Lesbian and Gay Parenting book coverIn a Family Way

A column by Arlene (Ari) Istar Lev

Feeding the Children

Posted By on July 1, 2009

Feeding the Children
By Arlene (Ari) Istar Lev

I am the first one to admit that I’m not really the domestic type. Sometimes people are fooled by my femme appearance, thinking that I enjoy playing Suzie Homemaker, but mostly I just enjoy looking like her. I’ve been accused of being a bit of a drag queen, some kind of butch in femme drag, since anyone close enough to have been in my home knows that almost anything takes preference over cooking and (eeks!) cleaning.

Before I had children, I used to jest that I anticipated the hardest thing about parenting to be feeding the children, and indeed this has proven true. I just don’t get this three meal a day thing, plus those damn brown bag lunches. I have been blessed, however, with a partner who besides being a good cook, looks great in chef’s apron, and a son who has been, since infancy, sniffing everything he eats before putting it in his mouth to determine its contents. At three years old he could walk into a restaurant take a long sniff, and say, "The bread has mint in it."

When my partner goes out of town for a few days, she gently asks, "You will remember to feed them?" It is hard to forget to feed the baby, because, well, he screams when he’s not fed. My older boy on the other hand is more complex, but he has learned to take really good care of himself. "Momma, can you come in the kitchen so I can make some eggs? Would you like some?" he asks. At nearly six, he is developing some very interesting social idioms ("like duh, mom") and near teenage-age inflections. Hard to describe in print, without the facial expressions, but as he walks past my messy deadline-filled desk, he says, with eye-brows raised, head wisely nodding up and down "Some parents, feed their kids, er, LUNCH." Right, right, feed the kids.

However, my honey packs lunches most days for school, so I have been assuming that that my kids are eating well without putting much thought into it. When lunch came back uneaten the other day, I was concerned. I haven’t yet mentioned that both of my sons are, as my Jewish mother would say, "good eaters." I mean really good eaters. For the record, we are all good eaters here in this house, and my lack of cooking should not be construed into thinking I am not well fed. I just like my food cooked by others, preferably others from different countries, to satisfy my diverse, albeit lazy, palate. When it is my night to "cook," my partner asks, "Which country are we eating in this evening, dear?"

In this family, almost no one voluntarily misses a meal. My older boy can eat as much as many small adults, and the younger one has learned the word, "more" and uses it rather liberally. I apparently ate "like a bird" as a child, but my children eat like more like whales. An entire uneaten sandwich is very unusual.

"Honey, did you not like your lunch?" I ask. No answer, a very bad sign. "You always like tuna fish at home," I say. No answer. I pause, calculating. "Honey, did someone say something about your tuna fish sandwich?" Finally: an answer. "Tyler made fun of it." "Made fun of a tuna fish sandwich?" I ask, thinking what could be more "normal" than a tuna fish sandwich. "No one eats tuna fish," he says with disgust. This is the same child who did not bat an eye, being the only child in his class who ate matzah sandwiches during Passover, which has convinced the rest of his kindergarten class that being Jewish is kind of Black thing. "Really, " I say, trying to be sensitive to how important it is to fit in. "What kinds of foods do your friends bring to school? What would you rather us send you to eat?"

Now I know that not every pearl of wisdom that falls from my son’s lips is the Truth. I also know that times have surely changed and that my little guy has far more sophisticated taste in food at 5 than surely I did since he has watched the cooking channel religiously since he was 18 months old. He can recognize the taste of cardamom and detect the subtle distinction between pad Thai cooked at two different restaurants. However, I never thought I’d live to hear the answer that fell from my son’s lips, rendering me speechless. He doesn’t hesitate at all in answering what he’d rather have for lunch. "Sushi," he says. "Everyone eats sushi for lunch in kindergarten."