My Two-Year-Old Foodie

Last night, my youngest thanked God for broccoli as part of her nighttime prayers. The kid has food on the brain constantly. Her two-year-old tummy works on a schedule you could set your clocks by. She’s a walking, talking dinner bell, and she knows when it’s feeding time.

She’s also not shy when giving her opinion about what you’ve placed before her.

“But, I don’t like that!” she’ll groan loudly.

Or, “That’s my favorite,” she’ll squeal with delight.

It’s not too difficult to persuade her to try new things. She’s quite adventurous, especially if you catch her when she’s hungry, which was my tactic with last night’s dinner.

I’ll just come out and say, I’m not a chef by any stretch of the word. I’d consider myself a barely above average home cook. I’m pretty good with flavors, but I rarely consider presentation. Even still, I learned years ago it was cheaper and healthier to eat in, and that was motivation enough to take up the task more regularly. Now, I cook or prepare almost every meal we eat.

I’m always shooting for a balanced diet by sneaking in veggies wherever I can. Spinach in breakfast smoothies and mac and cheese; peppers, onions and garlic in spaghetti sauce and meatloaf; every vegetable under the sun in my shepherd’s pie and tourtière.

I’ve been searching for ways to get more broccoli into our diet. I like the vegetable, but the rest of the family is not too keen. I usually make it as the very occasional side dish that nobody else eats, or I boil it into a bacon, bean, and broccoli soup of which the kids approve.

Last night, I had some very thin steaks that were about to go bad, and I felt just brave enough to attempt an Asian inspired Beef and Broccoli. You see, I’m never the one to cook the steaks. I have a bad habit of overcooking nearly all meats, and it would hurt my heart (and budget) to mess up the only fine meat I let myself splurge on during my twice-monthly shopping trip.

The steaks come marinated in a vacuum-sealed pack. Of all the meats I buy, they are the last to expire, but I had put off cooking them till the last minute out of fear more than anything.

Since Sunday dinner usually rested on my partner’s shoulders—I was studying for my Master’s and had assignments to turn in by midnight—Sunday steak night has become somewhat of a biweekly tradition. I had been dreading cooking the steaks since buying them on my last shopping trip, and they’ve stared at me from their fridge position in the back of the bottom shelf all week.

I was positive my youngest wouldn’t make it past the first bite if I overcooked the filets. I could almost hear the “I no like it, Mommy!” that would follow the sound of her spitting the tough meat back onto her brightly-colored plastic plate.

Just in case I screwed it up, I needed something more than our usual side of oven-baked French fries to back up the beef. I tossed around a few ideas and remembered about the broccoli. Surely, rice and broccoli with a tasty sauce could entice both kids to tough it out with the steak. My oldest would eat the beef either way, even if she turned her nose up at the broccoli like she usually did. The real worry was getting something of anything into the little one.

It’s not that she’s a picky eater. The kid eats gnocchi drenched in pesto, red pepper hummus, chicken korma, every kind of Mexican food I throw at her, and various American and Spanish dishes. She just has high standards!

One time, she refused to eat a burrito bowl simply for the presentation. When I layered up the exact same ingredients (meat with peppers and onions, refried beans, Mexican rice, and shredded cheese) and made it look pretty, she scarfed it down.

If I mess up one of our regular meals in the slightest way, you bet she’ll be the one who notices and won’t eat it that time around. If I make a dish sing, she’ll be completely silent throughout the meal, stuffing her face and leaving traces from her chin to her hairline, because she decided to lick the plate. She’s like a mini quality assurance officer at my table. It sucks… in the most adorable way.

And, it’s nothing new.

My youngest has always been enthusiastic about her food. Whereas her older sister kept breastfeeding till I weened her at 13 months, the baby gave up breastfeeding at only seven months old. She wanted what we were having. It was clear, early on, my younger daughter craved more than milk.

She sprouted teeth at five-and-a-half months old to prove it, and she continued to do so (two at a time) till she had an impressive set of eight chompers by her first birthday. Her sister, by comparison, had only four and a half teeth by the time she turned one and mostly stuck to homemade purees.

Not the little one, though, she ate EVERYTHING—even if she wasn’t quite ready. I remember the terror she struck in me during those early months.

Without properly chewing the food she insisted on sharing with us, she would attempt to swallow. She would begin to gag, and we would freak out. Then, she would simply hawk it back up into her mouth and continue chewing till it was time to give it another go down the esophagus.

Chew. Choke. Chew some more. Swallow.

It was a terrible habit, but one that we all adapted to, eventually. It created a hilarious show when we ate with others, and they jumped out of their seats to save her. Bottom line, she refused to slow down, and she refused to eat baby food. Don’t worry, I went through Heimlich maneuver and CPR training multiple times in the Navy.

