It’s been interesting to check out the kind of advertising they’ve been running on my site lately. Expecting something more along the lines of Legos or diaper deals, I’ve been shocked by all the ads for MBA degrees and thousand-dollar Polyvore skirts.
Or maybe it has more to do with my audience; in which case, you guys are classy folks.
In other news, Bridget, my 3-year-old, has been eating one bite of every apple we own.
Or strawberries, or bananas, or chips, or what-have-you: any grouping of like food substances in a bowl has been vulnerable. It’s the toddler equivalent of grownups who take a small chunk out of every chocolate in the box until they finally find a filling they deem acceptable.
Except in this case, they’re all the same. So why, toddlers, why? Are you trying to find the best one? Are you claiming all the apples for later use? Is it just because you’re not supposed to do it?
She loves to beg for “bapples” then scream “DONE!” after taking one taste. Or burritos, or tacos, or whatever else she catches anyone eating and therefore wants. It’s baffling.
But this toddler phenomenon is hardly news to other parents. A more compelling development has been her 5-year-old sister Brontë becoming the house’s new Apple Sheriff.
After observing the drama enough times, she decided to climb onboard my ongoing Bridget projects by coaching her on everything from potty-training to putting dirty clothes in the hamper to not finishing apples. What’s more, I just figured out that she’s been taping these coaching sessions on the iPad her grandparents bought her, which is hilarious:
Of course, Brontë never accounted for how much more fun eating one bite of an apple would become after Bridget realized how much it would torture her big sister. It’s like Brontë just handed her a big, red, sister-freakout button and then begged her not press it.
Generally speaking, Brontë and Bridget are much easier to manage now that they’re five and three. Gone are the days of three-hour fits and grocery store tantrums. Consistent refusal to reward bad behavior slowly winnowed them out.
Or of Brontë’s poop-mural experiments, which went on for months. Making her clean them up, by the way, was what finally did the trick.
Or of Bridget ruthlessly tackling the cat. We let the cat sort that one out himself.
We’ve finally moved on to more advanced kid skills, like not constantly interrupting people and getting through meals like civilized people. Occasionally, they’ll try snotty attitudes on for size, experimenting with the social ramifications, or check to see how much leverage they’ll get from being tragic.
Like the other day, when Bridget fell into some gravel and scraped her knee. Viking that she is, she handled it by punching everything around her, including the air, which made her fall over and over again, growing ever angrier.
I raced over to help her with her bloody leg and she responded by boxing my legs like a violent leprechaun. This didn’t go over very well, because mommy is not a punching-bag. Even if you’re sick or injured.
Which pretty much set off a cascade of bad behavior for the next few hours, during which time her sister Brontë was the perfect, model child: holding mommy’s hand, cheerfully doing everything she was supposed to, and giving heart-melting monologues about how much she loves her family.
Because I don’t know if this is typical, but my kids like to take turns acting out. I think that one of them acting like a hooligan gives the other the perfect opportunity to look angelic by comparison, and they relish the opportunity to rub their good behavior and all of its associated privileges in their sister’s face.
But, growing bored with their good cop/bad cop routine, they changed places yesterday. While Bridget was snuggling mommy and bringing her flowers, Brontë was accidentally spilling huge glasses of chocolate milk and then later wouldn’t shut up about the “giant turd she’d been wrestling” during lunch because Brontë has picked up that mommy’s weakness is finding your bad behavior hilarious.
Yesterday was the day when Brontë forgot how to put on shoes, after years of doing it correctly, and suddenly found the request outrageous. She wouldn’t quit pushing around her sister either, grabbing toys out of her hands on account of her possessing such a “stinky butt,” which probably made sense to her wound-up toddler brain.
At any rate, it all culminated in last night’s dinner episode. Bridget was quietly eating her taco while Brontë somehow hovered in a blur about the air pockets around her seat as my husband and I desperately tried to have a conversation:
John: So then I went to the manager meeting, and
Brontë: I’M THE QUEEN OF JELLYFISH.
John: I went to the managers’ meeting where they were talking about…
Brontë: I HAVE A BURRITO. MY EYES ARE BLUE. I WANT TO GO IN THE POOL.
Me: Stop interrupting, Brontë. Wait until your dad finishes what he’s saying.
Brontë keeps jabbering on for the next few minutes while John and I try ignoring her until it stops. Bridget keeps eating her taco, watching the whole thing play out. Finally, John looks over…
John: Okay, Brontë. What were you saying?
Brontë: I WANT TO GO SWIMMING AT MIDNIGHT WITH THE POOL LIGHT ON.
John: Not tonight, because you’re going to bed on time. Maybe this weekend we can go swimming when it’s dark outside.
Brontë (stomping away): I’m EXCUSED!
John: Come BACK here and sit down. We didn’t excuse you.
Brontë (making a face): HMPH!
John: Go to your room.
