I think the last time I ate Goldfish Crackers was around 1988. That is, until I had a child.
Since she was old enough to chew and swallow, I’ve been tempted by food that would never normally make it inside the door of my home. I had forgotten how good snow cones taste in the summer. Slurpees were a thing of the past.
Now, I consider whether I should buy the huge discount size box of Goldfish or just go for the smaller paper package. Will I save money, or add calories? It seems like a losing proposition either way.
The ancient Greeks defined a dilemma as a problem presenting two unrelated possible outcomes to a decision, neither of which is clearly acceptable or preferable. Do I give in to hunger and eat food unambiguously prepared just for kids, or hold onto my hunger and my increasingly slender vestiges of self-respect while I salivate thinking about it all night? Do I chow down and forsake my culinary dignity, or keep slim?
You can behave yourself all day long at the table, and then your kid’s food sings its sweet siren song from the kitchen cabinet, beckoning. This is especially a problem if you’re a night owl, and I am one.
My daughter now knows the expression “night eater” because I refer to myself this way. I’m not proud of it, but it happens to more of us than would admit it. Many more, I suspect. It’s like one of those survey questions about sex that no one answers honestly. Get four “yes” answers and the truth is probably around seven, minimum. The same dynamic applies when it comes to eating kid food. Far more of us do it than will own up to it.
Those little packages of gummi bears that you pack in your kid’s lunch begin to call your name between 11 p.m. and midnight. You poke a plastic straw into a squeezable juice package and start slurping. It’s not something that you ever pictured yourself doing when you first set out to have children. But like many things you can’t see coming, like love handles and bald spots, it’s still coming.
Dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets taste pretty good. That’s why my daughter likes them. I add a little Worcestershire sauce, in an effort to graft an adult flavor onto a kid’s meal. It may help the taste, but it’s no salve to my self-respect.
Single-parenting makes the kid food problem even worse. There’s no better half to act as your forgotten conscience or remind you what a dingwit you look like eating popsicle after popsicle. If you have any doubts about that, ask a friend. They’ll tell you. Probably in graphic terms that you won’t like.
A separate problem arises when your kid sees the kid food gone and knows that you ate it. You’re bound to get called on it.
“Daddy, where are the veggie straws?”
“The what?” (Feigning inability to hear or understand buys you time to strategize.)
“The veggie straws. They were there yesterday.”
“Oh. Well, I might have had some.”
“But the package is gone, Daddy.”
“Yeah. I guess I ate the package, honey.”
My daughter just looks at me.
“Not the actual package, sweetheart. Just what was inside it.”
“I know that, Daddy.”
“Oh, that’s good. You had me worried for a minute there.”
“Why did you eat them?”
“Well, I guess I got hungry.”
“But now I’m hungry for them, too.”
“Okay, let’s see what else we can find you. Come over here.”
You feel like such a heel. But what can you do? They were delicious.
We usually either gain or lose weight when a divorce comes. Few of us stay the same. I lost weight – a lot of it. In the war of life, it’s ground that you don’t want to give back. It’s a battle you’ve won, for your personal betterment.
Then those little miniature fudge stripe cookies come along and blow all your progress to heck. You think just one won’t hurt. It’s never just one. Suddenly, it’s the entire package. And you’re not just back to square one, you’re losing ground.
A few dodges do exist. Food that’s generic enough to not quite make the Exclusively Kid Food category – stuff that’s consumable by adults and not so caloric. That sugar free Jell-O comes to mind. It’s light on calories and the grown-up you could eat it without any kids around, in some hypothetical universe where you weren’t eating hospital Jell-O, so you have that for cover.
Products like this allow you to comfort yourself with some small degree of rectitude, as you snack at night, looking for a partial refuge for your conscience. But deep down, you still know it was food for the kids. And you ate it.
Of course, only parents would ever see any of this as a problem. College students just scarf the gummi bears down with a beer chaser, because they know the candy isn’t going to grow out of their posterior the very next day in the form of a misshapen glob of fat. I wish I could have those days back again. I’d make that Faustian bargain in a heartbeat.
I’m doing better these days, though, eating string beans and carrots or reaching for an apple when I get hungry late at night, and I’m getting slimmer as a result. Burning up a pile of calories at a regular martial arts class is doubtless helping me, too.
But my daughter’s kid food still calls out to me. I may have gained a small victory with the self-discipline that I now seem to exercise in the kitchen but, like Odysseus tied to the mast, I can still hear the sirens singing.
I’d better work out twice today.