Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Midlife Spices: Lessons in survival: No peas, please!

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I think everyone has at least one vegetable they hate.

For me it’s eggplant. It’s not the taste; it’s the texture. My husband despises broccoli, and my daughter can’t abide green beans.

My eldest son Andy was born hating peas. Although the rest of the family loved them, he could not get them down — not even one. Eye-level with the tiny green balls on his plate at the kitchen table, he would sit and stare at them, cover them with mustard, move them around with his fork, then try to eat them and gag.

Crying pathetically, he would plead, ‘‘Mommy, I can’t.” It worked. I threw them out and stopped trying. That was 36 years ago, so when he called last night, his story made us smile.

‘‘Guys, you won’t believe this!” he began. ‘‘We’re trying to get the kids to eat healthier foods, and today we made them chicken nuggets and peas. Everyday we try a new vegetable on them, and it usually works. They’re eating better — but peas are a problem.”

It seems our grandson Max, who is 5, doesn’t like peas.

‘‘It must be genetic,” Andy theorized. ‘‘He looks at them, and just can’t do it. I told him how I used to disguise them with mustard, and we tried that. It didn’t work; he gagged.”

Was it the genes or the beans, I wondered?

Andy went on to describe the scenario. Max’s sister Della, who is 9, tried sharing her strategy.

‘‘I arrange the peas in a circle,” she told Max, ‘‘so it doesn’t look like so much.”

More tears, no concession.

At this point in Andy’s story, my husband Oscar shared his childhood strategy for avoiding veggies. Sixty years ago, when he went to summer camp, the campers ate lunch outdoors at picnic tables. Everyday, along with a sandwich, they were served spinach, a vegetable Oscar loathed. He would very quietly drop forks full of the slimy green leaves onto the ground under the table.

‘‘Today there are probably hundreds of spinach plants growing there and no one can figure out why,” he said with a reminiscent chuckle.

Then Andy mused over the phone, ‘‘I guess some of the things you can pass on to your children in addition to their genes are techniques for avoiding things.”

The phrase — teaching techniques for avoiding things — caught my attention. Very true, I thought as I made a connection. Parents are always trying to teach their children survival strategies. Call it avoidance advice: How can you avoid being bullied? Fight back. How can you avoid injury? Buckle up. How can you avoid flunking? Study hard. How can you avoid illness? Eat healthy foods and exercise.

But then I realized that it’s a two-way street. Our children teach as well. As his father had before him, and despite his sister’s coaching, Max had discovered his own survival strategy: the power of a plaintive sob.

Judy Kramer can be reached by e-mail at