Brontë screams down the hallway before slamming the door. The room gets quiet. Bridget takes another bite of taco, her tiny legs swinging under her chair.
Dieting SUCKS, so there’s usually some triggering event that convinces someone to start eating better.
For a friend of mine, it once was getting thrown out of a roller-coaster line by an attendant twice her size. For me, it’s been arguing with my five-year-old about not actually being pregnant. Because she insists that the last time my belly got SO BIG, she ended up with a baby sister.
She doesn’t mean any harm. It’s just that toddlers are painfully honest without any grasp of the social ramifications. Like how she keeps playing with grandma’s upper arms because they’re so “fun and squishy.” Or like the other day, when my daughter grabbed a handful of my postpartum belly and asked why it looked like that.
“Because you lived there for year,” I told her. “Your sister too, before you’d even taken down all the staples from your posters.”
She was understandably confused, and I’ll admit leaking a twinge of bitterness into my response. Even though I should know better, because kids say ridiculous, rude things all the time.
It touched a nerve, though, because my jeans are indeed getting tight. I can still CLOSE them, thank you very much, but it’s not super comfortable and results in some sideways flare-out. My husband looks mildly panicked every time I frown at my muffin top, because it could mean all the chocolate is about to vacate the house.
The weird thing is, I actually lost the baby weight from both of my pregnancies within six months. You see, I’d grown up hearing countless women talk about how they used to be so skinny and had such fast metabolisms until they had children and then never managed to regain their pre-pregnancy figures again.
Since I didn’t have a fast metabolism to begin with, the threat of permanent explosion seemed imminent. So I hopped right onto a diet and exercise program as soon as I recovered from childbirth. I knew I had to unleash a Tony Horton-style dictatorship onto those rioting hormones before they swallowed me whole.
And I conquered it LIKE A BOSS. Why? Because I was prepared to fight that estrogen-soaked battle of making people, but knew nothing of the parenting lifestyle’s insidious creep. It turns out, you still can’t let your guard down once pregnancy is over, because having kids makes it really, really easy to put on weight.
So I’ve been thinking about why this is, and have decided to warn prospective parents about what they’ll be up against:
1- Kids have really small bodies
Once you have children, you’ll never take a normal, grown-up step again.
See, most of your free time is spent in their company. That means if you walk anywhere on foot, you’ll have to take them with you, usually while holding their hand.
And kid bodies are very small, which means their legs are really tiny. They can’t walk at a grown-up pace. If you try to walk like a normal person, the child will trip on the sidewalk, smack their face on the ground, begin screaming and make everyone stare at you in horror like you’re a monster who won’t wait for your kids.
So, you’ll have to start walking at the pace of someone with ten-inch legs. It’s slow, even without accounting for them being mesmerized by the mysteries of sidewalk grooves or the life-freezing eurekas of passing thought, both of which will occur approximately every 15 seconds because kids really don’t care about getting somewhere on time.
Clearly, strollers would seem to be the obvious answer here, except they mean sacrificing the exercise your pent-up toddlers so desperately need. I’ve seen far too many über-fit moms pushing grumpy, pudgy 8-year-olds in strollers to think strollers are a good idea once the kiddos can walk.
2. Kids take ages to get through everyday activities
Things that used to take 30 seconds now take 10 minutes, if not half the morning. Things like just putting on shoes and walking out of the house.
You used to just grab your keys and walk out the door, but now you’ve got to clean up, change someone, and lace their shoes up, assuming that locating shoes doesn’t become it’s own drawn-out detective saga, or that said child isn’t naked, which are both wildly optimistic assumptions when parenting.
Remember how I said kids get mesmerized by sidewalk cracks? Apply that same principle to eating a meal or exiting a vehicle…
You’ve unsnapped their car seats, you’ve opened their door, and you’re now standing on the side of the car while they stare blankly into space. “Okay sweetie, time to get out of the car,” you say.
So they take a step forward and start messing with the parking brake. Thirty seconds go by and you’re telling them, “Don’t mess with that, sweetheart. It’s time to get out of the car now.”
And then they step onto the doorframe, hold the back of the front seat with one hand, then stare at the ground with all the intensity of someone trying to solve the Palestinian crisis. They just keep standing there, as you look at your watch.
It’s all you can do, at this point, to not scream, “GET OUT OF THE DAMN CAR,” except you’ve read about how vitally important it is to never, ever rush a child through trying to do something. Because rushing your kid means being impatient, which makes them feel incompetent, eventually destroying their self-esteem and leaving them sobbing in the women’s bathroom a decade from now, right after their pole-shifts, wondering where it all went wrong.
If only frustration burned calories.
3. Because kids want to eat garbage
Before I had kids, I used to go to the farmer’s market to find fresh, seasonal produce with which to make elaborate meals from scratch. In fact, my insistence on unprocessed food was once a bone of contention with my Hot-pocket-eating boyfriend (later my husband).