My baby is also a flavor junkie. She has to put everything in her mouth. She’s one of those kids you need to watch every minute for fear she might pick up something nasty off the floor and give it a taste. One day on a walk when she was about eighteen months, she tried tree bark.

You’re probably thinking, if she’ll eat tree bark, she’ll eat overcooked steak. I’m sorry to report her standards are higher these days.

She even smacks her little lips a few times just before she drifts off to sleep. It’s a new development I’ve started to notice at naptime. She’ll toss and yawn, like usual, then comes the lip smacking. She’s either searching for evidence of her last meal or preparing for a delicious dream. In either case, I don’t want my cooking to be the cause of disappointment.

After two YouTube videos on how to pan-sear very thin steaks, I held my breath and gave it a go. With the broccoli steaming and the rice boiling, I put the frying pan over high heat. I tossed in two of the three filets, and the steak gave a lovely sizzle when it hit the olive oil. After what I hoped was the appropriate amount of time, I pulled them from the pan, and let them rest on the cutting board, before throwing the third steak in the pan.

I cut the meat into small strips, mixed it with the broccoli, rice, and sauce, and served it up. To my great surprise the steak was extremely tender, and both my kids ate everything in their bowls—broccoli and all.

I know the dish will make a repeat appearance on our menu, and not just because there are leftovers in the refrigerator.

My youngest often thanks God for food—since she’s only two years old and food ranks very high on her list of things to be grateful for—but I was shocked when she thanked Him for broccoli. It was a proud mom moment for sure.

I’ll continue to improve my cooking game to please her. If not to see a clean plate and a healthy kid sitting next to me at the dinner table, than to ensure the next time she smacks her lips before bed, the food I make leaves a smile on her face and creates material for her dreams.

Who knows, maybe she’ll be the chef in the family.

Luv&Hugs,

*Kristine*

Featured Photo by Polina Tankilevitch from Pexels

Why Do We Wish Each Other Happy Anniversary?

Marriage is tough. Couples who are in it for the long-haul know maintaining a committed relationship—that not only lasts but thrives—takes a great deal of effort.

Every day this week, someone’s anniversary has popped up in my social media feed. Supporters love and like the post and photos and send positive vibes and blessings the couple’s way. Wishing another couple a happy anniversary is like joining their cheering squad. Marriage isn’t for the faint of heart.

Today, my mother and her husband celebrate their 7th wedding anniversary, and I am one of that couple’s biggest fans.

Mom and Tom chose to tie the knot exactly 50 years to the day that my grandmother and grandfather Westhusin were wed. I wish my grandparents had lived to see their daughter marry her soulmate. Like me, my grandparents would have been ecstatic.

Mom & Tom in wedded bliss.

After a civil ceremony, Mom and Tom traveled nearly three hours to the same tiny, rural Kansas chapel where my grandparents were married. To my mother’s surprise, her new husband had organized in advance to have the church open for them. The rustic building, not far from the farmhouse where my grandmother grew up, served as the starting point for the newlyweds’ promise to love and cherish one another “till death do us part.” Standing on the same ground as her mother stood five decades earlier, my mother committed to her fourth husband.

Yes, you read that right. Fourth.

My mom got married straight out of high school, and her first union soon fizzled. She arrived on her parents’ doorstep unaware she was carrying more than a suitcase full of clothes. She was carrying her cheating ex-husband’s child.

My brother was a few months old when my parents met.

A single mom and a man who believed he might not be able to have kids of his own tied the knot despite relationship red flags and the protests of both her parents. My mother and father would go on to have four more kids and spend another 18 years torturing each other, before finally ending a toxic marriage that probably never should have begun. I was seventeen at that point and had witnessed the whole messy thing.

My grandparents, Leo & Marty Westhusin.

My grandparents, unfortunately, didn’t live long enough to see the end. They did hold their daughter’s hand through the greater part of my mom’s journey, and they supported her in every way possible. I believe, they held on hope that the marriage could turn a corner.

My grandparents had battled through military and work separations, moving halfway across America to start a new life in California with two small children, raising a family despite alcohol addiction, and supporting kids and grandkids in the face of heart disease, cancer, and stroke. They went to bed together each night and to church together each Sunday. Their beginning had been messy, but their ending was a happy one. In between, they celebrated 36 anniversaries.

When I was in bootcamp, my mom and her next husband got hitched. Most people jokingly said the third time would be the charm. I liked the fact she had found a man who treated her kindly and seemed to value her, but I had suspicions her new husband had a lot more layers than the sugar coating on top. Sure enough, husband #3’s past came to light, and his true nature revealed itself over the next ten years. He was a liar with numerous children from various women, and his cheating days were far from over.

Luckily, my mother escaped before things got too ugly. She also held on hope that her greatest love was out there. Enter Tom.

