“Make it seem like a bigger deal,” I hissed through clenched teeth at husband Joe.
It is tricky; oh, so tricky, to know when to pretend you don’t notice a vegetable getting close to the mouth, and when to go for an Oscar. But few enough vegetables get eaten by our almost-3-year-old that this is fraught. I buy kale chips at $6 a-not-very-big container because she turns her nose up at the ones that come out of our own oven. I hide avocados in chocolate smoothies, and shredded zucchini in muffins. I make homemade ketchup out of tomatoes from our garden, and now count myself among those heretofore ridiculous people who consider ketchup a veggie. I’m extra motivated to visit a friend in New Paltz because, for whatever reason, my daughter Kai has decided she will gladly eat a cucumber that’s been skinned and cubed by this particular person — but under no other circumstances.
I myself am a garbage disposal, and historically paid scant attention to other people’s food habits or hang-ups. A couple good friends in college, it turned out, had eating disorders that were totally obvious to everyone else but, despite all our dining hall meals together, took me by complete surprise when they were revealed. Wringing my hands over food has come as novel territory for me, although by now I’ve got a pretty good feel for what vegetables have a chance of being eaten (corn, glorious corn, and please, I don’t want to hear about how it’s actually a grain), and what’s not worth the friction.
But every once in a blue moon, I find myself startled by an uncharacteristic gastronomic foray. Like when Kai picked a piece of mozzarella off a tomato and tried it, gagged, but finished chewing and swallowed. There was no second bite, but still I was proud. And a few weeks ago, when our garden’s green beans were mostly over and hardly worth the trouble of harvesting, Kai and I were out there together when I saw her spit out what looked like a bean stem. Could it be? I watched out of the corner of my eye as she picked up another freshly harvested bean off the cinderblock where I’d left them, and started chewing. OMG. She was eating green beans.
I kept picking, careful not to let on that I’d noticed anything unusual, and placed the beans on the cinderblock a few at a time so as not to overwhelm. Eventually Kai joined in the harvest, finding ones I’d missed. We began to discuss our haul. The teensy Kai-sized beans, which I’d assumed would be the most tender and palatable, in Kai’s eyes lacked the appeal of the big-kahuna Papa-sized specimens. Those, she got a particular kick out of eating because, ostensibly, they should be eaten by Papa.
“Sorry Papa,” we’d say, as she bit into a thick one. Maybe we’ll leave him one. Or maybe we’ll eat them all.
After she’d eaten all the beans she was going to eat — six, maybe — we hurried inside, me feeling victorious and Kai feeling agreeably mischievous, to tell Dad that he was going to have to find his own beans because we’d eaten all his.
“Good,” he said, not looking up. “I want you to eat them.”
Buzzkill! This was when I began hissing at him. We needed groans and tearing of chest-hair, here! But he has bad hearing from decades of selling merchandise at rock shows, and blithely continued chopping something up for dinner.
The humble beans, perhaps stimulated by our obsessive harvesting, gave us a good couple weeks of eating a handful of fresh veggies like every single day. But by the time I wrote this, the magic had faded. Even the Papa-sized ones had lost their appeal. The delight of filching other people’s food, though? That is still thrilling.
I am beginning to realize that it’s probably not the best moral to be imparting — that it’s amusing to steal food from the mouths of loved ones. The other day, Joe reported with some befuddlement that Kai wouldn’t eat any of her own lunch. She only wanted his lunch.
So pretend it’s your lunch, I suggested.
I do hope we’re not raising a sociopath. But the present is about all we can manage, and for the moment, at least, she’s eating.
Next morning, Kai snatched a Papa-sized home fry and gobbled it with glee.
“Oh, I’m so hungry!” Joe wailed. Kai squealed. Was this the first time in eight years I’d heard him lie? Possibly. I put my face in my hand to hide my expression, which felt like something between a smile and a grimace.