by Allison Robicelli
Like every other mother, I think I’m the worst mom ever. From the moment I learned I was pregnant, I was bombarded by parenting articles and the opinions of strangers outlining all 4 million ways I would likely fail at being a parent. Some standouts:
- * Finding out after my baby shower that almost everything I had registered for was WRONG. Consumer Reports released a study one week later that almost all car seats were completely unsafe, meaning I had to return the one I got. Two weeks after that, we found out that all our gifts that had been manufactured in China were more than likely covered with lead. Also, by unwrapping these gifts, I may have exposed my son in utero to microscopic levels of poison! I didn’t even have the baby yet and already I’d fucked up!
- * Learning shortly after Atticus’ first birthday of the existence of BPA, meaning that while I thought I was doing the right thing by feeding my child from a bottle, I was actually poisoning him…again. Now every night after he falls asleep, I scour his torso for possible tumors, or the beginnings of additional limbs.
- * Hearing from other mothers that I totally brought the BPA thing on myself because I didn’t breastfeed. There’s no excuse for the fact that I had debilitating post-partum depression, requiring me to be on heavy doses of anti-depressants. I certainly could have tried harder and maybe bought a copy of “The Secret”.
- * Having Newsweek point out in a 2009 cover story that my baby could be racist. By the time this was released, Atticus was 2 and Toby was almost 1, meaning that it was far too late to introduce racially sensitive crib toys or Baby Oprah DVDS. I was planning on raising them to be good kids who respect everyone, but now only time will tell if I have the next David Duke on my hands.
- * Being chastised by a mother in Prospect Park for letting my boys play with toy cars, because it’s very important for them to play with “gender neutral” toys. I just let my kids play with what they want and make their own decisions about what they like, but it’s possible my lack of micromanagement could keep them out of Princeton. Also, they don’t seem to have any “black” or “brown” cars, so maybe that’s saying something about me that I wasn’t aware of.
One thing I would NOT fail at, however, was establishing the best possible eating habits. As we all know, before you have children, it is totally ok to judge other people on the crap their kids eat. I mean, seriously- chicken nuggets? Fish sticks? FRENCH FRIES?!?! Savages. With two chefs as parents, there was no way our boys would ever become “those kids”. No, our boys would be ordering from the adult menus and eating from our plates as we made our way through New York City’s sprawling culinary landscape. We would begin them on pureed organic vegetables seasoned with bare hints of toasted spices from underdeveloped nations, then move them to soft cheeses produced in the Hudson Valley. By the time they reached preschool, their lunchboxes would be a veritable cornucopia of worldly artisanal delights.
Sure I may have occasionally forced them to watch Days of our Lives because I was desperate to hear the sound of adult voices again, or let them put their fingers in their mouths without soaking them for ten minutes in Purell, or made them listen to Clutch on loop in the car because if I heard “Wheels on the Bus” one more time I was going to drive us off a cliff. But when it came to food, the Robicellis were going to DOMINATE like parents of the goddamn millennium.
Now here’s the funny thing about kids – you think before they’re born that parenting means you have total influence over them and the decisions they will make. For some reason, you are actually dumb enough to believe your children will not have any sort of free will. You also, for some reason, have not been informed by anyone that the human brain is apparently hardwired with the directive to seek out and consume massive amounts of French fries. And I have near scientific proof of this fact: my own children.
For Atticus’ first year of life, I fed him nothing but the best, most nutritious foods I could. I bought stacks of books on feeding your child, made nutrition checklists based on What To Expect The First Year, and cooked almost 100% of his food myself. I conquered the act of feeding a baby unlike any mother ever had, setting the proverbial table for a child I was sure would become the Jeffrey Steingarten of the Mommy & Me scene. As we moved into solid foods, I constantly offered him an array of finger foods to try: cut up fruits and vegetables, hummus and homemade dips, whole grains and everything else that the parenting magazines told me I should. And the same things would happen with every food I offered: he would tentatively poke at it at first, then if he found the texture appealing enough to hold he’d sniff it for a good long while before taking a small taste, and then promptly throwing it at me in rejection. By the time he was 14 months old, I was pretty certain the kid was going to starve to death.
