That time we ate Big Bird’s cousin

When we eat restaurant food, we usually end up with pizza, burgers, or chicken strips. My wife and I don’t prefer these choices, but we don’t whine about having to eat pizza, burgers, or chicken strips as much as the boys whine about having to eat something that’s not pizza, burgers, or chicken strips. It’s easier to just choke down another burger in peace.

Occasionally, the parents set their hearts on Chinese food. This is a problem on two fronts. First, we don’t know how to get good Chinese in our town. Every place we once liked has gone downhill. My wife’s standing explanation for this is that the owners retired and their children took over, and, as we all know, children have a knack for ruining things.

The second front is our own children. Big Brother will tell us he doesn’t want Chinese food at least 14 times, though he ends up eating the part that looks most like a chicken strip. Buster will eat rice, if he cannot detect anything resembling a bean sprout, bit of egg, crispy noodle, meat or vegetable touching it. It’s quite a chore removing the shrimp and the fried from shrimp fried rice.

Big Man might eat all the dishes or none of them. Unless there’s crab rangoon. He likes crab rangoon.

The last time we got Chinese food, I ordered sesame chicken. Buster helped me eat the rice. Somehow I slipped a little sauce past his inspection and he decided he liked that too. But chicken, in that same sauce, was out of the question.

At last, I got him to taste one cubic millimeter of chicken. He made a face and spit it into the garbage. This was for show, to save face. A minute later, he asked for another bite of chicken. Soon, he and Big Brother were eating all my food.

When they were done, I explained to Buster: “Next time we’re ordering food, and you tell me you want that one kind of chicken, you know, that kind we had one time, the one you like, and I don’t know which kind of chicken you mean because there are lots of kinds of chicken, and you keep saying ‘That one kind, the kind I like,’ and get angry at me because I’m supposed to know what that means, remember, this is called sesame chicken.”

Big bird is a very popular and special character. His cousin is a very popular chef’s special.

“What chicken?”

“Sesame. Like Sesame Street, only it’s chicken.”

“Big Bird is a Sesame Street chicken. Did we just eat him?”

“It was a different sesame chicken. Probably just a cousin.”

I didn’t know if my advice would take; Buster has an artistic heart and he likes to keep his requests vague.

The next time we were deciding what to eat, he chimed in, “Chicken!”

Preparing to return to the status quo, I asked. “Nuggets or strips?”

“Sesame chicken!” loud and clear.

That’s progress. Now all he has to do is find a restaurant that hasn’t been ruined by the children.

 

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If young animals whined like human children

Zebra Mom: “Eat your grass, Jimmy.”

Zebra Kid: “I don’t like this grass. I like that grass over there.”

Zebra Mom: “There’s a lion over there.”

Zebra Kid: “Can you ask him to move.”

Zebra Mom: “No. I’m not asking a lion to move so you can have grass that’s exactly the same as this grass.”

Zebra Kid: “Just ask him.”

Zebra Mom: “No. I’m not asking. This is the same grass. Just eat it.”

Zebra Kid: “His grass is in the shade. I don’t like this sunny grass. It’s too hot.”

The grass is always tastier on the other side of the lion.

Zebra Mom: “How would you know? You haven’t even tried it.”

Zebra Kid: “Come on, Mom! Can you just please ask him. He’s not even eating grass.”

Zebra Mom: “If you don’t start eating, so help me God!”

Zebra Kid puts the tip of his tongue on one blade of grass: “This grass is way too dry. It’s like desert grass. You expect me to eat desert grass? Aw, man! Now I need a drink. I’m going to the watering hole.”

Zebra Mom: “You stay right here. There are crocodiles at the watering hole.”

Zebra Kid: “Ack. Ack. This dry grass is burning a hole in my throat. I’ll die if I don’t get a drink fast. Oh, there’s Dad. I’m gonna tell him what you’re doing to me.”

Zebra Mom: “Be sure to show him the hole in your throat.”

Zebra Kid approaches Zebra Dad: “Dad, can I go to the watering hole?”

Zebra Dad: “What did your mother say?”

Zebra Kid: “Nothing really. I think it’s okay with her if you let me go.”

Zebra Dad: “Oh. Okay then.”

FIVE MINUTES LATER

Crocodile Mom: “Ethan, eat your zebra.”

Crocodile Kid: “I don’t like zebra. I want gazelle.”

Crocodile Mom: “It’s all mammal. It tastes the same. Carcass is carcass. Now eat it.”

Crocodile Kid: “This one has stuff on it.”

Crocodile Mom: “What stuff?”

Crocodile Kid: “Look. It has all these black lines.”

Crocodile Mom: “All zebras have black lines. It’s just how they’re seasoned. You won’t even taste it.”

Crocodile Kid: “It’s disgusting. I can’t eat that. It makes me wanna hurl just looking at it.”

Crocodile Mom: “Eat around the black lines then. You’d better eat it before it gets cold. It’s not gonna be any good cold.”

Crocodile Kid: “The lines are touching all the other parts. Their gross juice is gonna be all over everything.”

Crocodile Mom: “Ethan, there are starving crocodile children in the next water hole who would give anything to have food half this good.”

Crocodile Kid: “They can have it.”

