Even a simple peanut-butter lunch around here can be emotionally intense, at least for Mama.
I really enjoy knowing what kinds of sandwich Lucy and Rosie like. I love it that they are different, and I love knowing their specific preferences. Lucy likes creamy peanut butter with honey, crusts cut off. (But don’t section the sandwich: keep it “biggie.”) Rosie prefers crunchy peanut butter, cinnamon-and-sugar, also the crusts trimmed off, but then desires to have the sandwiches cut into small squares or triangles. (I’m just not going to worry about how many of you might be judging me for feeding my kids sugar sandwiches. They get apples, too.) I love getting the different kinds of peanut butter out of the cabinet, lining up the cinnamon-and-sugar and honey, and creating a customized assembly line. I love knowing my girls, and I think they love it that I do.
But I also know that I need to be careful with familiarity, because people change. The joy of being known needs to be leavened with the freedom to change. Every few days, I try to double-check their preferences. The other day Lucy decided to try crunchy peanut butter for a change. Or sometimes they want to try eating the crusts. I want to be alert and ready for these changes, never underestimating their ability to grow and mature — or even just flip-flop once in a while for fun.
In her new cookbook, SOS! The Six O’Clock Scramble to the Rescue, Aviva Goldfarb describes her strategy of encouraging her kids to try different foods because “maybe their tastebuds have matured.” I think this is brilliant — picking up on the innate desire of all children to become more adult-like. Since I started mentioning this to the girls every once in a while, Lucy’s tastebuds have already “matured” so that now she likes raisins and bananas (or I should say “re-likes” them, since she ate them daily as a baby).
But we all can miss the boat sometimes. Recently, Lucy and I have been reading the classic Bread and Jam for Frances, and it is really one of the saddest stories. Frances is going through a picky phase and only wants to eat bread and jam for awhile. But then her mom gives up and stops asking Frances if she would like to eat something new. She completely misses Frances’s cues, leaving her in this uncomfortable position: now that she has declared herself as a “bread-and-jam-only” girl, how does she put aside her pride and ask for some meatballs? And can’t her mom just nonchalantly offer some spaghetti and save Frances the shame of not being understood?
After a few tears, it all works out in the end for Frances, but this story feels like a cautionary tale for parents. Remember: your children are growing and changing every moment! Frances’s mom was surely preoccupied, and I’m grateful for her vulnerable example, sharing a less-than-stellar parenting moment to help the rest of us remember that our kids will probably, someday, want to eat a meatball. Or crunchy peanut butter. Or crab legs. May we be ready for those moments. Will you watch for them with me?
Mentioned in this essay: Bread and Jam for Frances, by Russell Hoban, illus. Lillian Hoban.