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.

 

 

 

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.

Night Fridge

There is something sacred about those long short nights of late pregnancy. It seems most of us find ourselves lit by the dull glow of the fridge in a sleeping house, too hungry or uncomfortable to sleep.

For some women, the temptation then is milk, or ice cream direct from the carton. For me, it’s the toaster all the way: a half bagel or, before I had kids old enough to demand their share, Poptarts (don’t they know Poptarts are bad for you!).

In those moments, the birth of this new person seems a source of incredulity, even as she squirms determinedly in your belly, resolutely human in her tiny hiccups, pointy heels applied to your ribs.

In those strange night moments when I was pregnant with Pippin, often I’d talk to my sister, just finishing her shift at a show venue in Brooklyn. Our lives then we’re so incomprehensibly different, each as improbable as the other.

Mostly, though, I slump down by the fridge door and chew meditatively. I turn on a lamp, not too bright, and sneak a few pages of my book. In my best moments, I pray. As birth gets nearer, I find it increasingly difficult to concentrate, sausaged into whatever mortifying pajamas I still fit, possibly too big to easily get back off the sofa.

“Sleep now while you can,” older women always say, and I want to sock those well-meaning ladies in the nose. Soon, I know, I’ll be able to roll in bed whenever I want. I’ll go whole hours without having to pee and eat dinner with heartburn impunity. Best of all, I’ll have this unknowable little person in my arms, no longer scrunched so uncomfortably into my innards. I try to remember, as I eat my bagel slowly in the dim, hushed house.

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A better-lit afternoon solo snack

The Bonus Baby

When I was growing up, all my close friends were the product of still-married couples who had two children, two or three years apart. All of them. It wasn’t until I was in college that I really got to know people from really big families (11 kids!) or only children raised by single mothers.

So I guess it’s not surprising that this spring I found myself newly and surprisingly pregnant, trying to push our crappy double stroller along the uneven pavement of Charleston, mildly panicking about how we’d decided to Go Big on this parenting thing.

We were looking for a coffee shop open early enough for preschooler/ravenous pregnant lady breakfast schedules into which I could cram the giant stroller. (I’m not sure where J was, possibly at the conference.) I wasn’t sick yet and certainly not visibly pregnant, but already I felt conspicuous among the toned and carefree early morning joggers huddled around their espressos.

I have struggled a bit with getting my head around this pregnancy. It made sense to everyone around me and to myself that I would endure pregnancy again to give Pip a sibling. In the circle I grew up in, it’s just what you do, and J and I love our siblings so much. But now am I just a glutton for punishment? Now that I’m visibly pregnant, a (socially awkward? creepy?) man in the library elevator commented, “You must really enjoy being pregnant.”

Um, I hate it.

But I love this bonus baby of ours. I love the idea of Scout being a big sister. I’m even looking forward to most of the newborn insanity, after Scout’s cheery babyhood helped redeem Pippin’s tense and somewhat lonely infancy.

I like the idea of a big family gathered around our first real, grownup dining room table, love to imagine the kids piled like puppies in our none-too-big house. J and I debate the probabilities that this will finally be our brown-haired, brown-eyed baby, resign ourselves to discussing minivans. Three. How did we get here?

It’s a little crazy, by the standards by which I was raised, but exciting, too. Three feels like extra credit or a symptom of insanity, depending on your perspective. And I do worry sometimes that we’ve asked too much of God: I’m halfway through my third barfy but remarkably uncomplicated pregnancy. I’ve got two rosily healthy, generally charming non-prodigies who mostly bring joy to the world. So many people struggle for one child, and here I am getting greedy with number three.

But having or not having my own babies will not help those who struggle to have their own, and occasionally worrying I’ve gotten too big for my (maternity) britches doesn’t negate the unique wonders we will encounter when we meet sweet Roo. She is number three, a tipping point in our family’s history, but more importantly, her own tiny, miraculous person. Even if I have three more (oh help), I don’t see that wonder getting old.

