation. When I’m learning how to drive a much bigger vehicle.

I sometimes find the language of privilege a little exhausting. But after years and years where frugality was a cornerstone of life, it is a novelty, if not an outright blessing, to be getting to shell out on these big, scary purchases that will, I hope, improve the life of our family for years and years to come.

There have been road trips where we crammed into our clown car with two small children, a dog, and quite a lot of associated kid stuff, and that was fine, because we then didn’t have a car payment, but now we have the option of financing a little when we could buy outright and enjoying enough space for our totally alarming amount of juvenile travel junk. There have been years where getting rid of all the mold in our various basement apartments was a (plumbing) pipe dream, so it’s kind of a privilege to wait around for the mold remediation guys now.

This can, of course, be argued further. Many Americans don’t have a reliable vehicle at all, much less the opportunity to upgrade to one spacious enough for their family. Many people long for children and would give anything to contend with the amount of junk that often accompanies parenthood. Or push beyond: not only am I lucky not have to have a moldy sink, but in the global perspective, I’m dang lucky to have running water in my home.

In that past life, I was never very patient when people would talk at length about their intense struggles to find the perfect shade of burgundy curtains or whatever. Like, does that really count as a legitimate frustration? In practice, this now mostly means that sure, I’ll talk your ear off about quartz versus soapstone if you’re in the market, too, but otherwise, I’ll keep my burdens of privilege to myself. So maybe we’ll have to go a few days without a kitchen sink this summer. So maybe J had to spend a day of vacation negotiating with used car salesmen when he’d rather be doing practically anything else, and we would have preferred a vacation to England over budgeting necessary home repairs.

It is certainly a pain in the butt to be a grownup and a homeowner, but right now, it’s better (for us) than the alternative.

The agony and the ecstasy, et cetera