I assumed I’d keep my lifestyle up after the kids were born, neither envisioning how much less energy I’d have, nor my frustration at seeing a thousand carefully-prepared meals splatter against the wall.
Or how desperate I’d be to keep the kids from rioting. Ideally, I’d love to feed the kids healthy food, all the time. I do still try, but it’s hard to keep throwing money and time at meals that end up in the garbage when literally every television channel and store display is flashing cartoon utopias of brightly-colored garbage that’s so much easier and cheaper.
You’ll also find yourself in the grocery store with a wound-up kid and a dozen reproachful eyes, just waiting for the looming meltdown, while knowing you could either put a stop to it all with a 50 cent treat, or hold your ground through yet another public episode of overwhelmed-mom-with-the-tantruming kids.
The struggle is real. And sometimes I cave.
4. Because kids don’t eat much
You know how you finish your lunch because you paid for it and you don’t want to throw your food away, only to get hungry an hour later and have to pay for something else?
Yeah, kids don’t worry about that. They don’t care what you just spent on their dinner when you’re eating out and will push it aside then literally start throwing a fit about being “so hungry,” 20 minutes later.
You’d think a few rounds of “Well, you should’ve eaten your dinner then, because I’m not not getting you any more food” would fix that, but they’re surprisingly stubborn. Because kids always plan roughly five minutes ahead of wherever they are now. They don’t remember how hungry they ended up being last night and won’t apply that lesson to this evening. Sometimes I’m amazed the human race is still around.
Even when they DO eat, it’s frequently only a tiny bit. I’ve watched my daughter suck the chocolate out of a croissant, pick the croutons out of a salad, lick the parmesan off pasta, and pick the Shake-n-bake coating off pork chops before loudly declaring that she was done.
My husband cleans up our kids’ leftovers like a champ. It just sucks too much to spend your hard-earned money on a meal that ends up only two tablespoons lighter, so my husband takes one for the team by polishing off the rest. Problem is, I’ve noticed him pushing the kids to order something he really likes an awful lot. Which makes sense, because you may as well order something you like if you’re going to end up eating most of it… except it’s a slippery slope from being thrifty to eating an extra, fatty meal because you “have” to.
Most of these meals, I notice, involve a lot of melted cheese. On the plus side, he’s really been leaning on our 3-year-old to practice her silverware, because who wants to polish off a meal someone’s massaged with booger-hands?
5. Your own habits start to backslide
So… you find yourself ordering increasingly empty-caloried garbage in hopes that your kids will possibly eat it, then polishing off said garbage so you won’t feel like you just set your wallet on fire.
You find yourself keeping a few more boxes of cookies around too, because it’s so helpful to have little rewards handy for when your kids finally pick up all their Legos and use an appropriate receptacle to pee into.
And after a while, that kale & quinoa salad isn’t looking so appetizing to you either. I’m not sure it ever really did, but it’s a lot easier to lie to yourself without all this peer pressure.
You get used to meandering along, taking 45 minutes to do what used to take you 10.
Plus, you may be eating a few more chocolates now, because it’s the only vice you’re still allowed. I mean, after you’ve put all that drinking, swearing, and watching violent movies aside, what else can you do?. Who doesn’t want to stuff their face after 300 hours of Caillou?
Either way, these are some of the health pitfalls to watch out for after you move into a lifestyle with kids.
It’s tough, but I’m sure we can overcome it: start following an exercise program and letting the kids get hungry enough to choke down some well-balanced meals. Remind my husband to stop ordering out for pizza or bringing home fast food before we’re shelling out for whole new wardrobes of pants…
Some parents bribe their kids when faced with an avalanche of tantrums and whining. There are entire discussion threads devoted to the most effective toddler bribes.
Other parents resort to scare tactics. A friend of mine once warned her daughter not to scream in grocery stores because monsters would hear her. Many people, especially those who place honesty at the top of our ethics pyramid, would consider such tactics underhanded.
You should NEVER lie to a child, they would say.
And I roughly agree with them, though separating lies from creative fantasy can be a gray area. The Puritans thought novels and theater were straight from the Devil’s playbook, for example, since they involved people spinning yarns that weren’t true or pretending to be people that they weren’t… a SIN.
Well… thus far, I’ve tried to wield honesty as a weapon when appropriate, but enforcing social norms by definition involves some amount of lying.
My two-year-old daughter Bridget really doesn’t want to sit at the table to eat her food, preferring to run around eating it as she plays or explores, which means dropping food all over countless crevices in the house.
I tell her that we can only eat food at the table, which is technically a lie, because people can definitely eat food without sitting down at a table. She’s able to bust that myth every time she eats standing up, so why take me seriously?
