David picked up sushi for dinner the other night. It was Sunday, and the end of a particularly grumpy weekend. Most of the house was sick, with Cian and I warily eyeing everybody else, telepathically trying to ward off the germs, wondering if quarantine in a nearby hotel (with a pool, and a spa, and babysitting services) should be in order. David slept more in one day than I think he’s slept in the last five years. I was scrubbing preschooler barf out of our bedroom carpet. The washing machine wept from overuse. You get the idea.
And since nobody was cooking, we brought food in. Because what else does a person crave after he comes out the other side (BWAHAHA) of a stomach bug? Why, raw fish, of course! You may have your Sunday roasts, with carrots and potatoes in the slow cooker, or you–yeah, you over there–were contentedly standing over your grill that evening, flipping burgers with one hand while drinking some cold beer from a can with the other. But we? Over in the “vintage” split-level across the street from the new subdivision? We’re bringing home Japanese take-out. Because that’s just how we roll (ha! Get it?! Like California roll? Ha! I’m on a roll!).
I ordered the girls miso soup and a cucumber roll to share, thinking, okay, we’ll start ’em off with the basics. Then they saw my food. Then they saw David’s. And you know as well as I do that whatever’s clenched between somebody else’s chopsticks suddenly looks a heckuva lot more appealing than what’s in yours. But still, this surprised me:
Saoirse: “Can I have some octopus? It’s yummy!”
So David gave the child some octopus. I, the former vegetarian and wannabe marine biologist, gagged. She’s five. It’s octopus. She took one bite, then some more,
“What’s this part?” she asked, pointing at a piece hanging from her mouth.
“The tentacle,” David replied.
“Can I have another tentacle?” That was from Quinn.
Then Quinn got into it. She wanted her share of the octopus: “I like it! I want my own. Can I have my own?” SK clamored for a bite of salmon. I was hunched over the side of the table, retching onto the floor–must’ve been that stomach virus finally claiming me, too–when I heard David say, “That’s it. But do you want a bite of eel?” And the next thing I know they’re comparing the taste of eel (“I don’t like it. It tastes like poop.”) to whatever else is on David’s plate. The pieces of cucumber roll I got them lay to the sides of the girls’ soup bowls, discarded like the trash bags I’d had to use earlier that weekend.
These are the same girls who will beg for pasta with plain butter at a restaurant, who will devour French fries, but want to leave everything else on their plate for the dog to eat after dinner. And just when I start to fear that a diet consistently comprised of beige food is probably a bad thing, they throw me for a loop. Steamed mussels in garlic sauce. Fish smothered in jerk seasoning. A hamburger, without the cheese, hold the ketchup please. Chicken sausage that my husband refuses to eat because it’s, well, chicken sausage, but Quinn throws down her gullet faster then her thin little arms can move.
I was a vegetarian for 25 years. My dad had a fit when I stopped eating meat–thought it was unnatural. Right now he’s in heaven somewhere, working his way through a big ol’ bowl of beef stew, chuckling like crazy at my horror.
Quinn ate the last of her eel, and I stopped heaving over the side of my chair. I looked over and saw Saoirse drinking the rest of her soup, heard Quinn ask me, “Mom? Can you help get the rest of my tofu out of the bowl? I like the tofu,” and suddenly felt better.
I stopped eating meat simply because when I was twelve I thought eating animal tissue was gross (actually, when I type it like that, it really kind of is). I started eating it again–and this will sound selfish to my vegetarian friends–because I was bored. The family that I cook for was bored. A whole world opened up (and one that did not involve lentils) when I allowed meat back onto the table, and even though I’m still not really okay with it, and that most of the time I’m still using those veggie crumbles in the chili rather than ground beef, it’s where I am right now. I look at my girls, devouring everything from Old Bay-spiced shrimp to chocolate pudding to tofu to teaberry-flavored ice cream, and as vaguely horrified as I am watching an octopus tentacle slither down their precious little throats, I have to admit, it’s kind of cool that they eat whatever looks good, and that whatever looks good is often a surprise to me and David. This could be fun.
I swiped the last of the deconstructed cucumber roll from Saoirse’s plate and ate the mushy thing. “I don’t like what’s in that,” she’d said. “I don’t like coo-cumber.” And I couldn’t hide a smile. These kids: they certainly ain’t boring.
Maybe next time they all get sick, we’ll eat French fries again, or some plain pasta. Something beige. They are kids, of course. But we’ll be sure to order a side of Indian curry, too, to go along with it.
Because you never know.