Our toddler is choosy when it comes to food—and idiosyncratic to be sure. While he embraces toast and cheese, grilled cheese offends his palate. He welcomes apples and bananas but shuns kiwis and cantaloupe. Strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries we never can predict; blackberries, though, not a chance. Quesadilla? Yes, please! Pizza? Absolutely not. On Halloween, dressed as Bob Dylan (not so much his choice as his demand), he determined that Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups are unswallowable; Kit Kats, however, are “scrumptious!”
So it goes, my wife and I are learning. We couldn’t be co-dictators of his diet even if we wanted to be. But I’m a slow learner. It’s all I can do sometimes to refrain from commanding, “Eat your beans!” even as I know this will only commence a battle I can’t win.
And then one day he decides he likes beans and it would be absurd not to take a second helping. Eventually, too, of course, he will let a bite of pizza pass his lips, a venture from which, I suspect, there will be no looking back. But what about arugula and eggplant and lentils? What irreparable harm are we doing him every day we don’t entice him to make these regular parts of his diet?
It doesn’t help that I can’t not notice when someone else’s kid devours a plateful of peas. First peas, my mind begins, then textbook development, model flourishing, an embarrassment of athletic and academic accolades, Harvard, and undeniable professional success. Meanwhile, I take the untouched peas in front of “Bob” as evidence that his entire future has already been compromised.
Such moments of bougie status anxiety come easily—to me, anyway. I want to be careful not to implicate my wife in this pathology, my wife who is uncommonly wise and profoundly secure in her judgments. (I’m not just saying this. She’s wonderful. I’m lucky. Ask anyone who knows her.) She reminds me when I need to be reminded that a meal isn’t an occasion to precipitate a causal chain leading to whatever it is I have in mind when I say success.
Anyway, my wife continues, a meal isn’t about checking various nutritional boxes. A meal is an opportunity to take pleasure in good food and good company. Whenever I catch myself ready to start really pushing the kimchi—and sometimes I don’t catch myself—I try to remember that a meal can be a leisurely affair in which eating errs neither on the side of indulgence nor on the side of ingesting nutrients.
And when I forget, in spite of myself, the toddler sitting to my left taking utter delight in belting out “Forever Young” between bites of applesauce is there to remind me.
But breakfast is when I have my best luck. Most mornings, “Bob” goes to the pantry and pulls out a box of cereal while I get the milk. We meet at the table. Our conversation is familiar: I ask about his dreams; he tells me about the real Bob Dylan, his music and his biography; we speculate about what Dylan eats for breakfast (eggs, we think); I ask him which letters (and now words) he can identify on the cereal box; he reads to me until he becomes silly with rhyme and we start riffing together in high Seussian fashion.
By the time we’re finished, the table is splattered with milk, his spoon is on the floor, and we’re running late, none of which matters to me as I remember again that it’s possible to forget about peas and the unpredictable future long enough to be present with someone who is almost nothing but.