Welcome to my Island

February 21, 201314 Comments

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…

14 responses to “Welcome to my Island”

  1. Dave says:

    I hope that island is big enough for me and many others. Meal variety is the bane of my existence.

  2. Tricia says:

    So appreciate your honest account of a dinner night in your home. Who knows, maybe with time their tiny taste buds will develop more sophisticated tastes :). It took my husband until he was 34 to start trying (and eventually liking) a variety of things. I’m with you though, I’d eat your spicy eggplant and spinach dish any cold wintery night — that and anything else you make.

    • Alicia says:

      Aww, thanks, Tricia. Yes, the hope is that with time they’ll adapt. And it varies from one day to the next. A dish they ate last week may go untouched the next time I make it. You can come over for eggplant and chickpeas anytime!

  3. Elizabeth says:

    I can’t tell you how many ‘non-standby’ meals my kids have pushed around on their plates and my husband clearly has eaten only to be a good example. After menu planning, shopping, and cooking–with clean up waiting–their picky eating habits feel like a personal attack. . . thanks for reminding me that it’s just normal behavior and to take the long view!

    • Alicia says:

      It’s difficult to take this sort of “rejection” when you so clearly pour your heart and love into it, right? My oldest has a very diverse palate and is usually game for a lot more than the little one, but at the end of the day he’s still a kid – unpredictable and ever-changing! Thanks for your comment, Elizabeth. We’ll hang in there together!

    • Stephanie says:

      This conversation cuts right to the heart of the food issues in our house. I admire your sense that there may be a place to meet on the beach. It’s nice that there are people “out there” that are living on similar islands, but what we really want is a place in paradise with our most precious loved ones.

  4. Michelle says:

    My triplet toddlers test my healthy-cooking-willpower constantly. I value variety, spice, whole foods. Some days they only want to eat bread. Some days I try to make some of their favorites and they refuse on who-knows-what grounds. Good to know I’m not the only mom who tries not to make eating a battle and gets one anyway!

  5. Alice Turner says:

    I, for one, love that eggplant-chickpea dish! Since I first saw it on your website a year or two ago, it’s been in the regular rotation at my house.

    • Alicia says:

      I’m so glad you love it too. The only upside to my boys rejecting it was that I got to eat their portions for lunch the next day (and its even better the next day!).

  6. Don’t despair too much. I’ve found my littlest getting more and more picky as he grows. My oldest son eats just about anything – at least one bite. My husband does his best to show a good example for them. But you’re right sometimes it does feel a little bit alone. I think as moms, and especially when you’re the only female in a brood of men who for the most part would choose a hunk of meat over anything else, you have to do something for yourself. Even if it’s as simple as a meal you know you’ll enjoy.

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