Spit or Swallow? These are my choices? Why can’t one of my choices be: never do it at all? Sure, I know, everyone else is doing it, a couple times a week if they’re telling the truth. They swear by it and will tell you over and over to just how good it can be. But every time I do what they say: open your mouth really wide… plug your nose if it really bothers you…and do it, I just can’t. Because the truth of the matter is, I. Just. Can’t. Stand. Quinoa.
There, I said it. I hate quinoa. And no matter how many times Whole Foods tries to bribe me with a free sample that invariably tastes like pigeon-pee covered sand, or some militant Mom at the park swears quinoa was her toddler’s first word or how many “farm to table” restaurant boasts it as a regular special, I don’t want to spit it or swallow it. I just don’t want to eat it at all. And apparently, as a modern day parent, hating quinoa is downright unacceptable.
I’m in a Mom’s group and we’ve all met at the park. My kid is two and my first so I’m anxious to make new friends who have kids the same age. I’m giving the Mom’s group thing the old college try, even showing up during work hours for park dates like today’s so my kid, who’s too young to actually care of if he plays with another child, can go to the park to play with other children.
Prior to the park date, all the Moms offered to bring something, which kind of baffles me. How much shit do two-year-old’s need for an hour at the park? Do we really need a sign up sheet or can I just shove a diaper or two in my purse, bring a water bottle and call it a day? No. Apparently, a full catering staff and camp set-up committee are needed for an hour at the park.
When I was a kid, I went to a Co-Op Pre-School. Basically a Co-Op is a school where parents provide the children and the labor, offering to volunteer at least once a week to offset the cost of staff. I loved when my Mom’s day would come to volunteer, but could never understand why she always volunteered for “bathroom duty”, which meant she had to make sure the toddler bathroom was always kept clean. Why would she volunteer to spend one day a week cloistered in a windowless room, away from all the kids and all other parents when she could have volunteered for duties like circle time helper, art atelier assistant or snack supplier? Now, as a parent, it’s painfully clear to me why a woman would rather wipe a child’s butt than spend her day kissing the child’s mother’s ass.
And so, not yet understanding why it’s better to be the bathroom-Mom than the snack-Mom, I sign up to bring a snack (which I assume, though it’s not noted on the playdate sign up sheet, is for the kids.) Catering a snack for 15 two-year-olds sounds easy, but these are the kinds of things that keep me up at night. When I was a kid, a snack might have consisted of some apple slices, maybe some cheese with mold my father had recently cut off, or some apple sauce found in the bottom of my Mom’s purse. But now that Mom’ing is an Olympic-level sport, you’re bound to have a ringer in your Mom’s group: the Crafting Mom who’ll bring her kid’s snack in a homemade cozy, the Easy Bake Mom who, despite her three children all under the age of three, still has to time to bake her kids’ snack, or the Prodigy Mom, whose kid actually made the snack.
Not wanting to let down the homemaker team, I spend some time thinking about the snack. It should probably be more filling and fulfilling that Pirate’s Booty, though that’s probably what the kids would like to eat. Cut apples turn brown when not eaten within 37 seconds. Bananas are binding to some kids. Not all two year-olds can eat carrot sticks. Cheese isn’t good for those lactose intolerant kids and their intolerant intolerant parents. And baking something is just not an option mainly because the people at bakeries seem to bake so much better and more often than I do. So what to bring?
I decide to make a handy little-hand-sized snack pack for each kid. I get plastic candy bags with cute designs on them and cut them down to toddler-hand size. I fill all 15 of them with a few yogurt pretzels, a few pretzel sticks, a few raisins, a little bit of Booty and some dried fruit. I consider putting a few chocolate M&M’s in, but eat them myself instead. I’m happy with my snack, tie up each bag with a cute little ribbon and me and my kid head for the park.
Sharon and Lynda put out their waterproof chemical free beach/park blankets for the kids to sit on. Claudia sets out some organic sand toys, “Phthalate-free” she makes sure to tell us. I make a note to myself to go home and look up what a phthalate is just to make sure I want to be free of it. Kira places her SPF 200, chemical-free, sunscreen-free sunscreen on the blanket and Tristan sets up the sunshades she signed up to bring. I put my snack packs down in the center of the blanket. The kids race to grab their bags and their Moms race to take them away.
“Are those raisins? “one Mom asks, confessing that raisins are the leading cause of cavities after sugar, soda and not brushing your teeth. She takes her daughter’s snack bag and puts it back in the pile.
“Sorry Morgan,” Sharon says to her little one, “I see those are salted pretzels” she says as she puts her daughter’s bag back in the pile. Morgan throws a colossal size temper tantrum to which her Mom says, “She’s expressing her resistance to my boundary on salt.”
“Ooh, sorry boo, yogurt pretzels are one of the top 37,000 causes of obesity,” Lynda says to her son as she takes his bag away and begins to snack on it herself.
One by one, the rest of the Moms put their kid’s snack bag back in the pile except for one Mom, me. My kid is already half through his bag and has his eyes on another. I’m not strong enough to pry a snack from a toddler’s hand. An uncomfortable silence falls over the group when Sharon opens her beach bag and pulls out a tupperware (no doubt plastic-free) and says, “I brought quinoa cakes, who wants one?” Reluctantatly, the kids grab what can only be described as a quinoa-puck and begin gnawing. None of them look particularly happy, but it’s their only option so they’re eating. A few of the Moms grab one as well and “Mmm” and “Oh delicious” with an intensity that rivals Sally’s Katz’s-Deli orgasm in When Harry Met Sally.
Sharon offers me a quinoa-cake. In effort not to be rude, I take one. She offers my son one and he gives me a, “Please don’t make me” look, just from the smell alone. I tell her we’ll share and take a bite of the hard, green, pancake that has the taste and consistency of gravel, if it had wood chips in it, and had been shit on by a cat. My son grabs another snack bag. His friends look at him longingly as if prisoner’s hoping to see the light of day. He has a few more rainsins, then puts his snack bag down and runs off to play with a few of the other kids following closely behind, each spitting out their quinoa as fast as they can.
The trouble with quinoa isn’t quinoa, it’s parents who like it simply because it makes themselves feel better about the job their doing as a parent. I’m all in favor of kids eating healthy food, but when a raisin is contraband, you may have gone too far into the land of rigidity. And when two-year-olds are expected to eat a food most grown ups can’t stomach, life’s getting a little un-fun for this particular gal.
The truth is, food is fun. Some of my best childhood memories involve the root beer floats my Dad used to make us on Sunday nights. Myself and my two sisters, despite our ice cream intake, have all gone on to finish college. All three of us can even finish full sentences. My son, now 4, is a devout salad eater. He’s also a big fan of french fries. Carrot sticks are big in our house and so is pizza from time to time. We try to keep balance on the menu and remember that food, like childhood, is supposed to be fun.
As my kid plays with the others kids at the park, I look around the group and realize not one of these Moms is someone I’d be friends with if we didn’t have the one thing in common which is kids the same age. They’re not kind or graceful in the way they militantly define themselves by the rigid way they parent. So I look at the 13 uneaten snack bags, swoop them up and shove them back in my bag. I round up my stuff and my kid as one of the Moms asks me where I’m going. I reply simply, “Quinoa sucks.” My kid and I escape the park, hand in hand, and drive off in search of a pizza.