This morning as I drove the kids to school, I told them that I had packed them each a fish cutlet. (This is basically like a fried potato/fish patty flavoured with tumeric, salt, lemon, cilantro and garam masala). I had made them yesterday for the first time, from my mom’s recipe collection, and the kids quite enjoyed them. So, I was surprised when my son asked, voice quivering, “Why do we have to have that?”
In the rearview mirror, I watched his face crumple and my daughter cover her ears, anticipating the familiar howling that normally follows the trembling voice.
“Because you liked them yesterday and we had a couple left. Didn’t you like them?”
“Yeeeeeessssss…” His voice trailed off and his eyes squeezed shut. His mouth was looking like an upside down U. *sniff*
(My daughter rolled her eyes, hands hovering just over her ears. It could go either way from here.)
“So, then why are you upset? I’m just telling you because I put a spoon in your lunch kit, too. If the cutlet is a bit crumbly, you can use your spoon to scoop up the bits.”
“Becaaaaussse…*waaaaahhhh*…it’s so weird! Everyone will make fun of me!”
My heart sank. Partly because I was picturing his entire class of 3-5 year olds, standing around him in a circle, pointing and laughing, and partly because he was in the midst of something that we all get stuck in: Do I be me, or do I be like everyone else?
I tried to reason with him. “Do other people bring things to school that you don’t eat? Like ham sandwiches? Or pepperoni?”
He nodded, two tears making twin paths down to his chin.
“And do you tell them their food is weird?”
“Ok, so if someone says anything today, just tell them it’s not nice of them to say your food is weird, and that you don’t call their food weird.” (I had no idea if this was good advice. But it didn’t matter because it totally went over his head.)
The thing about kids is they call it like they see it. If something smells or looks funny, they’ll let you know. Sometimes it’s a trait to be admired. Other times, it can really hurt another kid’s feelings. And especially when they are in preschool, I don’t think we can expect them to hide these thoughts too much. Purposely taunting someone is one thing, but saying, “Your lunch smells funny” can simply be stating a fact.
As I write this, we are approaching his lunch hour. I really hope it goes well. There is a chance someone may say something to him, or look at him strangely. And as I sit here, I wonder if I did the right thing. Mostly, I think I did. I’m trying to model authenticity and encourage self-acceptance because in the long run, this will hopefully help them be happier adults. But, he is just 5…and a fish cutlet does smell. (Yummy to me, perhaps revolting to a kid who’s never had one).
I just feel that I had to get the message across that being different is not a bad thing. Whether it’s what we eat, the activities we enjoy, the ideas we have. But even at 36, this trips me up from time to time, too. It just shows up in different forms.
Anyway, I’ll keep you posted. Have you encountered this before with your kids? Either with food or something else? How did you handle it?