I supervise her whenever I’m around, but human beings with opposable thumbs are surprisingly tricky. She uses step stools to dig into kitchen cabinets in the middle of the night, leaving unholy crumb trails all over the house… occasionally, even decaying bananas or apples under her bed which aren’t found until their funky stench prompts investigation.
Morning after morning, I wake up to find graham cracker bits all over the carpet, tables, and furniture. Demanding that Bridget clean them up kicks off predictable routines involving defiance, time-outs, and repeated lectures.
Even her four-year-old sister Brontë is getting frustrated, and she doesn’t struggle nearly as much as I do with ethical training methods. Four-year-old kids are a paradoxical mixture of wild fantasy and pragmatism, as evidenced by the following recent exchange:
Me (upon finding Graham cracker ground into the carpet again): Bridget, don’t throw food on the floor! It STINKS and we’ll get ants all over the house!
Brontë: YEAH. Ants and WOLVES!
Bridget looks alarmed.
Brontë: Right, mom? Ants and wolves will come?
Me: It’s possible.
Bridget trots over to the garbage can and chucks in a handful of cracker.
By God, it worked.
Bridget stopped dumping sugary crumbs once she learned that violent wolves might tear into our sanctuary after smelling them.
Apparently, my four-year-old had already thought of bringing monster threats to the table… and I just let them slide.
It’s been one of those weeks with kids where, despite all our good intentions, we ended up eating way too many tacos and frozen pizzas.
You know how it is…. I kept meaning to make beef slow-cooker stew, but kept forgetting to pull steak out of our freezer because our two-year-old daughter, Bridget, has been waking up around 3:45 AM each morning to shriek inconsolably for a couple hours.
I have no idea what’s going on and all I can get out of her is the word “mankeys,” said repeatedly in a panicked voice. I can only assume she’s having evil monkey nightmares which climax in her bloodcurdling screams.
They must be godawful scary monkeys, from what I can tell.
Hopefully, we’ll get to the bottom of it. But in the meantime, I decided everyone really needed a proper meal. Desperately needing a break, I asked John to take our four-year-old daughter, Brontë, to the grocery store to pick up the ingredients. Someone needed to stay home with Bridget, anyway, while she slept off yet another crazed monkey hangover.
So John took Brontë to the grocery store, where they had a good time. After finding her Wonder Woman tiara in the backseat of our car, Brontë put it on and talked about saving the day for the rest of the ride.
In the store, John told her she could “save the day” by grabbing food off our list and putting it into the cart. This method has been working well, by the way, for minimizing grocery store tantrums. Brontë seems less bored when she’s involved in the process.
And I heard she mostly did a great job, apart from when he asked her to to grab celery and she came back with some fruity Starbucks drink instead.
Well, everything was fine until they came back home, where John piled all the grocery bags on the kitchen table. In the middle of putting everything away, he reaches into one of the bags and pulls out a ginormous bag of gummy bears.
He drops it to the table with a THUD. We both stare at it.
Brontë stops in her tracks, puts her hands on her hips and says, “Whoa! Look at that!”
“I wasn’t expecting that,” John said.
And Brontë, feigning shock, says, “Wow, yeah… that’s really weird.”
John bunches up his eyebrows. “So, that giant bag of gummy bears just happened to fall inside our cart?”
Finally, Brontë flings both her arms over her head:
“FINE. OKAY, I GRABBED THEM. You caught me, guys… IT WAS ME!” Then she ran to her room in a panic and slammed the door.
(She really caved under the slightest pressure, didn’t she?)
Maybe she’d been inspired by her baby sister’s attempted chocolate heist last week, but I’m not sure how she thought she could pull this off. First of all, she’s obsessed with gummy bears and everyone knows it. She sings the gummy bear song all the time. A better move leading up to this crime would’ve been faking gummy bear nonchalance.
I still can’t help being impressed that she managed to grab such a huge bag, slip it into the cart unnoticed, then play stupid while the checker was ringing it out. But she overlooked one critical element: she needed to pay attention to which grocery bag contained the contraband, so she could later create a distraction and then make off with the goods.
A fine effort, I have to say. she needed to iron out a few kinks.
The dining room chair shoved in front of the stove should’ve been my first clue. I kept staring at this inconsistency while sipping my coffee, but nothing else was amiss.
My kids had used this maneuver to pilfer the cabinets before, but they were always sloppy about it. Cabinets were left hanging open and food scattered everywhere, like raccoons had turned over the kitchen.
And the kids were still asleep, weren’t they?
Eh, whatever. I shrugged it off and went about my day until later that morning, when I plopped down on the couch and heard the faintest crunch.
I tugged back a cushion to see a flash of yellow. I jumped off the couch, grabbed the yellow thing and pulled it out–an empty, crinkled bag of Nestle’s Mini Chocolate Chips–and then, more yellow…
ANOTHER empty bag of Nestle’s Chocolate Chips. Baffling.
