Monthly Archives: April 2008

Hunger strike

            Benjamin’s hunger strike caught us unprepared.  He is our eater, the one who wolfs down chicken tikka masala, broccoli, or kidney beans, then rejects the cookie we offer for dessert because all he wants are clementines.  While we did not know how the stress of the move would manifest itself with him, we sure as shootin’ knew he would eat whatever we put in front of him.

            The lesson here is that as soon as we know something for certain about our children, they are duty bound to take a 97° turn.  Unable to starve himself completely, Benjamin opted for the closest alternative.  He stopped eating everything except strawberries.  OK, that’s a slight exaggeration, but his diet for the first week we were here was about 80% fruit, and that mostly composed of the large, red berries currently in season.   And, while he was getting his vitamin C, it made for some disturbing diaper changes.

            And so, while his brother tried new foods (almonds! hibatchi chicken!) and gloried in the giant sandbox of a beach, Benjamin struggled, overwhelmed by the new sounds and the new tastes and the new feel of the sand between his toes.

            And then, slowly, the child we once knew reemerged.   At the beach, he took off his shoes, gingerly placing his little feet on the sand.  Twenty minutes later, he was doing full-body sweeps, pushing the sand from side to side with the force of his entire body.  Clearly, we were over the fear of sand.

As I watched him munch on his pre-dinner asparagus while watching television, I wondered if perhaps he was ready to start eating again.  Then, we sat down to one of his favorite meals, a bean curd dish he fondly refers to as “toady!!”  I had made enough for two adults and one child, but it soon became clear neither J nor I would get our full portions.  It kept disappearing down the twenty-month-old’s throat. 

            Asparagus and tofu, it turns out, also makes for some interesting diapers.

A different world

            We are starting to get our footing.  We have found the playgrounds.  We are figuring out neighborhoods as we work on house-hunting.  We are learning the side roads and how best to cross the 405 during rush hour.  Life in L.A. is a different ball of wax than life on the East Coast or in London, and we are poking that ball to determine its texture.  It remains to be seen if it will suit us.

            There is, however, one aspect of life here that is rocking my world.  Here, I am not the weirdo with the canvas bag in the grocery store.  Here, in fact, I never need to say “I don’t need a bag.”  And people look at you a little funny if you need one.  We seem to have entered a world where people recognize that they are visitors here on the planet, and they had better behave themselves.

            At the Santa Monica Aquarium, which, by the way, is stretching the definition of “aquarium,” they have dual-flush toilets.  You push one button for urine, another for more solid contributions.  This is brilliant, as one form of waste requires a good deal less water. 

            At the farmer’s market, there are no trash cans.  It is one of those markets with food stalls and tantalizing breakfast options served up on paper plates, but there are no rubbish bins.  Everything used there is either recyclable or compostable, so there are only those two types of bins.  Volunteers stand by to help people sort out which item is which.

            It got a little complicated when I had to change a poopy diaper.           

If a crowded farmer’s market can go zero-waste, why can’t more food courts?  Why can’t we all have dual-flush toilets?  Why can’t other cities create the type of peer pressure I am finding around here to carry one’s own bags? 

I feel like I have entered some sort of environmental nirvana, despite all the driving.  The jury is out on the people and the cost of housing (holy shit) and the sprawling city, but I think it is safe to say that LA has won a very important portion of my heart.

Highest common denominator

            As I have mentioned before, my children are slightly different when it comes to food.  Also when it comes to body type, gross motor skills, fine motor skills, temperament, skin tone, aggression, and favorite activities.  In fact, the only two things they seem to have in common is that they both like to sleep and they both love to talk.  “It is almost as though they aren’t related,” a friend once mused, looking at their two faces.

            Food, however, is the most frustrating difference.  Zachary’s goal, even as a baby, seemed to be inducing total insanity in his mother.  When he was a toddler, I tried putting a little grated cheese on his pasta.  He sat in his high chair and picked out each piece that had been tainted with the foreign substance, tossing them one by one over the edge.  He was cleaning house.

