Welcome to my Island
Do you ever feel alone, even when surrounded by people? What if those people are the ones you love most? Not infrequently, I have the sensation of being on an island. I am the only person on this island. As the waves around the island of Alicia undulate, rolling back and forth along the horizon, a boat bobs up and down just out of my reach. My family is in the boat. They’re waving at me. I wave back and smile. Everyone seems happy to be where they are, myself included. But I’m still standing there alone. I don’t have the first idea about how to get into that boat. Can I make the jump? Do I swim? Or maybe they can hand me an oar and pull me over.
I’ve grown accustomed to being outnumbered, to living in the minority. At home, it’s three boys and me. I live amidst lovers of salami, burgers, ketchup and bottled taco sauce. I endure endless fart jokes. I didn’t find them funny the first time or the 386th time. I live with those who put the seat up (thankfully). I’m trying to teach them to put it back down again. And flush. But I am the only 25 percent that really cares. My boys prefer gummy, white, stick-to-the-roof of your mouth bread rather than the dark, grainy variety I’d like for them. When the day is done, I’m dozing off while the night owls are just catching their stride. And then I’m up before the birds in a house full of sleepyheads.
Most weeks, I ask what the boys want to eat as I begin scribbling my Sunday morning grocery list. But this week, I asked myself the question first. What do I want? I’ve been a little bored by food lately, overly eager for the turn of the seasons and the produce that comes with it. One idea came to life, this combination of tender, curried roasted onions, eggplant and chickpeas laced with wilted spinach. I love it with a dollop of thick, cold Greek yogurt and a little whole wheat naan or pita to sop it all up. I’ve made it before (and perhaps, so have you). It seemed like just the right answer to my winter ennui.
I knew I was taking a risk, that the boys might balk. I made the dish anyway, scouring the freezer quickly to see if I might add a side of frozen fish sticks or cheese ravioli. No, I thought to myself, standing my ground and recommitting to my one-dinner policy. If they don’t want to eat it, there is always breakfast.
As I suspected, the kids picked around the meal. My first grader singled out the chickpeas, eating them delicately one by one. This is the one who loves spinach! My pre-kindergartener sat in his chair with a furrowed brow, his thumb planted disapprovingly in his cake hole. Andy and I looked at each other. “Did you really think they’d eat this?” he asked me. They had before. Maybe once. I was hopeful on this night, perhaps naively so.
I steeled myself for pleas of hunger at bedtime and the raid of the refrigerator cheese drawer. Having finished his dinner, Andy rose from the table and quietly made himself a peanut butter sandwich. Crunchy, of course (could you predict that I prefer smooth?). He offered one to each child too, looking at me quickly for a signal. I said nothing. I did nothing. Noticing the look of defeat on my face, he said, “It was a tall order. I thought it was delicious, a really a terrific dinner. See? I ate it all!” He took another bite of chunky peanut butter slathered thickly between layers of wheat pita pocket. I blinked at him, emotionless. Before I knew it, little wheels of cheese had made their way out of the fridge with slices of deli turkey soon to follow. Everyone was now eating and happy.
It’s not that I expect my family to like everything I like. I don’t. And I know what will get eaten happily, heartily, without moaning and fork pushing. Steak. Baked potatoes. Roast chicken. Sauteed spinach. Steak. Macaroni and cheese. And of course, steak. If I want to be sure dinner is consumed without fuss or drama, I turn to these dishes. But that’s boring. And wrong. I aspire to expand the palates of my children and broaden the range of foods we eat both for the sake of variety and nutritional benefit. Am I destined to be perpetually marooned on this desert island, this dreamy world of non-reality? I’m not lonely here, just alone. There is a difference. And I don’t really want to be on the boat anyway. Perhaps we’ll find a meeting place in between. The sand feels really good on the toes at the shoreline and (boat) parking is plentiful…