By Gregory Keer
I look forward to the Winter holidays for many reasons and eating ranks second after enhanced family time. It’s not like I need a special incentive to eat myself into a coma, but the festivities offer an excuse to pad my waistline if only out of respect for all the people who have cooked for me, from my wife to that commercial baker who went to the bother of whipping up those frosted cookies.
Really, I’m very popular at parties since I’m the guy who consumes everything. Have a dip that nobody seems to be sampling? I’ll load it up on crackers. Need that brisket to be finished lest it crowd the fridge? I’ll scarf it up for you. Want someone to try that spicy Moroccan veggie dish? I’m the fella who’ll brave blowing out my sinuses just for the experience.
You’d think that with my passion for all that strikes the palate, my children would have inherited a similar love of food. Well, not so much. If there’s one thing that spotlights my ineffectiveness as a parent, it’s food, as this holiday meal scene shows.
“Ari, eat the chicken,” I say two minutes into dinner.
“I hate chicken,” my seven year old replies.
“But this is the breaded chicken you love,” Wendy offers.
“I don’t love it anymore,” Ari says.
“You say you hate everything at dinner,” Jacob (age 10) interjects.
“Shut up!” Ari snaps back, threatening to toss a string bean.
“Jake, mind your own business and eat all that food on your plate,” I say, remarking on the heaping helpings my son always seems to put in front of him. He rarely eats much of it.
“How about those latkes (potato pancakes), Benjamin?” I remark to my teenager, who looks like he’d rather be anywhere else.
“I’m not that hungry,” he says.
“I don’t know why I bothered to cook,” Wendy bemoans.
“Mommy, we love your cooking,” Jacob says.
“I like Daddy’s cooking,” Ari mutters with a sly smile.
“Daddy hardly ever cooks,” Wendy shakes her head, indignantly.
“No, Daddy just eats. A lot,” Benjamin cracks.
“At least I eat,” I growl. “When I was your age, I could pack away two steaks at a sitting.
“Isn’t that called gluttony?” the smart ass zings.
“I want dessert,” Ari says, dropping his tired head on Wendy’s lap.
“You’re kidding, right?” she replies.
“I ate all the chicken,” he lies, as if we can’t see that nothing has gone into his mouth since the conversation began.
“No, he didn’t!” Jacob states. “He should not get dessert!”
“It’s not fair,” Ari cries, running to the couch.
“We’ve got it covered, Jacob,” I say. “And you’re not getting dessert either if you don’t start eating.”
“We’re not opening up presents tonight if we continue like this,” Wendy threatens.
“Do I have to finish my food?” Benjamin mumbles. “I ate a big lunch.”
“You mean that PB&J sandwich that is half-eaten on the kitchen counter?” I point out.
“The bread is really filling,” he says.
“You know what’s really filling?” I grumble. “The bull poop you’re speaking, right now.”
“Well, now I’ve lost my appetite,” Wendy remarks, as she leaves the table.
“I have to pee,” Jacob blurts out. He takes off before I can say anything.
Benjamin swiftly gobbles up a toddler’s portion of his meal and announces, “I’m done. May I be excused?”
I nod, holding up the white flag.
Alone, I survey the leftovers and do the only thing I do well in this situation. I eat.
As with a lot of other dinnertimes, Wendy and I managed to pull the kids back to the table and get them to eat enough of a well-balanced meal to keep them nourished. Yet I’m not proud of committing so many parenting sins, from being too pushy with my kids about food to resorting to threats.
It’s just that, at holiday time, when cuisine should make everything so joyous, why must we have the same battle we have most every night? Given how much I adore the variety and abundance of good grub, I always thought my role modeling and DNA would be enough to get them to eat happily. Instead, it’s a chore. Food to them is too often a means to an end, not a pleasure in and of itself.
For this holiday season, I’m wishing for a little magic around meal times. While I know a lot of this magic must be self-created in the form of unlimited patience and acceptance that my kids aren’t a chef’s dream, I wouldn’t mind a few twinkling lights of delight in their eyes over the edible bounty they are blessed to have placed before them.