I took a deep breath before peeling the cushions back all the way, which revealed TWO ENTIRE BAGS of Nestle’s Mini Chocolate Chips packed into the couch crevices.
I tucked myself onto the stairs, where I could invisibly wait..
And after some time, Bridget wandered into the living room, sucking her thumb. She slowly backed up to the couch. After checking the perimeter, her tiny hand darted into the couch cushions, coming back with a wad of chips. She shoved the chocolate wad into her mouth, chewed it up, then used her shirt to remove the smears of evidence.
I played it cool for a couple of hours while Bridget played the drooling toddler bit to absolute perfection, innocently wandering around with toys like she didn’t have six cups of chocolate chips stashed in nearby furniture. She never once succumbed to her chocolate cravings while I was in the room.
She was shoving Legos into random castles when out-of-nowhere, I hauled the H-vac in.
Flipping in on, I noticed her sudden panic at the sounds of whirling vacuum. Grabbing her blankie, she raced over and pounced on the evidence couch.
She stretched out
“I know you hid chocolate chips in the couch, Bridget. You need to move.”
She looked at the floor, got up, and backed away from the couch.
I almost felt bad about sucking away her chocolate stash. I couldn’t help being impressed by her multi-step plan.
I mean, she’s only two years old, but she thought to:
Get up either in the middle of the night or early that morning to pilfer the chocolate supply when no one was looking
Cover the evidence up, not only closing the cabinets but also tucking the chocolate chips evenly around all the cushions so no one could see them poking out
Tuck the empty bags into the couch too
Go back to bed before anyone was the wiser
Only grab handfuls of chocolate when she was by herself, and
Hold out to protect her chocolate stash until the gig was absolutely up.
It was almost the perfect chocolate heist. The only flaw in her devious plan was not realizing the chocolate would eventually melt and best-case scenario, she’d be left eating handfuls of melted chocolate with a bunch of lint balls and couch threads mixed in.
And her oversight led to the obliteration of our chocolate supply. Now it’s gone and mom will never store future chocolate in that cabinet again, a toddler miscalculation of potential risks and rewards.
I figure that’s punishment enough. She was this close to establishing a personal chocolate supply for days on end and I don’t think her big sister had any clue what was going down.
You’re a dark horse, Bridget, but I’m onto you. For now.
Whoever came up with the idea of offering play structures at McDonalds and Chick-fil-a’s was a marketing genius, let me tell you. It’s an absolute godsend for parents of toddlers to finally eat a meal in peace.
Problem is, I don’t want to spend the next several years only eating at McDonalds every time we go out to dinner. Really seems like someone would’ve caught on to the screaming market need for reasonably healthy restaurants with kid play structures by now…
Because every time my husband and I try to eat at a “normal” restaurant, it’s just a matter of time before our kids turn into drunken soccer hooligans. They kick, they squirm, they take turns melting under the table, and when our scrambling to control them finally frustrates them enough, they start screaming at the top of their lungs.
The crayons restaurants give you are a great idea, but they only work on our kids for a few minutes (plus, Bridget eats them). Bringing toys hasn’t worked. Stern lectures in the bathroom haven’t worked. And since our society currently frowns on paddling the crap out of your kids, my husband and I can think up few solutions beyond one of us marching our kids outside, around the building, while the other one eats by themselves.
Threatening to leave is pointless, because kids DON’T CARE. They don’t understand what it means to work long hours to earn the money for a nice meal at a restaurant and they think leaving is a fine idea. Who wants to sit still?
Recently, my husband and I decided we HAVE GOT to put a stop to these shenanigans, because 1) we don’t want to live under house arrest for the next five years, and 2) we’ve been to Europe and seen little kids sitting patiently at dinner many times. So, we know it’s possible.
We just don’t understand how.
We’re assuming the best course is practicing proper mealtime behavior at home, which means teaching our kids to sit still in their chairs at the dinner table. We used to excuse them when they were finished eating, which usually meant they took two bites before running off to build Lego ships and make Barbies yell at each other.
Now, they’re supposed to sit still until EVERYONE is finished eating, which is going something like this:
WILL NOT STAND!
Our kids are firmly convinced they’re suffering under an oppressive and torturous dictatorship. The new policy changes have prompted rioting and vocal dissent, as well as the constant flickering on-and-off of nearby light switches:
But to no avail. Their butts keep getting placed firmly back onto chairs and the timeouts just keep on coming.
The whole process has about shredded our every last nerve, but as time wears on, the tantrums are getting shorter and the sitting is getting longer. Dare we even say it?
Actually be able to take our time when eating at a normal restaurant.
(Whew, don’t jinx it!)
Any other parents have this problem? Did you manage to fix it, or did you end up hiding out for years until your kids came of age? We think we may be on the right track here, but only time will tell.
