Spencer takes a bite of his pizza, scrunches his nose, and places it back on his plate.
“OK,” says my six-year-old, Murphy, taking a card out of the ‘Chat Pack’ set and reading, “If you could build anything onto your house, what would it be?” The collection of question cards is supposed to stimulate conversation and the boys love to use it at dinner. Frankly, I prefer stimulating conversation the old fashioned way, through maternal interrogation about each boy’s respective day. But they often prefer answering fantastical questions like this one (I mean, we don’t even have a house!) over recounting who they sat with at lunchtime.
“I’d build a humongous dining hall that could double as a basketball court,” answers Pat.
“That’s what I would do too,” says Murphy, who often repeats the first answer he hears. This drives Spencer, who sees it as ‘copying’, wild. Frankly, I think that Murphy is often so taken by the first suggestion that he doesn’t feel the need to explore further. ‘Dining hall’/’basketball court’ – sounds great to him.
“You can’t just repeat what Daddy said,” Spencer says to Murphy, with an edge of older brother authority.
“I’m not,” says Murphy. “That’s what I was going to say. I want a basketball court.”
“Then just say ‘basketball court’,” says Spencer. “You don’t even know what a dining hall is.”
“Yes, I do.”
“Spencer,” Pat interjects sternly, “I’m sure Murphy knows what a dining hall is.”
“OK, OK,” I say, “This argument isn’t going to go anywhere. Let it go. I would choose to build an arboretum. An indoor garden.”
“Ooooh, That sounds good,” says Murphy.
“You can’t change your answer, Murph,” says Spencer.
I jump in quickly, “Spencer, what would you build?”
“Hmmm,” he says, “I would build…I would build a huge slide that would go from this window all the way down to the backyard.” Spencer and Murphy call the grassy area behind our apartment building, the ‘backyard’. I’ve done nothing to disabuse them of the misnomer. Every kid should have a yard.
“A slide sounds…” says Murphy, tentatively. Spencer fixes him with a steely gaze and Murphy decides to abandon his comment.
“All right,” I say, “let’s finish dinner, shall we? Spencer, are you going to eat more of your pizza?”
Spence screws his face up, “the first part of the pizza was really good, but the closer I get to the crust, the spicier it gets.”
I exhale, “You’re kidding.”
“No. It’s spicy, Mom.”
“It’s not spicy,” says Pat, exasperated.
“It’s the same stuff,” I say to Spencer. “The same sauce was used all over the pizza. It’s just a plain cheese pizza. The package didn’t say ‘mild in the middle, spicier near the crust’.”
“Dude, you love pizza. It’s pizza,” says Pat. “Eat it.”
Spencer stares down at his embattled slice, half-chewed and soggy, and lifts it to his mouth, reluctantly. He takes a tiny nibble and quickly drops the slice down on the plate as if it suddenly came alive in his hands.
“Come on, “ Pat snorts.
“I think this pizza’s really good,” chirps Murphy, glad to have the upper hand for once. He lifts his slice and takes a huge bite, the cheese stretching out languidly.
Pat leans back in his chair, “Spencer, what are you going to eat in India?”
Spencer lifts up his slice again, like it might wriggle out of his hands. He takes another small bite and drops it, again, to his plate. He chews a bit, and then he says, “I’m going to eat apples and rice.”
“You can’t live on just apples and rice the whole trip,” says Pat.
But Spencer can. He only eats about ten things and none of them can touch each other. Apples and rice are on that list and his Aunt Robyn has assured him that these can be found in India. So he’s made up his mind. He’ll eat apples and rice for three weeks.
Actually, in the touristy cities we should have access to western fare. I haven’t mentioned this to Spencer yet, because I had hoped that he would consider broadening his palate out of desperation. So far, this has not happened. It’s all my fault. I don’t cook much and, early on, I believed that feeding the two of them fresh fruit and vegetables couldn’t be all bad (admittedly, the only vegetables on the list are broccoli and green beans). Murphy is slightly more adventurous than Spencer, because he will actually eat a raw carrot if it’s cold from the refrigerator.
A few times in the last month, I have tried to imbue my children with a sense of adventure about our impending trip. We should try new things, I tell them. Yes, the food will be different, but let’s dive in. It’s true that the way we travel will be different, but who ever gets to sit next to an actual cow on a bus? Even the way everything looks and smells will be different. Let’s embrace that, I say. It’ll be exciting. We’ll be adventurers, eagerly trying new things and grabbing onto life! That’s who we are! We’re not couch-sitters, we’re doers! We’re not sideliners waiting to get in the game! We’re already IN the game, I say! We don’t sit around all day waiting for the world to come to us! We go out into the world! We meet it! We take a big bite out of the world! We chew it up and spit it right out! Because we’re adventurers, right?!!! We’re doers! We get up and ‘do’...we’re the doing family, right? We chew things…
Every time I’ve launched into this speech (with slight modifications each time) the boys smile politely like they know that the part I’m auditioning for has already been cast. I’m not getting the job.