The way my mother tells the story, she knew after their first date she wanted to marry Tom. My sister—who was living with Mom at the time and was worried sick she hadn’t returned from her internet date for over six hours—simply rolled her eyes at our mother’s revelation and subsequent swooning.

Mom & Tom are still smiling after seven years together!

All of us kids had our doubts, I suppose. Mom had fallen fast and hard for husband #3, too. In time, however, all parties involved would come to realize Mom had met her match, and our families joined forces. At the time, there were seven kids and four grandkids between them. We’ve since grown exponentially and they are thoroughly enjoying the chaos that comes with a big family.

Never before has my mother had a partner reflect her drive, passion, intelligence, integrity, and immense commitment to their children as Tom does. With no seven-year itching in sight, I’m so proud to report, she has never been happier.

My mother’s success in love has always reminded me of another epic love story. Like Mom, my Great Aunt Alice got out of a very toxic marriage with a boat load of kids, and she fell for my Uncle Ed by the end of a marathon conversation on their first real date. They raised ten kids together and will be celebrating their 44th wedding anniversary later this month.

My mother was 39 years old when she divorced my dad.

My Aunt Alice was married to her first husband for 14 years, before she said enough is enough.

I am 39 years old, and, after 14 years of marriage, I am saying enough is enough.

When my anniversary arrived in June, my husband and I had nothing left to celebrate. We didn’t wish each other a happy anniversary once. After a long, drawn out discussion that evening about how we’ve failed in our marriage, I said, “Why don’t we fake it till we make it?”

We only made it a few more weeks before the curtain on our charade was pulled back, and I was unable to fake it any longer.

We’ve existed in the same space for years without love. Sure, I pretend when I feel up to it. I put on a brave face on social media and boast of the few kindnesses he shows me in between the heartbreaks. If you look more closely, though, you’ll see the Facebook post I made about the causes of depression the day before my anniversary, and the glowing post about unconditional love I made to this blog the day after our anniversary.

Rose-colored glasses are comfortable but hard to remove.

For fourteen years, I have cycled through the same feelings. I have convinced myself time and time again that we could be happy if I just tried harder, prayed harder, worked harder. I understand that marriage is tough. I’ve seen it with my own eyes!

Instead of letting the neglect and lies destroy me, I wore anger like a shield. With help from my friends and my faith, I performed triage on my heart each time it was broken, and I refused to give up. I had vowed before God, “till death do us part,” and I meant it. Each time I was betrayed, my shield became thicker. To the world, I just seemed angrier.

Like my mother throughout the entirety of my childhood, I went into survival mode trying to hold it all together and it got ugly. There are many things I’ve done that I regret, but I don’t regret holding on this long. God had a purpose for all this, and I think my mother and my aunt would agree, it was to bring our amazing children into this world. Our babies are worth every bit of the pain.

Armed with the knowledge that I misinterpreted unconditional love for an unconditional commitment to a facade, I’m ready to lay down my shield. The rose-colored glasses are gone. I felt I was fighting the good fight, but there is not enough therapy in the world to change certain hard truths. We have been living a lie. After years of us both trying to force what cannot be, I feel dead inside, so it’s time to part.

I remember telling my best friend over a year and a half ago, “I don’t even know what joy is anymore.”

That’s what happens when you’re trapped in a loveless marriage.

That’s what happens when you fake it.

Thanks to my mother and my aunt, I know there is hope after divorce. Both women assure me that I can make amends with my children for the person I allowed myself to become. New memories—and, perhaps, some therapy—can erase the bad. Both women assure me that my children and I will be better off in an honest and stable environment. They tell me I’m strong. They tell me I deserve real love. They tell me how much better life can be with your soulmate at your side.

Mom, me, & Aunt Alice on my thirtieth birthday.

All I know is my daughters deserve to see their mother happy.

I waited a long time to see my mother truly happy, and I hope to demonstrate to my girls what a healthy relationship looks like at a much younger age.

Either way, Mom and Aunt Alice promise me the kids and I will be better-off in the end. I trust their wisdom and their lived experiences. They believe in me, and, thanks to their journeys, I still believe in love.

So….

To the couples out there still fighting the good fight—especially, Mom and Tom—I wish you the happiest of anniversaries and abundant blessings for many more years to come.

All marriages are bumpy rides, some can turn corners, and others never should have turned over the key in the ignition. I hope your co-pilot compliments you in the best ways, brings you immense joy, and together you stay committed to the journey. I hope the only shields you have to exist behind are windshields and you’re headed in a wonderful direction.

May your commitment to loving one another be as strong and true as the day you took your vows.

Luv&Hugs,

*Kristine*

Steaming towards the end… of Potty Training!

A funny thing happened to me today, and it reminded me of one of my very first posts to this blog. Both involved potty training.

