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Stay alert and loose

October 20, 2010

“More mushrooms please,” Col begs, his open mouth looming over a steaming pot of elk stew. I spoon another slimy slab of porcini mushroom in his baby bird face, suppressing my own gag reflex at the wild fungi which could have been a rubber shoe I had sliced and simmered.

Just yesterday, if you had asked, I would have told you that Col was a picky eater. He’s offended by the mere smell of bananas, the go-to, blood-sugar raising trick every mother has had tucked up her sleeve since before her first born sprouted a single tooth.

This fall we’ve made the most marvelous plum butter, peach jam, and chokecherry jelly and when I rattle off the menu of possible toppings for toast, Col asks, somewhat apologetically, for “just plain.”

“Sure honey,” I say, handing him the loneliest piece of bread, wondering if he’ll scrape the raspberry filling off his own wedding cake someday.

But this so-called picky eater greets chard, broccoli and bouquets of salad with a raised fork. He was recently spotted across the dinner table requesting more roasted beets and Brussel sprouts. It seems the label “picky eater” is as worn out as the sandals Col wore to shreds this summer.

If asked to describe my daughter Rose, I’d tell you that living with her is like having our very own Disney princess on site. She enjoys dramatic entrances, throwing her door open and wobbling around on oversized ankle-twisters while a pound of necklaces swing from her neck. But she also climbs rocks barefoot, shoots a bow with no help, wrangles flapping chickens and has held a wild snake at Brookside Park.

Being a parent means revising your stories about your children as often as a writer with an nitpicking editor. We grasp to these labels while they fall through our hands like autumn leaves, as soon as the wind blows.

Both my kids have been great sleepers, except for those times when they were terrible sleepers. I’ve sung the boastful symphony of a mother whose daughter ate steamed spinach at 6 months old, only to watch that same daughter at 3 dredge her dinner bowl for errant and offensive pieces of broccoli. Just recently, Dan and I sadly surrendered the battle to get Rose to sit down at dinner and eat a meal with us. And then some mysterious electrical impulse in Rose’s brain traveled a slightly different neurological pathway one afternoon and now she joins us for dinner every night, as if not doing so would be to miss out on something fabulous, like broccoli.

Children are geniuses at reinventing themselves, peeling back another layer of yesterday and stepping freshly into the present moment. I’m usually still ten steps behind explaining to someone how “Rose is very shy and clingy” as she takes off up the trail, running, and never looks back. “Stay alert and loose,” Rose seems to say as her little figure sashays through the technicolor foliage burning itself up and becoming winter.

Have your children surprised you? Have you had to toss labels in the compost?

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18 Comments leave one →
  1. October 20, 2010 8:33 am

    Oh, my, I find myself shuffling through labels like a deck of worn cards, trying to order, arrange, classify these constantly evolving beings whose quirks and passions last about as long as a shooting star, and are almost as difficult to focus on and hold onto…it should come as consolation that the morph so quickly, but the annoying, irritating traits always feel like they are permanently stamped into them with a notary public’s little embossing tool, while the delightful joyous traits are gone before I’ve even taken a moment to sit back and relish them.

  2. October 20, 2010 8:50 am

    Oh goodness they do….. and quite often I am in awe that 4 complete different people could be from the same house. They have everything and nothing in common all at once. Those moments of clarity are not as often as I like…. but when they do emerge from an overworked and over caffeinated mama I am always thinking the same thing……. kids are so free. Free to scream about a cookie this moment and cover your cheeks with kisses the next. To hate bananas and love beets. To be just who they need/want to be in just that moment….. I try soak up as much as possible and remember it in my day to day living….. inspiring little beings, for sure.

  3. nataliechristensen permalink
    October 20, 2010 9:06 am

    Yes.
    It always makes a good story to sum them up like characters in a book, forever fixed. But yes if I’m going to be fair I have to redecorate them with adjectives occasionally, and then temper those adjectives with qualifiers like “currently” and “right now”.

    Echo was shy and clingy like Rose but then one day over the summer just plain decided that she wasn’t, and now she chats up the grocery clerk, the senior couple on the corner, unwilling teenagers at the park.

    I’m hoping she and Rose will parallel in the dinner seating situation as well. I’m a bit tired of Echo’s naked circuits around the table and my attempts to shovel food into that grinning, speeding mouth.

  4. Ashley Brass permalink
    October 20, 2010 9:56 am

    I was thinking maybe Col just doesn’t like the sweet stuff?
    I myself, even as a child always passed on sweets in favor of lets say cheese and crackers, or some chips or veggies and dip. I also always passed on cake, ice cream and easter and halloween candies. I find im still like that, but will eat sweet in social situations out of kindness (birthday parties, ect). Some kids just love sweets and some (although few and far between) just don’t.

