You Don’t Have to Like It
February 10th, 2010

Earlier this week I posted a video on my private family blog.  It is a video of IEP sitting in his highchair and crying miserably in the face of… cauliflower.  Usually he is amenable to dietary negotiations.  (“Eat this bite of cauliflower and then you can have another bite of ravioli.”)  But the other night he was not in the mood to barter.  We ended up taking a break to collect ourselves and then returned to the table for a fresh start wherein he did eat his cauliflower. 

I am adamant about picky eating.  I’m sure there are bigger things to worry about in this adventure of parenting.  But this is a battle I choose.  I was raised not to be a picky eater.  “You don’t have to like it, but you have to try it,” were some of my mother’s most famous words.  Those words got me to eat certain things that I loved (bread pudding!) and certain things that I didn’t (stewed zucchini?).   So today there are very few foods that I simply won’t eat.  And I’m very thankful that culinary breadth was foisted upon me without the opportunity to appeal. 

As a rule I think that attitudes about food can be (somewhat) reasonably extrapolated out into the larger picture of life.  And so recently I’ve been thinking about this philosophy as it applies to life in general.  The older we get the easier it is to define ourselves as a defined set of interests and activities.  Childhood finds us constantly trying new things – piano lessons, Girl Scouts, softball, tennis, gymnastics, basketball, horseback riding, ice skating, and ballet.  (Sorry guys, I don’t have any brothers, so I don’t really know what you did as kids… besides torment your sisters.)  But as adults we are no longer signing up for summer camp activities, electives, and various kinds of lessons.  We know what we like and what we don’t like, and we stick with it. 

But what if we were a bit more adventuresome?  What if we tried new things every now and then?  Sure, we might not like them.  Sure, we might regret time or money wasted on a dud.  But we might find something we love.  Or, we might at least get a good story out of it.

Better yet, why do we limit ourselves as adults?  What is about adulthood that makes us cling to our safety nets so dearly.  Elizabeth from Life in Pencil explored the relationship aspect of this question in her guest post over at Motherese the other day.  She insightfully pointed out that with age we are more inclined to dig our heels in than to tap dance our way into a paradigm shift, which, to me, is just plain sad.

We may not be ten years old anymore.  We may no longer thirst for the next new experience the way we once did.  We may find that the familiar suits us just fine.  But how did we find our way to the familiar?  At some point, it was new!  At some point it was strange and maybe uncomfortable.  As I think about some of the things that I cherish most in my life – going to college, living on my own, traveling alone, speaking another language, mothering – my first experiences with each were exhilarating.  But they were also frightening and overwhelming.   

I am as guilty of this rut as the next person.  It’s so easy to stick to your routine.  And there is real value in routine.  It allows us to let our guard down.  We can focus on the little things that bring us pleasure and joy when we aren’t spending our days fielding new and unwieldy circumstances.  But over time our routines can come to own us, rather than the other way around.  We come to rely on them so fiercely that we never venture beyond their bounds.

Like many of us, IEP would gladly eat nothing but his favorite foods day after day.  But I will continue to push him out of his comfort zone.  Some days there will be cauliflower in my hands.  But some day there will be bread pudding.  And when the bread pudding day comes, I hope he will be happy that he learned to try new things. 

In the meantime, I will try to live by my mother’s words more broadly.

8 Responses to “You Don’t Have to Like It”

  1. Anne Says:

    I think this is an interesting issue, and in some ways I feel like the game changes when you have kids. If you’re constantly telling your kids to “try new things”, but you never do it yourself, what message does that send? I think it’s always important to challenge yourself and try new things…be it zucchini or yoga. But at the same time, I do think there’s comfort in reaching a place as an adult where you know what you like, and you can count on it. Part of the reason we try new things when we’re younger is because we’re trying to figure ourselves out. Fashion phases or weird hobbies that no longer resonate with us. You’re never done growing or changing (I hope), but I do find solace in knowing myself, and having faith in that without constantly trying on new hats. Does that make sense?

  2. becca Says:

    Such an important issue. Pushing our kids to try new things so that it’s something that comes naturally and isn’t such a challenge when they grow older. My daughter is NOT adventurous AT ALL when it comes to eating. She’s petrified of trying new things because of her allergies but it frustrates me to no end. I try to get her to try things, just one bite, but she fights and fights and then I cave. But she IS adventurous as far as wanting to try any and all activities. That is my battle I chose to fight… at this age (5) the world is open to her and I want her to take full advantage. I want her never to fear failing at something new. I want her to know what it’s like to be good at something but also NOT good at something and understand that both are ok.

    Great post!

  3. Gale Says:

    Anne – you make a good point. The purpose of the search is to find out who we are. And once we’ve figured it out it’s certainly enjoyable to bask in it and find consistency in it. I’m certainly not advocating a return to failed experiments, but rather a subtle but continued evolution.

  4. Gale Says:

    Becca – You make such a great point about experiencing both success and failure, and finding your peace with each. Fear of failure can be paralyzing and prevent us from tackling new challenges and trying multitudes of new things. Not to mention that a well-rounded experience as a child makes people much more relatable as adults.

  5. Jan Says:

    It’s one thing when you’re young (30s), teaching your children, and so on. When you’re of retirement age and trying to figure out what to do with yourself, the process takes on less of a feeling of adventure, and more one of panic: I’d better figure this out b/c there’s not that much time left. Enjoy, ladies…now’s when it’s the most fun! (yeah, I know, there’s a wonderful upside to the retirement phase, but I’m not feeling optimistic at the moment(

  6. Elizabeth @ Life in Pencil Says:

    Thanks for the shout-out, Gale. I think you’ve chosen a wise battle. I was a super picky eater when I was little, and I think a lot it had to do with the fact that my mother “catered” to me far too much. As an adult I’m broadening my palette all the time, but it’s been hard. You know how I feel about trying new things: just say “yes!” Unless I can think of a good reason NOT to do something, I usually do it. You’re right: some of the best experiences started off as just plain scary. You’ve got to push through that feeling to the other side.

  7. Jeanna Says:

    I love trying new things, continually learning, and pushing myself out of my comfort zone. I’ve found that I’m happiest when I’m a “jack of all trades, master of none.” Although this might stem from the fact that as a child I largely rejected new things for fear of failure. Maybe I’m just making up for it now?

    My newest project is tomato sauce and dill pickles! This summer I’m going to grow the ingredients in my garden and make them from scratch. You’re welcome to join me in the adventure … it’s not as scary as a pole dancing class!

  8. Ten Dollar Thoughts » Blog Archive » Multiple Valentines Says:

    [...] is a week ripe with advice from my mother.  On Wednesday I told you about her philosophies on trying new foods (which I conveniently extrapolated out to an application to life in general).  Today I bring you [...]