My four-year-old daughter Brontë’s favorite meal is pesto pasta, which she calls “green pasta.” She’s usually thrilled whenever she finds out we’re having it, but the last couple of times haven’t been up to par.
My husband John makes a great pesto sauce using fresh basil leaves, aged parmesan, and toasted pine nuts, but he tried to save time one night by using pre-grated cheese.
Brontë noticed, and it dimmed her enthusiasm quite a bit. “How do you like your pasta?” we asked her.
“Umm, it’s… good,” she said, looking sideways.
At least she ate it. Last night, John tried to save even more time by using a pre-made pesto sauce from Nugget. Brontë took one bite, quietly set her fork down, and asked to be excused.
We only have ourselves to blame, creating this monster by giving her fantastic cheeses since before she had teeth. My kids were raised on Manchego and aged Dubliner Cheddar. Whenever I can’t find the good block of Parmesan, I start hunting through my kids’ hiding places until I find it, chewed down to the rind.
They poach fine cheeses from the fridge all the time, and while I’m proud they can handle the strong flavors, I’m also getting frustrated by how high-maintenance they’ve become.
They won’t eat string cheese, for example. One time, I handed Bridget a stick, after she’d been begging for cheese, and she took one bite before throwing it on the floor and having a complete meltdown.
I guess she had a “cheese fit,” if there is such a thing.
But something about pesto indignation really put things into perspective, maybe because it reminded me how excited I was, years ago, when Trader Joe’s finally started offering decent pesto sauce.
I have to warn you that what I’m about to say is going to sound really old fart, but back when I was a kid, you couldn’t get your hands on good pesto for love or money.
Kids today don’t know how good they have it, with their easily-obtainable Arabica coffee beans and quality pesto. Say what you will about the market saturation of Starbucks, but at least they brought good coffee to the masses. When I was little, if you wanted anything better than the kind of swill that tastes like it’s been sitting in some gas station’s drip coffee machine all day, you had to special order it.
I travelled through Europe some while growing up, which was great, except it turned me onto a bunch of good food I couldn’t find anywhere in the US.
Like decent coffee or Nutella. Nutella absolutely rocked my kid world (spreadable CHOCOLATE? Were they serious!?), but we didn’t carry it over here. I just had to choke down my strawberry Pop-tart, shut up, and try to be grateful for access to peanut butter.
And then there was pesto.
After experiencing the wonders of pesto pasta in southern Italy, I became obsessed with finding more after returning home. But that was tough, because any pesto you could actually find tasted like crap. Weirdly bitter and garlicky. They always replaced the olive oil and pine nuts with canola and walnuts.
Trader Joes’ pre-made pesto seemed like the first halfway-edible stuff I came across until the great pesto revolution of the mid-nineties, when Americans everywhere suddenly decided pesto was a great idea.
It’s not just pesto… you can get diverse and complicated foodstuffs from across the world in every run-of-the-mill grocery store these days, even Marmite (if you like that sort of thing). I remember when this stuff was regional, being horrified when my first husband (who was from Virginia) brought home a jar of Pace picante sauce one night.
“NOOOOOOO!” I told him. “You get salsa from the clear tubs at the deli!” He looked at me, completely baffled (“The what?”). Poor guy was from Virginia, after all. He found it hysterical when I mixed brown sugar into grits.
Whatever… it looked like Cream of Wheat.
Say what you will about the threats of globalization, but at least we’re now getting our hands on lots of good food. The jarred salsa incident pales in comparison, for example, to the great tortilla fiasco my parents experienced in the 1970’s.
Before I was born, my father was stationed for a while at a naval base in Gulfport, Mississippi. The food was excellent, if you like cornbread and crawdads, but being Californians, my folks had a hankering for Mexican food that simply would not be denied.
It grew and grew until they finally set out on an epic taco quest. Problem was, they couldn’t find any tortillas.
They looked and looked, and finally, found some one day.
They were canned.
Canned, you may be thinking… What on earth do canned tortillas even taste like?
Well, according to my dad, they’re horrible. Or in his words, “You’re probably better off nailing them to the soles of your shoes than eating them.”
Unable to get a decent taco before returning to California, I’m sure my folks think my generation is packed with insufferable foodies, with our caramelized onion cheeses and almond milk. We grew up with cafe latte’s on every corner, after all, wondering whether or not our oils were cold-pressed. They probably shake their heads at us the same way I do when my toddlers stare at mac & cheese like it’s going to crawl over and bite them.
And my parents’ generation probably seemed just as snotty to their predecessors. I’ll never forget the time my great grandmother, who grew up during the Depression, pulled a huge tub of expired cottage cheese out of her refrigerator.
Staring down the cheese tub raw determination, she popped off the tub and gave it a good sniff.
Then she scooped out a big mound with a giant silver spoon and bit it with true ferocity. She blinked a couple of times before attacking it again.