            For him, it is all about carbohydrates.  He will not eat sauce.  He eats only a few vegetables, and those only when prepared in very specific ways by me.  He has finally consented to fruit, but only hand-sized fruit, so no berries or grapes and certainly no melon.  And, by the time he accepts an in-season fruit, it is out of season again.  Protein?  Fuhgettaboutit.  If it weren’t for a certain sticky, brown substance best served with jam, we’d be completely screwed. 

            And, while it has gotten better lately as he has learned to accept hamburgers and almonds, feeding him remains a challenge, especially now that I need to pack him a cold lunch each day.  I understand the no-nut rule at school.  Really, I do, and I support it fully.  But, for the love of God, those of you who have children who are allergic to peanut butter, please, please, take just a moment and honor the level of commitment to your child’s health it takes for me to figure out a lunch for my son each day.   I know it is not nearly as difficult as the challenge you face keeping your kid safe, which is why I do it willingly, but please, just for one moment, understand what those of us on the other side are also going through.

            I should have known we were in for a different ride from the very start with Ben.  When he was just a day old, he would scream at me with frustration as he tried to breastfeed, pissed that he was working so damned hard and getting a few drops of colostrum for his efforts.  When my milk came in, we were both relieved.  Whereas Zach had breastfed like a Russian on the bread lines, this one nursed like an American at an all-you-can-eat rib-and-chicken buffet.

            He eats anything, and a lot of it.  “That’s a lot of food,” a friend worried as we ordered Chinese food, perhaps under the misapprehension that we were feeding only three adults.  The twenty-month-old ate more than his father, seeming especially fond of the chicken-lettuce wraps.

            We went to an all-you-can eat salad and soup buffet.  As we stood outside, five minutes before opening, and watched Ben yanking on the locked door screaming “LUNCH! LUNCH!”, we figured they had not counted on our son when they created their children-under-two-eat-free policy.  Or, perhaps they figure that kids like his older brother average things out. 

            Ben is as adventurous as he is voracious, and feeding him is sheer delight.  I have earned it, frankly.  And I have two choices.  I can cook to the lowest common denominator, dumbing down our tastebuds to keep Zach happy.  We can go out only to Italian restaurants.  Or, we can eat Indian food and Japanese food and tofu and vegetables and Zach can sit by eating plain rice and fake chicken burgers.  We have opted for option B.  Maybe someday Zach will catch up, maybe he will remain picky.  I suspect he will grow up to be a gourmet chef and a daring culinary explorer.

            In the meantime, I am cooking for Benjamin.

The other child…

            Los Angeles has been a culture shock for all of us, but for no one so much as Benjamin.  Zachary has taken to the beach and the sunshine, and he is slipping into his new school with the relief of a person who finally gets a hot bath after a very long day.  Twenty-month-old Benjamin, on the other hand, had some  adjustment issues.

            There are certainly things he likes.  The gigantic strawberries that are in season right now are a huge hit, which is a damned good thing because otherwise he was not eating very much last week.  This makes for some remarkable diaper changes.  He is also fascinated by the ocean and the beach.  If we drive by it but do not actually go to it, he starts sobbing.  “Beach, beach,” he cries, often first thing upon getting out of bed each day.  He loves the ocean and the vast expanse of sand.

            As long as none of it touches his feet.

            Yes, our resilient second child, the one who is willing to try anything and the dangerous things twice, is totally freaked out by sand in his toes.  He got it there the first day, and has not stopped talking about it since.  “Beach,” he says, “toes no sand.”  So earnest, so insistent each time, as though perhaps his parents had forgotten in the interim.

            The second time we went to the beach, Zachary sat happily digging with sand creeping up his bare legs.  Benjamin sat on my lap, while I held his feet clear of the terrifying grains, and dug as best as he could from a remarkably awkward angle.  Any time his feet slipped downward for even a moment, he gasped.  “Toes no sand,” he cried, “Toes no sand.”

            Next time, we’ll just let him wear his wellies.