Taste Test (#268)

I am a picky eater. Take onions. I’ve hated onions with a passion since biting into my first McDonald’s burger and recoiling in horror over the raw, diced bites of bitterness wrecking my burger.

Unfortunately, onions are everywhere. No burger, sauce, or burrito is safe.

I’m normally a people-pleaser. Not when it comes to onions. I will quiz the wait staff before ordering a new dish. I will send that dish back if an onion shows up (very nicely and apologetically). And then I am NEVER going back to that restaurant.

My Chinese-American husband can and does eat anything. Animal brains? Check. Animal testicles? Check. Bitter melon? Check. Fish eyeballs, jellyfish, chicken feet? Bring it. The guy could have killed it on Fear Factor.

Because Andy adored me and wanted to keep me happy, he never said a word about my picking eating. He listened to me sympathetically when I ranted about how nasty diced raw onions are and how onions should not be standard on burgers. He kept track of all the restaurants that made it onto my “Banned Due to Onions” list and knew better than to suggest eating in any of them. Since Andy’s the cook, he modified all his recipes to either substitute garlic or puree any onions into oblivion.

Not until I got pregnant did he ever express any irritation if I didn’t eat his food. After he’d spent hours making brie-stuffed steak and I fled the house, gagging, he sulked. Ditto after he smoked pork.

“Dude. I can’t help it,” I insisted. “The smell of any meat makes me puke right now.”

Andy scowled. “It’s that bland white diet you grew up with. Your parents should have given you chicken feet.”

“Yeah. I bet I’d’ve thrown that up, too. It’s no good, honey. You don’t understand that it is literally impossible for some of us to choke down certain foods. Especially right now.”

“I blame your parents. Our child is going to grow up with vegetables. Fish. He’ll learn to eat anything. Even…onions.”

“Good luck with that,” I told him.

Baby D was a good eater from day one. He gained weight steadily. Andy made him pureed sweet potato for his first solid food and Baby D gobbled it down. Same with all early baby food.

Until we tried vegetables. Baby D declined. Sometimes violently. For years, the only vegetable he’d eat would be frozen peas, probably because he was teething.

I shrugged and stocked up on berries and frozen peas. When Andy wanted to insist that Baby D eat vegetables or not eat at all, I overruled him.

“He’s not gonna eat the goddamned kale,” I told Andy. “It’s a pointless battle. He’s got my tastebuds. If you insist he try, he’ll gag, and I have enough of his bodily fluids to clean up, thanks very much. Give him some peas.”

Andy muttered for months about how our child’s “genetically sensitive taste buds” were a crock and it was all parenting.

Until the day Andy returned from a trip to McDonald’s Playland with Baby D, sighing mightily.

“How’d it go?”

“I ordered him a cheeseburger instead of chicken nuggets.”

“Really.”

“He took one bite and spat it out and told me it was icky and peeled back the bun and pointed to the onions on it and told me they were terrible! And he refused to eat another bite!”

“Wow. If only we could have seen that coming.”

Pretty Binary (#267)

My son got a ton of hand-me-downs from his older girl cousins before he was even born. My Chinese-American husband’s frugality warred with his old-fashioned views on gender when those boxes first arrived.

“You’re not gonna dress him in pink, are you?” he asked.

“I dunno,” I said with a shrug. “We’ll see what fits in which season. Would you rather he wear pink or we save money?”

I let Andy wrestle with this dilemma for a while—because I am cruel like that—before telling him he wouldn’t have to choose.

“Judgmental Genius Doctor Sister was a baby clothes Momzilla with all of us before First Niece was born—especially her mother-in-law,” I explained. “The MIL is from Georgia. The MIL had two sons and no daughters. Judgmental Genius Sister knew that she would be inundated with pink frilly everything if she didn’t set some rules. So she sent out the directive ‘No pink ANYTHING!’ before First Niece was born.”

“And she never changed it?”

“Oh, she added a few modifiers, like ‘no dresses EVER,’ and ‘no fucking purple’ and ‘no goddamned hair bows.’

“Really?”

First Niece modeling her Christmas present.

“Why do you think I always give First Niece and Third Niece shiny blue track suits or books for Christmas?” I asked.

“Didn’t we give them drums last year?”

“Yeah, and a really loud talking school bus and their stay-at-home-dad told us we were going to hell. Good times.”

As I unpacked the boxes, Andy and I marveled at the infinite array of yellow and green clothes. There was no pink or purple anywhere. Even the car seats were in primary colored plaids. My sister’s Georgia MIL had been well and truly cowed. (As my relationship with my Chinese-American in-laws had recently devolved into a skirmish that ended in me brandishing a screwdriver, I was beyond envious.)

Our Baby D was born big and beautiful a few months later. Dressed in his neutral clothing, strangers rarely got pronouns right when commenting on his appearance.

“She’s adorable!”

“She—or is it a he?—is super cute!”

“Hapa girls are the prettiest!”

Unlike the moms who insisted on sticking pink bows in their infant daughters’ three hairs, I didn’t care whether Baby D was identified as a him or a her. I just smiled and thanked people. With one exception. When I saw my OB six weeks after delivery with Baby D in tow, she exclaimed, “Oh, wow, she’s so pretty!”

I replied, “She’s a boy!”

“Really? With those lips and eyelashes?!”

“You CIRCUMCISED him!”

Andy, on the other hand, bristled every time his son was called a girl. Once Baby D was old enough to be identified as a boy by haircut and outfit, he relaxed. Only to bristle yet again when friends, relatives, and strangers would insist on saying, “But he’s so, so pretty!”

Through gritted teeth, Andy would say, “No, he’s handsome!”

Later, when the person was out of earshot, I would say, “Oh, honey. It doesn’t matter. ‘Pretty?’ ‘Handsome?’ The gendered connotations are all societal constructs. Stop giving our boy a complex.”

“But—”

“No. Just stop. We have no idea who he’s going to be. Maybe he’ll like pretty, frilly things. He should be able to have a pink bike if he wants. Maybe he make friends who aren’t cisgendered or like pretty things. He should learn that that’s okay. Boys can be pretty. Girls can be handsome. Everything doesn’t have to fit into binary box from the fifties. It is NOT okay for you to insist he be stereotypically masculine.”

Andy sulked for a while and finally ground out, “Fine.”

“And besides, our boy IS pretty,” I told him. “There’s no getting around it.”

Andy glared, but stopped bristling—or at least arguing—with people who called his son pretty.

*****

Living in Southern California, we never bothered with winter clothes. When Baby D was two, however, we went to Utah for Christmas with my father. Rather than buy expensive snow pants for one trip, I borrowed some from a Mom friend with daughters.

“They’re pink, though,” she told me dubiously. “You sure that’s okay?”

“Absolutely fine,” I assured her.

Andy didn’t say a word as we outfitted Baby D in his borrowed snow gear. After he was dressed, Baby D ran his hands down the pink bib and delightedly announced, “I look pretty!”

Without missing a beat, Andy said, “Yes. Yes, you do.”