She kept at it until she had finally finished the entire tub and shivered. “I’m glad that’s over,” she told us. “It tingled a bit going down.”
I’m gonna go out on a crazy limb by saying time management can be tough with children.
Everything you do suddenly involves additional complications, like kids who constantly lose their shoes and move REALLY SLOW.
Kids are also unbelievably messy. What used to be, say, quick Chinese take-out now involves long periods of post-meal rice grain patrol. Because toddlers are tiny bombs exploding your house 30+ times a day.
And it probably gets even harder once after-school activities and school projects enter the picture. I don’t want to even think about that yet, though. My husband and I are still scrambling to master the whole toddlering deal.
Like lately, ever since we started biking every evening. It’s been awesome for everyone, but throwing our schedule for a loop. Last week, for example, we ran out of food and had to choose between getting to the grocery store and going for a ride.
We chose the ride and stopped at Taco Bell on the way home. I felt awful about it, because feeding my kids properly is an ongoing goal. They deserve a home-cooked meal at a proper family table, not some dollar burritos at some fast-food joint. The kids, on the other hand…
My four-year-old talked about it all the way home.
But that wasn’t all.
The next night, after an hour-long ride, we were returning home when we passed by Taco Bell. My two-year-old, Bridget, who was riding in her seat between my handlebars, suddenly got excited and started waving her arms in mad baby panic, screaming:
“TACOS! TACOS! EAT! PLEASE MAMA, EAT TACOS!”
I was taken aback, because Bridget is the kid who never talks. So this taco-eating thing was clearly important to her.
Actually, when your kids finally start talking, it’s a little startling. Other people are USED to the idea that people talk, but parents…
I told Bidgie we were going home to eat dinner, but she seemed so disappointed that I promised we’d eat at Taco Bell the very next day. We didn’t have proper dinner plans anyway, flying, as we were, by the seat of our pants in this newfound cycling madness.
And the next evening, when we passed by Taco Bell, Bidgie asked me “Tacos?” and was thrilled when I gave her the nod. We went inside to order and the kids ran up to the same table we ate at days earlier. It was OUR table now.
That’s when John noticed the Diablo sauce.
Maybe it’s a testament to our lack of Taco Bell familiarity, but we’d thought Fire sauce was the hottest you could get. Maybe they’ve had these options for years, but John’s been grabbing Fire sauce for me when picking up Taco Bell for ages.
This Diablo sauce was a revelation. He grabbed a handful of packets for me to try.
I, too, love hot food. But at HER age, I couldn’t even handle cinnamon-flavored gum. So I don’t know where this kid gets it, but she once ate an entire packet of red peppers from a pizza takeout joint out of nothing but sheer sisterly spite.
We were all eating our food. I was enjoying a Mexican pizza doused in ample Diablo sauce when Bidgie started getting curious. She pointed to the sauce and began insisting, “Too! Too!”
I squirted out some Diablo sauce next to her food. I didn’t want it ON her food, in case she hated it and we ended having to throw everything away.
She dipped her spork tines into Diablo sauce and tasted it. Then she made this face:
I initially interpreted that face as “Wtf have I done?”
But I was wrong, because after a moment, she dipped her spork tines in again then tasted it.
And she started dipping quicker, almost with compulsion. She dipped faster and faster as we stared in amazement, occasionally grabbing a napkin to wipe her flooding nose.
She just kept sporking that Diablo sauce, nearly blurring into a frenzy while abandoning her food like yesterday’s news. Given Bidgie’s amazing appetite, this was an impressive turn of events.
Finally, she cut through the middleman by tearing open Diablo packets and drinking them straight. She finished whatever packets were left on the table before taking a huge swig of apple juice and letting out an enormous sigh.
Then we got back on the bikes and from between the handlebars, she baby-farted in my face the entire ride home. But she suffered no apparent ill effects other than that.
I have no idea what to make of this. I’ve never heard of two-year-olds liking spice so much. I was always under the impression that kids have more sensitive tastebuds, that they like blander foods because they taste them so hard…
Well, not MY kid. She takes a hit of hot sauce then stares blankly into space before hitting it again. I assume she’s talking to her Spirit Wolf during the intervals.
I’m thinking maybe Bridget’s a natural thrill seeker. Maybe normal food just isn’t enough anymore. If she’s pounding hot sauce at age 2, maybe she’ll be climbing mountains and snorting moon rocks by 18.
In the meantime, I’m not sure whether to discourage these spicy experiments or see where they’ll finally top out. I’m tempted to cover something in Sriracha sauce and see if she likes it.
The funny thing is, big sister Brontë completely FREAKS at the faintest hint of spice. It just goes to show how every kid is different, even when they grow up in the same house.
Does anyone else know of a kid liking spice this much? I may have the next pepper-eating champion on my hands.
