I met a friend for lunch the other day at Green & Tonic in downtown Westport. She’d come in from Arizona to attend a writers’ workshop, which was where we’d met over the summer. She walked in and we hugged, and then I started to explain Green & Tonic’s offerings.
“They have premade salads and sandwiches over there in the case,” I said, pointing, and then turned her manually toward the menu board, continuing “and they make good smoothies…” But I trailed off, my hand still on her shoulder, as I heard my boys, in my head, in unison, protesting:
“Mom. Thanks. We can read the menu.”
I looked her in the eye.
“Sorry. You’re a full grown adult. I’ll bet you can navigate the place on your own.”
The need to feed our children is perhaps our most primal instinct, taking precedence even over feeding ourselves. Especially we of the Jewish persuasion. Animals in the wild, and wild Fairfield County mothers alike will go to great efforts and distances to make sure that their offspring have adequate nutrition. Some of us are pushy about it. Some of us forget what the jungle moms aim for: training their young to hunt for and nurture themselves, so they can quickly step out of the picture. I remember a very wise pediatrician telling me, “Diane, the only thing your young children can control is what goes in and what comes out. Don’t fight with them about either.” But I neither followed the laws of the jungle, nor the sage advice of my kids’ doctor.
Long after they could read, long after they graduated from high chairs to big boy seats, long after they transitioned from the children’s to the adult menu, I remained involved.
“Look, Devon,” I’ll say. “They have a T-bone steak on the menu.” I neither eat nor cook red meat. He does both.
“Thanks, mom. I can read.”
“Dustin, they have gluten free crust!” He does not have celiac, but nor does refined wheat agree with him.
“Thanks, mom, I see that.”
Their reactions range from mildly amused to mildly annoyed, and vary in direct proportion with how many menu items I’ve pointed out. So I bite my tongue now, both when we peruse menus together and when we order. I try very hard not to let my mommy and nutritionist personas rear their Hydra heads in unison, saying things like, “Lamb? I didn’t know you ate lamb?” or “That’s all refined carbs, honey, no protein?”
Yet I wish, too, that they would see that I offer these well-intentioned interventions in the spirit of love, concern, and wanting my children to be sated and healthy.
My teenage and young adult irritation gave way to appreciation when my mother, having seen a news report on an impending storm or subzero temperatures would call from Florida. “You’re not going to drive in the storm, are you?” or “Are you dressing warmly? They say it will feel like 10 below with the wind chill.”
Now that she’s gone, I miss the motherly admonitions.
I try hard to navigate the fine line between nurturing and noodging. I will never stop doing the former, but need to wean myself, as I weaned my children, from the latter. When I do that, their annoyance might tip toward appreciation, too.
Meanwhile, my friend managed, with elegant aplomb and without my guidance to pick out her own lunch. I know my children can do the same.