Friday, October 12, 2012

What a Pickled Salmon Head Taught Me About My Picky Two-Year-Old

It's funny how much easier it is to understand your child when you are able to put a frustrating situation into perspective.  Let me explain:

Long story short, Aias is an incredibly picky eater.  So picky, in fact, that he's actually seeing a team of specialists (occupational therapist, pediatricians, nutrition consultant) just to get him to eat things that aren't beige, because he's eating so little that it's actually impacting his daily life.  Don't worry, he's still very healthy, just small and very stressed out about food.

Anyone with a picky eater or a child who has issues with food knows that mealtime is a constant struggle and getting food and nutrients into your child becomes an overwhelming thorn in your side that constantly wears at you.  It's very frustrating to put something you know is delicious in front of your child and to have them act as though you are attempting to poison them.  For the love of God, just TRY it you think to yourself, especially if you know they'd love it if they only just tasted a speck of it.

Last night we we out to a local sushi place for dinner.  Aias was asleep in the stroller and we could tell he was out for the night, so instead of ordering our regular (sashimi salad and two house rolls), we thought it would be fun to order the traditional korean meal the restaurant is known for.  The meal is called "Sashimi for Two" and it includes a huge platter of sashimi, pickled beet, grilled fish, tempura, salads, seafood hotpot,and a chef's special.  Sounds good, right?  We thought so, so we ordered it.

When the food arrived at the table, it was... well, I'm sure it was top of the line for what it was.  Of course, we are two very western white people who spent a lot of our lives as vegetarians.  We are used to eating meats that look nothing like the animals they came from, and never really gave much of a thought to things like bones, eyeballs, fins... all those things on fish that you try not to think of when you are eating them.  Growing up in North America and being a dozen steps away from the origin of our food, we are adjusted to food that is... not staring at us.  What arrived at the table was grilled fish alright... complete with fins, scales, bones, eyes, everything.   We slowly picked at it, examining every piece and speck, conscious of the fact that this fish gave it's life and that we did not want to waste it, but also suddenly very aware that we weren't socially and culturally familiar with these food items and we suddenly felt very vanilla!  The more food arrived, the more disturbed we were by it, which is so embarrassing to admit.

What really threw us through a loop was the pickled beets.  They were sitting in a bowl with something else... it turned out to be a pickled salmon head.

I'm not sure if you've ever seen a pickled salmon head, but it isn't pretty.  This salmon head was especially not pretty, because it was sort of turned inside out so that you could totally tell it was a salmon head, but mangled.  We both felt like we could read the salmon's last thoughts.  Argh. It was tough.

We would never have lasted on Fear Factor to say the least, but we did pick through it and eat as much as we could stomach.

At one point during the meal Morgan said "you know, I bet you this is exactly how Aias feels whenever we put strange food in front of him."

I paused when he said it, thought about it, and then I felt really bad.  Because you know what? I bet you he's exactly right.

There were dozens of other people in the restaurant eating this same meal and absolutely delighting in it.  And to be honest, the taste of the food we did eat was pretty darn good, but we were so hung up on the unfamiliarity of it all and the presentation of the food, that we could barely stand it.  There we were, treating this new food with the same suspicion and concern Aias has when he's offered, well, just about anything that isn't beige.  We often give Aias things we deem to be delightful and we are totally confused about why he won't eat it, why he examines and picks about every bite, why he looks for specks of undesirables in every crumb of it. 

Now, I feel like I sort of get it.  Aias is little, and he's not accustom to every food out there.  Most of the things we offer are unfamiliar and new, because he's only 2 years old.  In some way, maybe it's like we are putting a different pickled salmon head in front of the poor kid at every meal and then we are wondering why he doesn't just dive in.   We discussed this at length and asked ourselves how hungry we'd have to be to have eaten the salmon eyeballs, or if we would have just held off until something more familiar was available to eat (we went home feeling hungry still and pigged out on pumpkin spice ice cream!).  Lots of times we expect Aias will just eat things if he's "hungry" enough, but maybe he won't.  Maybe a salmon head looks just as unappetizing to some people whether their tummies are full or empty.  We expect a lot of things when Aias is unfamiliar with food we've supplied, but being in a similar position as him for a while was really interesting. 

I think we will be a little more sensitive about his food fears from now on, although I do hope that eventually, he will become familiar with all of these foods and won't grow up to look at new foods like they are.

And I think for a while, we will probably be vegetarians.

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