Monday, October 22, 2012

Feeding a family - tensions in the kitchen

Food & Family, Then:

When we were little, my sister and I liked to play with food. Did you? Not just constructing things out of mashed potatoes, I mean, but elaborate games. We built pretend salads on the sidewalk out of dandelions ("chop suey!" we'd pronounce it) and hosted "restaurants" for each other, with menus made of construction paper and crayons; order anything that sounds good to you. The trial and error of it taught us a few things about what goes together and what doesn't.

We started learning how to cook and bake at an early age and took pleasure in whipping up our own hot cocoa or macaroni and cheese from scratch. We transformed hot dogs into alligators, with gaping "mouths" and cloves for eyes. We popped popcorn, we made nachos, cinnamon toast, pancakes, biscuits, grilled cheese. As the years went on, more complicated things.

We also grew up with lots of fruit and vegetables, often from our own garden. You could often find one of us grazing in the cherry tomatoes, snap peas, or berries. I know there were battles, in our house, over food - particularly the matter of cleaning one's plate. But I have a hard time understand why some people don't like vegetables; we always had them and they were great.

My parents did not want to have a lot of processed food in the house; homemade was best. And not a lot of sweets; Mom didn't like to be tempted (nor do I, now). But we had banana bread, and sometimes homemade ice cream, and Meg and I liked to make cookies, puddings, or cakes. We also learned how to make ordinary foods sweeter. Jam on eggs, jam on toast, jam on a grilled cheese sandwiches (a favorite - you should try it!). And who needs flavored yogurt when you can make your own? Jam again, or fruit, or lemon juice and honey. We sprinkled sugar on our egg "pancakes," and made cinnamon toast, and the little cinnamon-sugar roll-ups out of extra pie crust.

*     *     *

Food & Family, Now: 

I think a lot about food these days; I'm the primary person in our house who budgets, shops, cooks, serves, cleans up. What do we need? What do we want? It's all so different than when I was just answering those questions for myself, and a relatively small proportion of what's in the kitchen will be for my own consumption.

Ever since the text message we got on the honeymoon (that daughter H. was going on a radical diet and would require completely different meals starting our first day back) feeding the new family has been a challenge. I admit there are many advantages to coming into family life when everyone and everything is so well established. The kids are mostly grown, and our daughter is pretty much out of the house now. Parenting skirmishes are fairly few and far between and not mine to fight.

But every now and then I feel a little sad at the death of one or another of the little ways I thought I'd do things if I had my own family, and some of them have to do with food. Such an emotional thing.

It's a little late to introduce new things and have much influence over their tastes. It's not just food, but lots of other household things too, as well as light, noise, and temperature. I'm amazed how many things we're worked through to arrive at satisfactory conclusions. Hubs and I were just talking this morning about how frequently, since we got together, we have seen and continue to see the hand of God at work in our lives, working out things beyond our control, leading us. So much has worked out so well!

But there is some loss, and I feel it. I'm sad our kids have no interest in dyeing Easter eggs, carving pumpkins, or putting up the Christmas tree and stockings. Hubs doesn't either. I have to decide if I'm going to do those things on my own, or put them aside, like singing, and reading aloud, and other things that used to be part of my life but are not anymore. Who knows, maybe there will be grandkids someday will want to share some of those traditions I enjoyed with my family and with other housemates and friends in the years since then.

When it comes to mealtime, young D. is a deeply conservative sort, suspicious of what is off-brand or unfamiliar (though sometimes motivated to attempt an experiment of his own choosing). Still prefers not to mix foods on his plate but will dish up just one thing at a time. I respect him too much to force the issue. Respect, appreciation, and affection for both Hubs and our son exceed my desire to introduce them to new things, things they might like or might be better for them. I push a little; we don't have the time and money for everyone to get just what they want. But I learn to shop and cook with what they want in mind. Including the things about which they feel nostalgic. Some of which I've come to like as well.

Bit by bit I'm also learning to reassert some of my own preferences, to feed myself the way I like to be fed without resentment or coercion of the others. I can't eat like a growing, teenaged scholar/athlete, or a man of more than 15 stones. Our needs are different, as our tastes are too.

As I reflect on these dynamics of our blended family, I'm reminded that every family, even those "begun" by a couple of 20-somethings from similar backgrounds who (unlike us) have never been out on their own, requires some process of blending. Almost nobody who comes into a family - or even into a marriage or partnering relationship - with carte blanche to live out all their childhood dreams or plans for what their family is going to be like. And biological children, coming into the family as infants, surprise their own parents by defying assumptions, plans, or expectations. 

No comments: