The first night of Passover is in less than three weeks.
I am dreading it.
It’s not the cleaning or the clearing or the shopping or the schlepping that has me burying my head in the sand. It’s not the planning for, cooking for, or hosting the Seder. And it’s not even about giving up my beloved morning english muffin or lunchtime turkey sandwich.
I’m dreading Passover because of how hard it is to feed my daughter when bread, pasta, tortillas, and pizza are not on the menu. You see, the child generally subsists on variations of wheat and cheese, occasionally with a side of wheat.
My daughter is healthy. But she’s also, well, selective (ahem). She eats a variety of fruit and vegetables, and she’s not terribly interested in most sweets, desserts, and junk food. Unfortunately, she’s also not terribly interested in most chicken, fish, turkey, meat, potatoes, eggs, beans, tofu, cream cheese, quinoa, and rice— all of which I would happily feed her during Passover if she would eat it.
And when I say not interested, I mean this: with relatively few exceptions (which tend to be highly unpredictable, because, you know, kids), she will not eat any of those foods. There is no amount of bribery, negotiation, or threats that will get her to ingest them, and the harder I push, the harder she digs in her heels. (We once spent nearly 20 minutes negotiating over one piece of quinoa. Not one bite, one piece. This, my friends, is what I like to call #InsaneParenting.)
She just won’t eat it if she doesn’t want to. I get it. I really do. I’m a selective eater too. Apple, meet tree. Or pot and kettle. Or karma’s a bitch. Pick your metaphor, but either way, genetics are clearly at play here. So, that’s fun.
Here is the part where you may be tempted to Momsplain how I should be handling things differently. Please don’t. I have been reading and researching and Facebooking and experimenting and trying to figure out how to feed this child for nearly a decade. (If you really want the sordid details, check out my essay in “The Good Mother Myth,” an anthology edited by fellow Kveller author Avital Norman Nathman.) There is nothing I haven’t tried. I have nagged and not nagged. I have cooked with the child and hidden veggies in sauces ala Jessica Seinfield. I have taken her to go the grocery store and made dinnertime fun and consulted with experts and tried their suggestions.
I have played Good Cook and helped her get through each bite with patience and kindness that surprised even me, and I have played Bad Cook and told her I’m not making anything else, and she can eat it or not. That always ends poorly for everyone, as hunger and low blood sugar inevitably lead to meltdowns of epic proportions that will only end when I am able to force some food in her. (Again, apple, tree. The hangry gene runs strong in our family.)
If there was a magic pill or recipe or trick or tactic out there, I would have found it by now. I promise.
And so instead I have been trying to focus on my own oxygen mask first. I have spent the past year working hard to get into a better headspace about her eating. I remind myself again and again that my daughter is healthy and growing, and she will grow out of this at her own pace. Yes, eating at restaurants (even kid-friendly diners) is rough, and travel is brutal and we will probably have to pack eight peanut butter and jelly sandwiches just to get through my cousin’s wedding weekend this spring.
But I am acutely aware of how fortunate we are to have access to, and money for, sugar-free peanut butter and whole wheat bread and a range of fresh produce. These are serious first-world problems, and when I am able to get outside of my own anxious brain long enough to get a little perspective, I am grateful for them.
And then along comes Passover, and this issue between us, or more accurately, with me, gets triggered all over again. You see, my daughter would be happy to survive the week on matzah pizza, broccoli, blueberries, and the one brand of turkey hot dogs she will eat. (Ok, maybe she wouldn’t be super happy about it, but happy is not the point of Passover, so, whatever.)
The bigger problem is, perhaps not surprisingly, with me. My anxiety spikes in the weeks before Passover. What will I cook? What will she eat? How will I get enough protein into the child?? Is it ok for her to eat the same damn thing for 8 days straight? What if she stops pooping? I obsess in silence (for about five minutes), and then do the only reasonable thing: I explode all over my husband. It’s not that bad, he tells me. She eats enough, he says. You’ll get through it, he reassures me.
“You try feeding her every single meal for eight days, Mr. Fancy-pants works outside the home!” I frequently shout.
During Passover, we are encouraged to remember that which has enslaved us as we find our way to freedom. I used to think that freedom from the slavery of my daughter’s picky eating meant finding ways to get her to eat matzoh brei or salmon or, you know, a single piece of quinoa. But now I know that hinging my freedom (aka sanity) to my child’s behavior is nothing short of a losing proposition.
And so I’m trying to let go–of my stress, my anxiety, and my unhinged control fantasies that there is something I can do to get the child to eat. She’ll eat what she’ll eat, she won’t eat everything else, and we’ll get through it. It may not graceful or fun or easy, but we’ll survive, because we’re Jews, and that’s what we do.