When I was pregnant, and even after my newbie arrived, I imagined our family dinners to look something like an impressionist painting. The main course is recognizable as such and prominently featured like the figure in a Renoir or Degas. On close examination, the actual make up of the meal, like the color and brush strokes of an impressionist painting, may combine casually thrown together side dishes. However if I stand back and squint, like a good Monet, I can make out a well-balanced meal.
Then my baby becomes a toddler and my idealized image of family dinner vanishes like a popped balloon. All of a sudden my daughter won’t taste any food that is combined with any other food. She may love peas and pasta but only if they remain in their own confined spaces on her highchair tray.
So I quickly shift art movements to abstract expressionism. I think Mondrian where the red, blue, white and yellow are organized and kept from bleeding into each other with distinct black lines. “A purist,” another mom explains to me. I understand immediately as I watch my toddler gobble up rice and black beans that each sit in their own distinct bowl.
“It all goes to the same place,” I argue with my now 3 year-old.
“But it doesn’t taste good together,” my daughter responds.
Fast forward another year or so, sitting at the dinner table with my 5 year-old daughter and 3 year-old son. “Look mommy, I can stand the carrots up on their ends and make buildings,” says my son. Meanwhile my daughter is talking to a piece of steamed sweet potato who is asking to come over for a play date.
“Dada,” I think. You know, the art movement where Duchamp took a urinal, turned it upside down and called it a fountain? I am not a fan of playing with your food. When my kids start smearing and smashing their dinner, a la Jackson Pollock, I always bring out the “no dessert” threats.
“Should I let this continue,” I think to myself as my son builds a city of carrots and then eats each one. I look over and my daughter’s sweet potato chunk is now sharing toys with another piece on its way to her mouth.
“They ARE eating their dinner,” I reason as I sit back and enjoy a little Dada at the dinner table.