One with the food - FamilyEducation

One with the food

February 08,2011
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

To off-set some of the (one-sided) difficulties L. has been having lately getting along with his sister, and to encourage L. to interact in more positive ways with his parents, Scott and I have been alternating spending one-on-one time with him on the weekends. I'm sure it's happened at your house: your kid goes through a behavioral rough patch and before you know it you're all caught in a vicious cycle and can't find the way out:  all you can seem to do is nag and fuss and sometimes, when you do reach that breaking point--we all have different thresholds for this--yell. For us lately, some days it seems all we're doing is butting heads with L., and I hate it when this happens. I don't like to feel as if the only relationship we have with him is a negative one--it's not good for any of us.

A huge key to getting this quality time with L. is to remove him from the house--and even if he spends the first thirty minutes of an outing grumbling angrily about having to go in the end he always ends up having a good time and we return home, feeling more or less reconnected--healed a little. Scott will take L. to the library, or to a used book store; every now and then I'll take L. to our local art museum, where he'll happily roam around the building, admiring the architecture. But many of my outings with L. as of late have revolved around food shopping--both because the shopping needs to be done and because I'm trying to encourage him. to participate in selecting food, and in shopping in a smart and balanced way. I throw in bits of nutritional news and information as we shop, and I'm always heartened when he'll catch sight of a food that interests him and ask about it.

On Sunday, while Scott and T. were busy with a Y-Princess related activity, L. and I headed out to the Asian Market to stock up on supplies for that night's annual Chinese New Year feast. I love taking him to the Asian Market because I love seeing him willingly participate in something connected to food. It's always baffling to me that he can become quickly overloaded sensory-wise when walking among the straight and clean aisles of our local Harris Teeter and yet he functions much better among the crowds at the Asian Market, as he shoulders his way past bins overflowing with fragrant pears, knobbly carrots, and piles of bok choy to reach his favorite section: the tofu case. It's a tofu-lovers paradise, really, and L. knows just where his favorites are. He also knows exactly where, at the other end of the store, he can find the package with his beloved lo mein noodles, and on which shelf he'll find the tall thin jar of sweet soy sauce. He normally has zero interest in bagging produce for me at our regular grocery store--or even at Whole Foods, but on Sunday he grabbed plastic bags and picked out the bean sprouts and the bok choy.

When I got back from my weekly walk Sunday night I smelled dinner cooking from the top of the driveway. Scott and the kids had the whole meal ready and waiting (I will never grow tired of what a thrill it is to come home and find a hot dinner ready); L. had set the table, complete with chopsticks and those small red envelopes  he loves to buy and fill each year. T. had made charming Chinese New Year signs and written a speech to be read at the table that night. We toasted with mango juice and for dessert we ate fried sesame cakes dipped in sweet soy sauce.

It's always a happy surprise to me when we do come together as a family over food, given the difficulties food presents in L.'s life, and how much tension and stress has always accompanied feeding L, from almost the day he was born. But nights like Sunday night give me renewed faith that L. will be able to make it on his own one day--even if it means he'll have to live a block from an Asian Market, a Chinese take-out restaurant, and a New York-style pizza joint.