My college boyfriend used to take me to his parent’s house for a big homemade knockdown dinner on Sunday afternoons. For a college student, that may or may not have included a few Sunday morning headaches from the night before, so this was always a treat. Homemade mac and cheese, freshly layered lasagna or a warm homemade cake freshly frosted. (This must be what you do when your kids are in college. Make cakes so they will bring their girlfriends over for Sunday dinner.) I remember one Sunday we showed up, starving and probably in dirty college t-shirts, ready to grub. I always looked forward to the menu and have such a large appetite that I never had trouble with taking down whatever was put in front of me. I mean, I’m not picky at all. Really, especially back then, I could make most anything work. Except, oh, you know bologna. But WHO eats bologna these days? Isn’t that extinct with SPAM?
Well, one hungry Sunday we arrived to find the menu presenting “bologna and eggs.” WHAT??? Is there another menu to order off? Me, being polite, 22 years old and too shy to say I can’t even stomach being in the same room as bologna, smiled and said, “Looks great, ” while wisking away boyfriend to tell him the truth. “I can’t do it. I won’t do it. Help.” And what follows is sad, but true. This may have been the beginning of the demise of our relationship.
He looked me in the eye, straight faced and said, “Well, you have to at least sit down and take a ‘no thank you bite’. After all the hard work my dad put into this bologna loaf, you have to at least try it. (Apparantly there is like nice and upper class type bologna that exists outside of the one with a first name of O.S.C.A.R.). And then, if after you try it and still don’t like it, you can eat around it. You may like it.”
Well, a) I can’t believe I’m found quoting my college boyfriend b) I didn’t like the bologna c) the whole “no thank you bite” sort of makes sense, now that I am wise and usually in clean t-shirts.
In the literal form, it is a great thing to teach our kids. For example, if they are given say, grilled chicken, rather than the chopped, processed and breaded form of the chicken nugget, I hope to instill a simple “try it, you may like it” mentality into their little brains. The “no thank you bite” may save them from a lifetime of boredom and ho-hum on their plate, at the table and in life. I was always jealous of the east coast kids freshman year that “went out for sushi” and actually went for the sushi, not just the saki bombs. “No thank you” bites can culture a kid.
This theory can also be applied to scenarios outside of bites of bologna or grilled chicken. In my opinion, it can be applied to daily life, especially when you find yourself “eating all the safe foods.” We do things, activities and motions that fit into our box. The box that promises comfort, delivers familiar outcomes and diminishes the threat of dealing with too big of a challenge, or God forbid, not doing something well or coping with a frustrating outcome.
The safe box is usually comfortable, typical, clean and well, sometimes inherently boring. No stretching, challenges or what we used to call at lululemon, “learnings.” (Which typically meant, hey you really sucked at that – what did you learn from sucking?)
It’s no secret I am a mother of triplets. It’s also no secret I chose to stay at home with them. My husband is a realtor that has a lot of weekend clients that love to HGTV it out on Sundays, also not a secret. So…if you do the math, in the summer, I have a lot of days – during the week and weekend – that I am alone with the kids. All three of them. All one of me. The four of us, sitting in a dirty kitchen, trying to make sense of mis-matched sippy cups, spontaneous crying and uncombed hair. We are bored. We all get bored. We are bored with our safe box sometimes.
So I venture out and get ready to try new things. Taking bites of uncharted territory, unsafe zones and taking part in events with uncertain outcomes. Sometimes it is scary and sometimes it is really rewarding. Some end as a “no thank you bite” while others end up being my favorite dish of the season. But we tried, and that’s how we know if it’s one worth biting into again, or one to say “no thank you” to (usually followed by, “what was I thinking?”)
Last Sunday I ventured out of the box. I loaded the kids up, dressed and semi – combed. I even put on a cute new tank top, earrings and cool-ish shoes to show off my hip blue toe pedicure. We went to Broad Ripple – a fun area that I always wish I lived closer to. It’s sort of like living in Chicago in Indianapolis, but not really at all. If you come here and look for a little Chicago in the heart of Broad Ripple, you will be vastly disappointed.
Anyway, it’s hot, but not a sauna so I unload the kids from the van and pile them into their double decker stroller…sure to fly under the radar, us four. We head into a little coffee shop that I know serves almond milk and feel pretty normal. I walk slowly and we stop to talk to a BIG dog. The kids are so happy and well behaved! They get a bagel, I get a coffee. We love this new outing option!