Crocodile Mom: “Don’t you dare come to me in an hour and tell me you’re hungry.”

TWO MINUTES LATER

Vulture Dad: “I can’t believe somebody just left all this delicious carrion here. Animals are so wasteful these days. Well, they’re loss is our gain. Dig in, Judy.”

Vulture Kid: “Um. You know I don’t like the kind with the white stripes.”

A true Superstar delivers the pasta

We have a house full of fleeting superstars. For one week every year, one or more of the boys is the superstar student at his school. Apparently, third graders have outgrown the notion of revolving notoriety, so only Buster basked in the limelight of stardom in his preschool this year.

Being a superstar is not all fun and games. There are responsibilities associated with the honor, and this is what a superstar’s parents are for. Any superstar worth his salt requires a poster board with pictures of himself in all his glory. Parents are usually good for making these, and even when they are not, they can be counted upon to recycle the one from last year into a presentable placard.

As a parent of an annual superstar, the most daunting responsibility is supplying a healthy snack to the class. The key, and vexing, word here is healthy. As the child of a simpler time, healthy snack is the epitome of oxymoron to me. Healthy is an adjective that belongs paired with the noun leftovers. The noun snacks deserves a more appropriate adjective, like sugary. The following sentence illustrates how these combinations were intended to be used in conversation: There are plenty of healthy leftovers remaining in the corner, where we shoved them to prevent their impeding our access to the sugary snacks.

To me, a snack is an item 90% of kids will readily eat. I don’t know how to make anything healthy that meets this criterion. I’ve heard some parents know how to make healthy both fun and delicious by constructing adorable designs with various fruit bits and toothpicks. I’m not young and hip like those parents. I am just old enough to know that both fun and delicious take a back seat to pain when the toothpick shard hits the soft gum tissue.

Besides, my kids like their fruits segregated, so they can be analyzed, and probably rejected, separately.

This year, Buster chose spaghetti as his healthy snack, proving he is a genius in addition to being a superstar. I was taken aback by the logistics of providing spaghetti to a classroom, but Mommy went with it (after approval from Buster’s teacher), proving where Buster inherited his superstar genes.

spaghetti

Making spaghetti the Superstar way.

Making spaghetti the Superstar way.

She bought disposable bowls, forks, and wet wipes. We cooked spaghetti and cut it up into short strands. This, with a bowl of warm sauce, filled up the insulated bag, covering the two secret packs of Oreos tucked underneath. Every superstar keeps a an ace in the hole.

Buster’s teacher reported the spaghetti a success, but wondered why Buster didn’t want any for himself. Here’s the thing about Buster: he’s a forward-looking superstar and spaghetti was yesterday’s idea.

He confirmed he didn’t eat any spaghetti. “But,” he said, “I ate an Oreo.”

Judging by the empty containers, his classmates feasted on spaghetti and Oreos. They and their teachers are all superstars, allowing us to get by with a more-or-less healthy snack, unsullied by the mockery of me trying to stab blueberries with toothpicks.

The secret league of horrible parents

We just won a moral victory of sorts. It took two months, and there were times I doubted the Fates would allow it, but now that it’s done, I feel free to speak of it.

I mentioned that our seven-year-old son was on a basketball team. If you saw that post, you may think our victory is a decision to keep score at the games, but it’s not. It may be even more valuable than that.

Over our three years in sports, there has not been a team that didn’t require a rotating list of hapless parents to bring healthy snacks for the kids to eat at the end of every game. The Team Snack was the Sacred Cow of youth athletics. God knows, kids playing ball for an hour would wither to dust if not fortified with granola and sugar-free fluids within seconds of the final whistle.

When I was a boy, we played all afternoon without a thought to our bellies, but then we were not enlightened enough to know we were doomed to die young for our bad habits. We drank whole milk too, to give you an idea of how recklessly ignorant we were. Our parents were the worst, making us have fun all the way until dinner time. For shame.

My wife and I dislike game-day snacks because we struggle to get to the games on time without having to remember the groceries, and it’s not like we can just grab a bag of Doritos or Oreos on the way out the door. These evil snacks we have, but only because our tragic upbringings neglected to teach us any better. Blame the 1970s.

old school

After the game, we had to take up the planking from the pasture and milk the cows before we could even think about eating. (Image: Russell Lee/US Farm Security Administration)

They told us it couldn’t be done. They said the kids on a snackless team would grow envious of the other team’s snacks, though I don’t know a single kid who covets a V8 juice box and a bar of pine needles. Still, no one would want to be on the team whose bad parents didn’t do exactly what the good parents do.

So after the first practice, we waited for that email – the one organizing the snack rotation. We’d highlight a game on the schedule, dread it’s coming, and hope we were both available to attend, so all our children and all our snacks could be at the same place at the same time.

The email never came. The coach was new, and I don’t think she even thought about snacks, which makes me love her a little bit. For the entire season, we went to games where other teams had snacks. Our team never bemoaned our lack of snacks. I saw no indication they even noticed. From our team’s other parents, I never heard a peep about snacks. Our snackless rebellion was our little secret.

I now suspect that many parents dislike the post-game snack, but no one publicly decries it, because that might make them the worst parent ever, and who would ever dare flirt with that consequence?