When Atticus was 15 months old, the three of us went to a diner to meet up with a friend who ordered a burger platter. When the plate arrived, our son nearly jumped over the table to get at the fries. I had put every healthy food I could think of in front of this kid, and he would not touch a single one without a 30 minute inspection and evaluation. But fries? One look at them and he would have killed every person in the diner to get at those things. We tried saying no, tried distracting him, but he manipulated us in the best way he knew how: by screaming at the top of his lungs and making every person in that diner look at us like they wanted us to die. So we gave him a French fry.
I suppose I should let it go and say it was just a French fry, but to me it was letting go of the foolish notion that I could mold my son in the image I had selected for him. When you become a parent for the first time and come to realize of the enormity of the task at hand – being responsible for the care and development of an entire human being - you are never more aware of how incredibly flawed you are. I was 26 years old, just married, and barely knew what I wanted from myself and the world. Now this little, impressionable person who I love more than anything I’ve ever had in my entire life is looking up to me- and worst of all, he thinks (as I did of my parents) that I actually know what I’m doing. And not only am I aware that I’m not, but it seems that every interaction I have with the world is doing nothing but amplifying my shortcomings, whether it’s from a book or parenting magazine, unwanted advice from a family member, or the fact that when you sleep on average of three hours a day, it is very, very easy for your fears and irrational thoughts to consume you.
The one area of my life where I have total confidence is in my love and knowledge of food. It’s what drives me, inspires me- hell, it was the basis of my marriage. Sharing that with my son, being the mother who can’t do much right but could do one thing better than just about anyone, that was so utterly important to me. And there I was, sitting in the Bridgeview Diner in Bay Ridge, watching my son eating something with pure joy and exuberance for the first time in his life. And it was a fucking plate of French fries.
I cried for about three hours that night.
I continued trying to change his habits by offering him not meals, but essentially an entire buffet three times a day, yet still he would poke and examine each food with extreme trepidation. That is, until the day I brought him to my mother’s house and she gave him chicken nuggets- once again, he ate a plate of them with no inspection and no resistance. Carrot sticks (“Show me how the bunny rabbits at the zoo eat!”), no. Celery (“Just like the Wonder Pets! You love the Wonder Pets!”), no. Grilled chicken strips (“Oh my God! It’s just like a fucking chicken nugget without the fucking breading! For the love of Jesus H. Christ, we have been sitting here for three hours, Mommy is 9 months pregnant in the middle of July and REALLY doesn’t need this right now! Just eat the fucking chicken! EAT THE FUCKING CHICKEN!!!”), no. Doing that thing where you take a food they won’t eat and dipping it in something they will eat, like pudding or ice cream? They take the zucchini stick, lick the pudding off, then throw it straight at your face just to remind you that they are NOT stupid, so don’t even try to play them like that.
Eventually, I had to let it go. Besides, soon after that I gave birth to my second son, and I was positive things would go according to plan with him!
Nope. Same exact thing happened.
Funny thing happened though when Toby first stole some of his big brothers fries- I didn’t care. Maybe it was from exhaustion. Maybe it’s because we have options like sweet potato fries and all-natural chicken nuggets that make junk food a little less “junky”. Maybe it’s because even though Atticus still has a list of about 10 things he’ll eat, many of them are healthy foods (though he will always request chicken nuggets and French fries if you ask him what he wants to eat). Or maybe after over four years at this parenthood thing, I’m starting to be slightly alright with being nowhere close to perfect.
My name is Allison Robicelli. I am a professional chef with almost ten years in the business. I love my kids more than any mother ever has, and I feed them chicken nuggets, and fish sticks, and pizza and crackers and French fries. I’m ok with that.
And being totally honest- chicken nuggets are kinda ridiculously delicious.
Guest columnist Allison Robicelli is best known as the owner and chef (with husband Matt) of Bay Ridge-based Robicelli’s Cupcakes. Allison is also a born-n-bred Brooklynite, workaholic entrepreneur, and mother of two. Every other week, she shares her stories about the joys and horrors of growing up in South Brooklyn, running a small business, raising kids…and whatever the hell else she wants to talk about.