I snuck off to the shower earlier while my kiddos were playing nicely in their room. Halfway through my relaxing shower, the two-year-old comes rushing in. She has business to doo. She peels off her diaper and sits. A few minutes later, I’m hanging over the bathtub trying not to drip all over her as I wipe her bum.

I resume my shower, and she goes off to find a pair of “big girl panties” to replace the diaper now flopped face-down on my bathroom floor. Instead of enjoying the rest of my time in the water, I hear her struggling with getting her legs through the proper holes and I ask the older one to help her little sister out. I shut off the tap, pull back the curtain, and am affronted by an unpleasant steam that is not coming from the shower.

I clean up her mess, but I’m not upset. I’m laughing. It’s the only way to get through days like this. Hashtag MomLife. Also, I’m pretty dang proud of how well she’s doing with this whole potty training thing.  

The old blog post that today’s episode brought to my mind shares my experience with teaching my older daughter to ditch the diapers. It includes a “how to” with step-by-step directions. It’s a great approach for the first-time mom without a clue. It taps into my own mother’s wisdom. She raised five kids, so she has some great tried and true methods.

Instead of sticking to the timeline in my 2018 post, however, I’ve been able to be a bit more patient. For one, I don’t feel restricted to a two-week window. As a first-time mom, I needed everything to go exactly to plan. I had to see the clear path through the woods and be confident with the course before setting out. With the second child, things feel less like a test and more like an experience. I’m much more relaxed and at ease with my parenting now that I’ve been through the gauntlet once and came out fairly unscathed.

Instead of leading with the second child, I tend to follow a bit more. I’m better versed in toddler and I’m able to read her cues. Also, the second one is better at communicating her needs than her older sister was at this age—having an older sibling helps in that department. She’s also easily incentivised by M&Ms, which is a new trick I never used with the first kid. Either way, I’m not inclined to push the younger one to stick to the plan.

Secondly, it’s summertime in Spain! Potty training a kid in summer is easier. She won’t freeze her tushy off. So, I’m cool with her running around in undies until she figures it out.

I suppose my slow approach also has to do with my age and stage. I started this blog while I was staying at home with my older daughter and working on my Bachelor’s degree. I am, now, tackling my thesis for my Master of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing. Once I complete this terminal degree and my youngest goes off to school in September, it will be time for me to rejoin the workforce. My stay-at-home-and-study days are nearing the end. Each milestone (my children’s and my own), puts me one step closer to the door.

I’m taking the awful job of potty training slowly and enjoying every little steaming success, because this is the last summer I’ll be able to spend with these tiny humans without a 9-to-5 dragging me off to work.

Time flies, mamas! The only real advice in this post: Hold your kiddos as close as you can for as long as you can.

Luv&Hugs,

*Kristine*

A Quality Connection

Like so many others, I found myself way down the rabbit hole of social media these past few weeks, thanks to various attention-grabbing topics.

It’s almost ironic that a month ago I was blogging about staying connected, and now I feel drawn to write a post about disconnecting.

After pondering further, I realized it’s not about disengaging entirely. As with anything in life, moderation is key. Social media, texting, and video calling are all wonderful ways to keep up to date on Framily—a mashup we lovingly use here at Mothering Humanity to mean friend, family, and those people who blur the lines and make life better.

Sometimes, however, our connection with the outside world is so powerful that we begin to ignore those within our own home. I found myself losing grip of my girls by hyper-focusing on world events. My heart was hurting for humanity, but I was forgetting about the tiny humans at my fingertips.

It’s hard to admit, but I was filling what little free time I had staring at a screen.

“Mommy, can you play with me?”

“I can’t. I’m busy.”

It had to stop. My girls needed some of the attention I was lending out to others, or should I say, “other things.” I wasn’t using the time to connect with Framily. I was reading articles, blogs, studies and op-eds on police brutality, racism, the black experience, white privilege, the coronavirus, plagues, vaccines, political movements, the Nordic model, the economy, you name it!

I was enjoying a week off, while between courses for my MFA, but I wasn’t spending it with the people who mean the most to me. It was time to take action!

I ditched the phone for a few days and my girls flourished. To begin with, we had a crazy-cool photo shoot in the woods and ice cream afterwards. As a family, we played in the pool and barbecued, while hanging out with the in-laws. My kids got to play with their cousins, roll around in the dirt, and pick flowers. We went to bed late, slept in, cuddled a ton, spent time playing, learning, coloring and connecting at home. We sang. We danced. We went out to eat with family. It was awesome!!

It was also a good reminder that mothering humanity begins with family. True change begins at home. I can only hope to influence my children if they trust our mother-daughter bond. A quality connection is key.

…It’s also a lot of fun.

Best,

*Kristine*