I hope there’s a lab someplace working on removing colour from produce, because I’m not sure how long we can stave off scurvy here at our house. Despite unlimited access, my teenager hasn't eaten anything of colour in the last six months that a) grew from a seed or b) had roots at some time in its evolution. This "all-white" diet isn't cutting it.
We love to eat here. We love food and we love going out to eat—especially at "all-you-can-eat" places, because things are better when preceded by the word “unlimited” . . . unless, of course, those things are “tetanus shots,” or “weekend visits from the in-laws.” It's easy, really—you keep it coming, and I don’t cause a scene reminiscent of Shirley MacLaine in Terms of Endearment, except where she wants pain killers for her dying daughter. I want ketchup for my French fries!
Occasionally, our family goes to such dining establishments where my kids and I are able to pick and choose from wide varieties of food we don’t have at home, because—surprise!—despite loving food, I hate cooking. My ten-year-old eats like he’s preparing for hibernation, and my teen has a good appetite, as well, but there is one huge difference—the younger child will consume his weight in salmon, garlic broccoli, fresh fruit salad, and black beans, while the teenager's plate returns with rice, mashed potatoes, chicken, bread, and pasta Alfredo. For breakfast this morning she had vanilla yogurt and a glass of milk. Every single thing is white. Our kids are supposed to eat a rainbow, but she shot too high and she’s eating the clouds.
So I've devised a handy list of tangible, concrete solutions you can employ in getting your teenager to eat a colourful, well-rounded diet:
Like all childhood phases and that Havarti cheese log your kid ate for breakfast, this too shall (eventually) pass. I suppose I should be happy she’s eating at all, but trying to get this girl to eat a variety of colours has proven more difficult than keeping a toddler from peeing on the clean laundry pile.
I know how teenagers eat, I was a student at University in my late 30s and I sat next to literally hundreds of kids in lecture halls and cafeterias for five years. (Note to parents: your kids are spending their meal allowances on gin for Brittany and Caitlin's dorm party.) Pancakes and hash browns are gobbled up in place of 12-grain cereals, and the salad bar sits lonely and dejected save for the adult students, campus staff, and that girl in Teva sandals with the unshaved armpits.
Although I know this is a phase and it's likely that as an adult she'll eat a wide range of foods of all colours, it's hard to watch the vegetable tray constantly get passed over for the cheese and crackers, and she's eaten enough yogurt to ensure no one in a 50-mile radius of our house gets a yeast infection going forward three generations. But still, I laid down the gauntlet a few days ago. “You’re not having anything else until you eat a fruit AND a vegetable. Our insurance doesn’t cover treatment for beriberi and you’re giving the kale in the fridge an inferiority complex.”
She rolled here eyes, then reluctantly agreed and complied.
She ate a banana and some cauliflower.
I’m starting a “rickets” fund.
Remember all the stuff we did when we were teenagers? Sometimes I’m amazed I’d made it through those years, and while I was never a kid who actively bought into invincibility clause, my past behaviour certainly indicates that on some level I believed this was true. It’s funny to look back through the lens which is maturity and realize that, yep; I was sort of an asshole.
My daughter often asks me to tell her stories of when I was a teenager. I’m a storyteller by trade and by hobby and it’s hard to gloss over or withhold several details crucial to the plot, especially when someone is clamouring for them. So far I’ve told her only benign tales of my youth, with minor escapades thrown in for good measure and to maintain my street cred. I doubt she’d believe I spent my downtime at 16 reading to the blind or crocheting shawls for Worldwide Abandoned Grandmothers Fund.
The teenage memories I am alternately proud and ashamed of remain in the vault. Those stories are only for me and the other players. When my daughter presses hard for more, I simply report that I can say no more; that I am bound by court orders or pinkie swear to never reveal details of such events. Then I look off into the distance and act melancholy for a few hours for good measure.
At 17 it would have been unheard of to tell our parents we were off to drink contraband wine behind the Mill Pond with a 20 year-old sophomore from second period French class. We blanketed our parents is snugly warm swaths of fleecy lies, so that while they thought we were collecting school supplies for underprivileged children, we were actually rearranging the letters in local advertising signs from “Excited to Our Welcome New Patients “to “Sex Parties Held Nightly.” And as hard as it would have been to come clean to our parents, it’s nearly impossible to do so now to our kids. We know we were stupid. We all did stupid things. But we’re grown-ups now and our stupid is a different kind. It’s “forget to add fabric softener to the rinse cycle” and “left milk out on counter overnight.”
It’s not the same pattern of dumb decision making that happens in teenage brains. They can’t help it; it’s biology. Don't think for a minute that idiocy and short-sightedness are a condition of the current generation. That shit is a genetic flaw and it affects almost the entire first world population. Basically, if you were not helping to support a family or milking goats or panning for gold at 17, you were probably an asshole sometimes, too.
I want for my teenager the same things most people want for their children: security, safety, education, agency, and respect. But I also want her to have the freedom to sometimes act like an idiot, albeit a reasonably safe one. I’m starting to realize that I can’t be Mama Bear Buzzkill forever, and so I am loosening the reigns, using my own teenage experiences as a yardstick. Ultimately I believe she is entitled to make mistakes and create memories and this privilege cannot always be denied simply on the basis of my discomfort.
It is my hope that my daughter will emerge her teens with a few battle scars, some secrets, and an overflowing handful of memories — some of which she should never tell her children.