In our home, we believe in eating foods that we love and offer nourishment (sometimes that means just nourishment for the soul). We’ve gotten a lot of strange looks from doctors and others when our daughter shares her typical breakfast. You can see a green color creep from their jaw toward their cheeks.
“Pickles and Carrots!” they cry. “For breakfast?”
My daughter, just nine years old, loves this response. She giggles and nods proudly. If they say, “Ew!” she just grins wider, all her teeth and some of her tongue protruding.
She doesn’t just eat pickles and carrots for breakfast. She savors them. She’ll sit in the mornings at the dining room table, with an open jar of pickles, a large bag of baby carrots, and a novel open next to her. She stabs a pickle with her fork and dangles it over the jar to let it drip while darting her eyes back and forth between the pickle and the novel, not wanting to waste a minute of boredom on the pickle. When satisfied with the drips, she brings the skewered pickle to her mouth, takes a tiny bite while still reading and chews slowly.
And then begins the sucking. It’s like a pickle lollypop in her mouth that she forgets about as she loses herself in her book. When she comes home from school, she begins this ritual all over again for snack time.
And then there’s my son. There’s no telling exactly what breakfast will look like for him. Once a week he’s allowed a can of tuna with some mayonnaise mixed in. There is a look of pure joy in his eyes when he asks, “Is it a tuna day?” and we say yes. It takes approximately 90 seconds for him to devour the tuna salad, usually leaving little bits of stinky flakes all around his chair and place at the table. Tuna day is a good day. Other days are bowls of dry cheerios, jam sandwiches, and yes also pickles and carrots.
On these mornings when I can barely crawl out of bed, my eyes cannot fully open to take in the light in the dining room, and I stumble my way to the coffee maker, my house reeks of tuna and pickles. Some days, when my daughter is feeling especially cheeky she purposefully gets right in my line of vision and then drinks the pickle juice. And she laughs gleefully when I have to turn away from disgust.
Children are disgusting creatures. It’s one of the things they don’t tell you before you have kids. You’re meant to think that they’re all sugar and spice. No one tells you about the filth, the smells, the things they’ll do just for the joy of seeing you visibly nauseous.
I think about the days that will come when they will sit properly at the table. When they will be full-grown and contribute to our polite conversation. I think about what will come of them as their child-ness is squeezed out of them by society and hormones and responsibilities. I wonder about the mornings where I’ll stumble downstairs and there won’t be any small children there, or any grown children for that matter. I wonder about missing those horrid morning smells.
Will they miss it? Will they even be able to remember the crazy joy that came from the pediatrician who said, “Well no wonder you have a belly ache! Pickles and carrots for breakfast? Yuck!” For how long will they know the freedom of just grabbing whatever food they want in the cabinet that is not deemed “junk?” At what point will they have learned that that is not “breakfast food?”
The issue is about so much more than just breakfast to me. My son came home from camp this summer and informed us that he now knew he should not bring a Little Mermaid towel with him anymore. He was calm and rational, not at all upset as he told us that the other children had explained, “That’s not for boys.”
I don’t know how to stop this avalanche of social pressure that has already begun to hit them. The world has already begun to tell them, “Don’t be who you really are. Keep it to yourself.” How many times can I reinforce that they should like whatever they like? He still won’t take the Little Mermaid towel with him. At least they still eat carrots and pickles and tuna for breakfast. For now.
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