SED 005: Shawarma and the Showdown - text version

Hi, this is Stronger Every Day. I'm Bo Bigelow. 

Four and a half years ago I quit my law job to be at home with my kids. Turns out our daughter Tess has special needs. She's different. And now, so is everything else.  

A bit of warning, this podcast has swearing in it. Swearing always makes me feel better, so you'll be hearing it. 

This is episode number five.  

It's well after dinner time, pushing 8pm.

Nevertheless, there's a room temperature piece of cod -- not a codpiece, that's something different -- no, a piece of cod. 

On a plate.  At our kitchen table. 

On one side, Dana. Unwilling to taste the fish. 

On the other side, my wife. God bless her, she's gone to bat for me -- I've made this fish dinner, and with the boy she's drawn a line in the sand:  taste the fish or you don't leave the table.

There are tears. On both sides. But no one is giving up.  

On this week's show:  kids hafta eat. There are battles. Wars, even. And no one's getting mac and cheese. Especially not Tess.   

A couple years ago, Tess was in rough shape. She'd often get eczema on her cheeks. She had indigestion like you'd never believe. And her acid reflux was so out of hand, we'd have to leave five or six backup shirts with her at school every day, since she was spitting up so much.  

It was then that my gym threw down the gauntlet with a 30-day challenge. They called it No Bread, and it basically took away everything I loved, food-wise:  pizza, pasta, sandwiches, beer, anything with gluten. I can't stress enough how much I loved those things. In the funk band I was in, ten years ago? I wrote a whole song, like a funk epic, about a sandwich. I live for a good sandwich.  

But I figured, hey, I can do anything for 30 days. Let me give it a shot. 

And because I do the cooking in our house, Tess ended up doing the No Bread challenge too. She had no choice.  

On day one, we both missed our morning toast something fierce. 

It took time to get used to it.  

But the damnedest thing happened. My wife noticed after a few weeks that T's shirts were coming home in her bag, still clean and folded. Tess wasn't spitting up at meals here at home either. She was sleeping better. She was less fussy, seemingly improved in the gastro department. 

And I felt better too. The food coma that usually laid me out at 2pm every day? That was gone. I had more energy in general, and my workouts showed it.  

The 30 days ended, and Tess and I kept right on going.  

So basically, for two years now, she and I have been paleo. She has other restrictions too, like no peppers or onions, the no-eat list fills a whole page, but she's basically gluten free, dairy free, and soy-free.  

Lots of vegetables and she's carnivorous as hell, so it works out well. 

In fact, she eats almost everything I put in front of her. Except celery. And butternut squash. She has a particular affinity for pork that's been smoked in some fashion. That's my girl.  

The diet isn't easy. Especially when we travel with her. I never realized how much quick food is based on gluten. You rarely see a sweet potato to go, you know? 

Dana, however, will never go paleo. 

That's because he prizes pizza and pasta above all things. I've tried every trick to get him to eat fruits and vegetables -- Jessica Seinfeld's book about sneaking vegetables into stuff, veggie tomato sauce, smoothies - you name it, but no. 

Deviate from the starch covered in sugar-laden tomato sauce and/or cheese? Forget it. 

He wasn't always like this.  When he wasn't quite one year old, he snatched a full size meatball sub off my plate at a 4th of July picnic and gobbled it down in about two bites. He eat steak, and even ask for it in his little-kid voice:  steak au jus? steak au jus? 

But now it's about control. That's my understanding, anyway. Our pediatrician suggested this thing called snack plate, to give some control back to Dane. We serve a snack plate alongside the dinner I've made, and he can select two of the three items that go on that snack plate. It didn't work, though. He'd never try the main dinner, and would instead eat about two cups of almonds.  

My wife makes this fantastic homemade dessert most nights. She calls it concoction. It takes about two minutes to make, and you don't have to heat anything up. It's a mug with spoonfuls of oats, honey, chocolate chips, and peanut butter. Mash it all together, enjoy with milk. Dana freakin loves it. 

But we created a rule:  if you don't eat dinner, you don't get dessert.  

The rule has since been watered down to:  if you don't try dinner, you don't get dessert.  

And now the boy has been trying to water it down even further -- how many bites do I have to take in order to get dessert? One? Two? 

We don't negotiate with terrorists. Start down that path of how many bites, and he'll never eat more than a bite of a dinner I make. He'll have nothing but dessert every night. He'll weigh six hundred pounds.  

Which brings me back to the showdown about the cod, remember? Dana wouldn't take even a single bite, remember? 

I used to be picky myself, but I didn't realize it. Do you know what shawarma is? When it's good, it is so delicious that they made a whole scene about it in the Avengers movie. Yeah. When I was in college, in Washington DC, a city with arguably one of the highest concentrations of sublime ethnic dining options, guys on my floor freshman year would order from this shawarma place just off campus. And I got the steak and cheese every time. I didn't know any better.  

And that's why it kills me that we're a chicken nuggets and pizza family. I'm trying to expose Dana to this whole world out there. 

This guy Matthew Amster Burton wrote this great book a few years back called Hungry Monkey, about being a dad and introducing his toddler to adventurous foods, like pad thai and hot chiles. 

I remember thinking, I'm totally gonna be like that. My kids are gonna ask, Dad? Can we order some sushi? Dad? Are there any oysters left? Dad? Are you gonna eat that escargot?  

Because of T's special diet, we don't take her on many culinary adventures. She's a meat and potatoes gal. Well, sweet potatoes.  

And Dana doesn't want adventure. Or even flavor. He just wants control.  

So there we are. At the table. He's not trying the fish.  

This went on for a long time. My wife and I were screwed because he had called our bluff. Eventually he'd have to go to bed. But he seemed willing to stay at the table until the end of his days.  

He cried so hard. He kept asking why? Why are you making me try this? 

It was difficult to see him like that, and know that we had the power to make it end at any point. We stopped talking, eventually. We didn't want to explain to him that we're in charge and he has to eat what's in front of him. Explaining would have ruined it.  

Tess went to bed, and still the stalemate went on. We became numb, all three of us.  

My wife and I were out of answers. 

And then, just about the time we were ready to give up, he took a forkful and tasted it. 

After that, we haven't drawn any lines. Not so vehemently, anyway. But he remembers. Once in a while, he'll bring it up. I remember the fish, he says. I don't want to go through that again, he tells us. He tries things. 

We don't have solutions to these food wars. We read everything you probably read, about how you're not supposed to give in, or how the French do it. None of that works. In fact, the boy seems to pride himself on debunking experts' theories. 

But we're gonna keep on going. With one kid who eats no gluten. And another kid who eats practically nothing but.  

And that's it for this week's show. 

I'll be back next week. 

Hey, I have a blog. It's also called Stronger Every day, and it's one year old. I started it in Feb 2014. To read about my adventures with Tess from the very beginning, head to 

Will Sakran wrote and performed our closing theme, which you heard a minute ago, it's called Innergroove.

Our opening theme was written and performed by Pineapple Humidor, with Brad Peirce.  

Thanks for listening, and see you next time.  

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