  5. Ami permalink
    October 20, 2010 10:41 am

    Yes, daily even! And I DO love how sometimes, randomly, one day, something will “click” with Cole, and it will stick too! Like washing hands or learning to read. But this too, could just be a passing fancy, and perhaps some months down the line, I’ll be eating these words like so many before! :)

  6. October 20, 2010 11:38 am

    Enjoy them now! They grow up pretty fast, the stages whip by like a tornado…what fond memories to recall …ask me how I know!
    Rosie dresses herself well :o) Ginny

  7. October 20, 2010 1:39 pm

    “Both my kids have been great sleepers, except for those times when they were terrible sleepers. ” I laughed at this because I’ve so been there.

    And as for the picky eating, my Little Miss is the same. One day there’s a broccoli love affair where she eats it plain and like it’s french fries and some days, she won’t even look at it. It’s hard to keep up!

    You’re right, I can’t really put a label on her now – the surprises continue to ebb and flow but I suppose that’s the exciting/exasperating thing about growing/being a parent. I try to just live and let live. Unless she ignores my effort to make her a meal of her “favorite” food only to turn her nose at it – that’s when the “letting live” part doesn’t sit so well with me…

    BTW, I left you a surprise on my blog :)

  8. October 20, 2010 6:20 pm

    Always…and at 19 and 16, they still are surprising me! :)

  9. Kristen permalink
    October 20, 2010 9:16 pm

    Thanks for the reminder to “stay alert and loose.” What a fabulous ride this is!

  10. October 20, 2010 9:21 pm

    Way to go Col for loving your veggies. Theo ate a plate of garden tomatoes with feta cheese and dressing last night…a miracle. I love that Rose has forged her own path (sparkling necklace clad path).

    Labels to the compost pile? Absolutely.

  11. Melissa permalink
    October 20, 2010 10:14 pm

    I love “alert and loose” almost as much as I enjoyed “cheddar bunnies passed like joints!”

    It’s all so tricky–I mostly never want to pressure them about anything, so when they turn up loving something near and dear to me (like Avi demonstrating a genuine interest in dance), I am surprised and pleased. I guess I have already labeled him as artsy, but maybe he’s just being an almost 3 year old? He would have a blast in Rose’s princess collection!

    Sometimes Avi seems to follow some kind of child development textbook with a lot of Avi-isms along the way . . .and Lilit has surpassed any label I ever had for a baby!

    But I read your post at work this morning and am still thinking about it tonight, so thanks, as always, for the good stuff in blogland!

  12. Ellen permalink
    October 20, 2010 10:52 pm

    If only we would all stay alert and loose, all the people in our lives, and we ourselves, would be more able to change and grow as they/we need to.

    Great post.

  13. October 20, 2010 11:15 pm

    Oh, the revisions. Love this post and that description. The abrupt and dramatic changes may be for me the most surprising element of parenting so far. Some days I feel my son is changing his tune just because he can. He’s two-and-a-half, and being fickle is a declaration of independence.

  14. October 21, 2010 5:08 pm

    I love this post. My daughter eats oatmeal plain. (She’ll only eat rolled oats because I haven’t quite convinced her that steel-cut oats are, in fact, oats.) I list a variety of (non-homemade) toppings but she insists that she prefers her oatmeal plain. However, I’m glad she eats it at all, as I didn’t start enjoying oatmeal until a few years ago.

    It seems, though, that every time I try to pin down who she is, to stick some label on her, she acts in a totally different way. Perhaps, I think, I should stop trying to label her. Hmm.

  15. October 21, 2010 5:08 pm

    Oh, and I’m not sure how I missed it, but I love your new header picture!

  16. October 22, 2010 10:08 am

    Yeah, I never thought about it that way before, but the labels I give my kids have changed a lot as they’ve grown. A recent example is when my painfully shy 4-year-old daughter has said several times recently that she would love to be on stage in a play or musical. I never would have guessed she would express such an interest.

    She had similar sparkly shoes, by the way, and while they still fit her, she wore them everywhere. ;)

  17. October 22, 2010 2:12 pm

    i just know i will be saying the same words i loathe hearing from my mother, again and again: “but you used to LOVE (fill-in-the-blank)!”

  18. October 24, 2010 11:21 pm

    I love the idea of peeling back the layers of yesterday. My children change as I’m watching, but between begging them to eat the broccoli and suggesting they wear something besides (or in addition to) fairy wings, I don’t often notice. And when I do, I realize just how many yesterdays have already passed. It’s so very bittersweet.

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