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Unique person 1

 

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Unique person numero dos

 

Names and Taking Up Space

Several years ago, I was in grad school and working two jobs, and at one there was a Kate Bowers and the other a Katherine Dower-Something. It was then I started to use Katherine Grimm Bowers professionally, and when I found myself listed under “Grimm Bowers” and not “Bowers” at a conference, I thought, hey, I like the sound of that.

I was 22 when I got married and had no compelling reason not to change my name, but it’s never sat all that well with me, even nine years in, especially when I get the whole “Mrs John Bowers” treatment. (Um, what? Have I been subsumed?)

And yet I still feel a little persnickety using both. I don’t actually care much if you use the Grimm in addressing me, but I still feel kind of bossy to work it in there. A friend who uses her first and middle name (without a hyphen) says she feels the same way sometimes.

But seriously, how is this high maintenance? A name is too important to cater to someone else’s convenience. My son is pretty uniformly called Pippin but his full name is Thomas Joseph Peregrine. This confuses people, and means I have to make notes on paperwork sometimes. But so what? He gets to be called a name he likes and that suits him, and later on he’ll have a more dignified name, one that honors a beloved uncle, if he decides he wants it.

It’s just something I’ve been thinking about as we settle on a name for this babe. I don’t want to burden her with something ungainly that she has to explain to everyone she meets, but neither do I want to opt for bland and palatable over meaningful. Names grow, and I want to give her space to make her name her own.

Introducing…Buttercup Urglegrew Bowers!

Should crop out mess, can’t be bothered.

Ravenclaw, Ambition and Family Life

J and I are 31, which means we were about Harry Potter’s age when the books debuted, although we were engaged and 21 when his story ended. It’d be an understatement to say that the books were a big part of our adolescent years, and we’ve known for certain that ours was a mixed marriage from the beginning: an ISFJ Hufflepuff to a handsome ENTP Gryffindor.

Except, we recently took that 20th anniversary Time Magazine Sorting Hat Quiz and both got Ravenclaw.

Wait, what?

Neither of us would describe ourselves or each other as particularly ambitious, we admitted, discussing the highly scientific results as we walked the kids to the park after dinner on a recent evening. Geeky, sure. Bookish, each to our own varying degrees. But aren’t Ravenclaws supposed to be pretty driven?

I mean, maybe in college. J double majored in math and computer science and racked up accolades racing bikes. I nerded out on Great Books and English lit, and for awhile, entertained ideas of a PhD in English.

But these days? Not really. I wrote a friend recently that I particularly value jobs with very low stakes. I’d love to someday to work another Tiny Job, and I found teaching at homeschool co op last fall to be surprisingly rewarding. But I made it clear in grad school and to my library directors that I had no real ambition to join their ranks someday, and it would be a-ok with me if I never worked a traditional 9-5 job.

J, on the other hand, is absolutely terrific at his job, best I can tell, but chose a job based on work-life balance and geography, not prestige, and doesn’t intend to job hop if we can possibly help it. He tries to do enough to do right by his colleagues and students, but doesn’t obsess. I love that about him.

On our walk, J pointed out he’d been reading a biography of Eli Musk, and could see how he’d love that kind of intense work environment if he didn’t have a family. Sure, I agreed. When I was applying for Tiny Jobs and awaiting Pippin’s birth, I’d often come across 40-hour youth services library jobs that appealed to me — if I wasn’t already expecting a rather time-consuming tiny human.

Ultimately, we decided our ambitions have just shifted as we grew older. We’re not go-with-the-flow on everything: we know what we want for our family, and work for it, from building a family culture to enduring long seasons of illness to welcome tiny new members. We try to be deliberate about all our choices: whether to continue being a one-car family, how to arrange bedrooms in our house, how to steep our family in faith. That means toning down some of the other outlets into which we’ve traditionally poured our energies. It’s not Hufflepuff peaceableness or Gryffindor careless bravado, but selective Ravenclaw ambition after all.

So, hello, fellow Ravenclaws, I guess.

Drinking my daily Ensure while morning sick and nursing because ONWARD AND UPWARD