So, since all is going so well, I decide, hey!, let’s walk up to that open air produce market and get fresh peaches! It’s only 10 blocks from here…we can do it! It will be so cool. The kids won’t be able to avoid having fun because this place is so cool. I mean, the owner always has fresh cut fruit to try, big fans blowing the summer air around in your hair, the smell of BBQ smoking, loud Bob Marley playing …AND it’s in an old gas station with a big family farm style communal table. Is there even any room for more of a cool factor?
If we are speaking figuratively here, let me just say, the first 4 “bites” (blocks of shady green trees, cute panting dogs and happy bagel eating babies) were glorious. Wonderful. A new “meal” to add to the repertoire.
But then the heat spiked. My coffee splashed with every bump. Bagels thrown. The sun beat down. The kids became antsy.
But then…we arrived to the Holy Grail. And all was peaceful…
When we get to the cool reggae, old gas station produce place… mom realized she had forgotten her credit card. So with about $2 in change, the 4 of us picked up 2 peaches and got out of the stroller to shake some of the dust off.
Gracie hated the fuzz on the peach so she threw it on the ground. And she lost a shoe. Harper dumped a cup of water all over her body and started to smear her peach all over her white tank and brown hair. Quinn wandered off while at the reggae fruit stand, only to be found heading into the back kitchen, standing in a group of adults. I found him standing confidently in a ring of people, as if he had been invited into the conversation for his expert opinion from his view of the world at 32 inches. I started to sweat. The fight to get all 3 stretched out bodies back into their mini Cooper of a stroller was flashy entertainment for the young clean couple sipping cold root beer out of a bottle at the farm table. I’m sure she went home and took her birth control.
The walk back must have had a northwesterly wind working against our efforts, adding a good 8 minutes to the same distance that we started with. Did I mention it was HOT? And at one time, all three were crying, puffing their chest, face jammed into gremlin mode and throwing and smashing peach into every crevice of the stroller. And I, still in my trendy blue toes, walked with a fury. My new white tank, so sweaty and stretched out, it hung under my sports bra. As I walked in my hipster sandals, forming blisters on my feet, pushing three MAD toddlers down the Monon Trail, I felt so out of control that I decided to just keep pushing, forming a half deranged smile on my face…as to tell passer by’s – yes, I know they are all crying. Yes, I know I have boob sweat.
And remember that coffee? Did you ever know my bladder is the size of a papaya seed? Well, let’s just say, once back at the van, we are less one sippy cup.
I did the only thing any mother would do – pee in a sippy cup in the van, strip the kids out of their peach and water soaked clothing, change their diapers, load them up and get them to Wendy’s to get chicken nuggets and a paper sack to play with. They all smiled. I knew this meant they thought I was the coolest mom around. And then, out loud and to no one I said, “Thank You God. Thank You that THAT is over,” and drove on. Eating one of the best peaches I have ever had…if you don’t mind gravel (remember we had 2 peaches to share…)
It was, indeed, my friends, a bite that I know to say “no thank you” to next time.
But you know, some of our favorite activities this summer started out in the same way – a new bite. A new taste, a venture and a motion that offered an un-certain outcome. They all push us and teach us that new challenges sometimes will provide you with the most joy. And sometimes with rage and tears…and a good memory to laugh about later.
If we hadn’t have tried new bites this summer I would have never known how easy and delightful it is to take our kids to Conner Prairie to see the sheep, play in the water or have an ice-cream cone for the 1st time.
Or, I wouldn’t have known how much they love to be free at the farmer’s market – to dance barefoot in the grass, clap for the musicians and eat homemade scones with their chubby hands. So mesmerized, they stay in one spot like there is in imaginary fence.
I tell these stories because by nature, I sort of have a lining of fear that I wish would just die. I know I stick to safe boxes. Although I take risks, I sometimes get so dramatic in trying to control this or that or make sure I know I will be comfortable here or there.
And I guess I have to sometimes go back to that lesson of the “no thank you” bite … if you never try, you never know. Something I want my kids to believe. So, this is why we do it. Step out of the safe box and take a bite … knowing that if you don’t like it, or it didn’t work out, well hey, you can always “eat around it.”
What have you done that is outside of your safe box this summer? Or what have you been wanting to do?
Maybe go do it, and be nourished.