So, as I talked about here and here, my four-year-old daughter Brontë is a force to be reckoned with. She’s sharp, melodramatic, and loves to be in control. She can also pinpoint your psychological weaknesses within seconds and mercilessly exploit them with her endless talking powers.
Her baby sister Bridget is only two, which is a massive difference in terms of child development. Bridget still can’t say much and doesn’t understand most of the world’s rules yet, which Brontë hasn’t failed to notice.
Brontë loves her baby sister to pieces, but she likes to boss Bridget around. A lot.
And since Bridget is still so young, her own powers hadn’t fully blossomed…
Until last night.
Brontë is in for a real challenge, folks. We may have a Dark Horse in Bridget, after all. Here we were, thinking we had this cute little cherubic baby girl with pink cheeks and giant eyes and it turns out we’ve had an iron-willed Titan all along…
Just wait until you hear what happened last night.
John and I were planning to make pork chops, corn and spinach, but we were both tired and didn’t want to face it. The kids had been crazy all day and John got a promotion at work (yay!), which is awesome, but he’s scrambling to take on a bigger workload and coming home ten shades of drained every night.
So we decided to order a pizza from Round Table instead. John wanted to get a Wombo Combo. I said we should get half of it with just pineapple because Brontë is incredibly picky and hates meat, mushrooms, olives, and anything that isn’t cheese or fruit. I just wasn’t in the mood to watch her pick everything off her pizza again while screaming for a fork then getting angry about how hard it is to eat pizza with a fork, again.
John tried to talk Brontë into adding some salami by asking what she wanted on her pizza. She said “cheese.”
“What else?” he asked.
“Sauce,” she said.
He rolled his eyes and ordered a pineapple pizza half. We all watched Hotel Transylvania before it arrived. Brontë is picky about her food but likes her movies spooky.
We watched the movie until the doorbell rang and then set up the table. Brontë reminded us where everyone is supposed to sit.
John gave her a plate with a slice of pineapple pizza. She demanded a fork then set about picking off all the pineapple. Once Brontë received her fork, Bridget jumped up and ran over to the silverware drawer, screaming “TOO! TOO!”
John looked baffled.
“She wants a fork too,” I told him. John grabbed her a fork and her face broke into an enormous smile.
John plopped some parmesan cheese and red pepper packets into the table as I distributed brown, recycled-paper napkins and glasses of water. I tore open a parmesan cheese packet and sprinkled some on Brontë’s naked cheese slice, hoping to tempt her into actually eating it.
“TOO! TOO!” Bridget yelled. I sprinkled some cheese on her slice as well before discarding the cheese envelope onto the table.
Brontë picked up the discarded packet and stuck her tongue in it. When she was finished, she grabbed another and shook the parmesan into her mouth.
Seeing this, Bridget stopped mid pizza-stream and grabbed a packet herself.
Bridget stopped, balled her red pepper clutching hand into a fist, and gave her big sister a cold, defiant stare. She doesn’t have a large vocabulary, but that stare was the toddler equivalent of “F- you, I do what I want!”if anything is.
Without breaking gaze, she ripped open the packet, dipped her tiny finger in some peppers, then stuck it in her mouth.
Bridget still didn’t break her gaze. Her eyes started watering and she coughed a little bit, but she stuck her finger back into the packet without flinching and shoved another finger-load of pepper flakes into her mouth.
Everyone was quiet, including Brontë.
Bridget kept on dipping her finger in and eating more peppers while staring down her sister. Her little face grew pinker and pinker until her nose started running hard. I grabbed a napkin to wipe it, but was too transfixed to interfere.
Bridget face turned bright red and she coughed again, but just kept dipping her finger in and eating peppers until she finally put the envelope up to her mouth and finished them off.
Then she she chugged her glass of water, broke into a sweat, and pretended everything was fine. I kept wiping her nose and refilling her water, but she never cried.
We ate the rest of the meal in silence, completely mesmerized. Brontë quietly ate her pile of discarded pineapple. Bridget drank about five glasses of water in a row before jumping up from the table and smiling huge.
That kid is iron-willed. I don’t know if I could eat a packet of red peppers and I have an enormous tolerance for spice. I definitely couldn’t have done it at age two.
I’m still not sure how to feel about this. On the one hand, that was AWESOME. I can’t tell you how proud I am to have made people with ovaries like those… a two-year-old who will finish off a packet of red peppers straight, out of sheer spite. If this girl were on your team, she would NEVER sell you out. Not even after being captured by the enemy.
On the other hand, am I equipped to handle wills this strong? What if my girls start having Sister Boss battles someday? It will be another Clash of the Titans, played out right here in middle-class America.
On the other hand, what if they get along and start to conspire? Like this photo here, where they are clearly scheming…
Between Brontë’s psychological mastery and Bridget’s raw physical endurance, I don’t know what that future holds. Right now, I’m envisioning Brontë as the Mastermind and Bridget as the Enforcer, but only time will tell.