I can’t believe I’m saying this, because I thought I loathed it as a kid, but…you know what? – I miss the Boy Scouts, because as an adult I realize that scouting made me better.
When I was in ninth grade, my
mom bribed me to achieve the highest rank in Boy Scouts: Eagle. It was
contingency-based bribery where I got a stereo at Christmas (one of those big
box ones that included CD player, dual tape deck, radio AND record player on
top) but said, “But I’ll take this back
if you don’t earn Eagle by the end of the year.”
But a far greater motivation was getting out of scouts to reclaim my cool, since at the time, it was not the case that scouting made me better; it tortured me.
I was far too obsessed with being cool in school, desperate to eschew any sense that I was “less than” – (which largely meant gay. Yeah – that was my fear – that I’d be called “fag” or “pansy” or whatever label that essentially meant “less than.”)
And being cool or at the top of the social food chain meant I wouldn’t be considered “less than”.
Being a Boy Scout was not cool – especially in junior high and ESPECIALLY in high school. And that was what I hated about being a Boy Scout. Sadly.
In my suburban Denver scout troop, we didn’t have some conservative religiously-veiled dogma. There was no cultural preaching. There was just an over-arching sense of Scouts doing “good” and the difference between right and wrong. And I found a niche within my troop that ultimately meant scouting made me better at being me.
It wasn’t a troop full of toxic masculinity in the slightest.
Tons of my favorite childhood memories were made through scouting: camp-outs (which I thought I hated, but in reality were really fun), camp (not over-flowing with with toxic masculinity and generally care-free), and a consistent community of quality guys that got together weekly to…I can’t even remember now…have meetings and…talk about stuff?
Put all these things together and I learned not to be afriad of nature, leadership, and random skills most of which I’ve forgotten but actually gave me tremendously broad experience. Further, scouting made me better at poker, shit-talking, late-night conversations and a certain amount of political arguing. Again: thanks to camping.
The Boy Scout values are, in my adult hindsight, invaluable. I paid little attention to the Scout law or the substance of the words that we recited at every turn:
A Scout is Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean and Reverent.
(I typed that without google help – it’s still ingrained in my muscle memory.)
And when I occasionally think on the significance of those words, what better brain-washing to give a kid, eh? Think about each one of those values.
What more could we ask for of ourselves, of society, and of our children?
But when I said “we will roast hot dogs over a fire”, they were IN.
We kayaked forty-five minutes on the Connecticut River to pitch a tent in a clearing on an uninhabited island.
Honestly, it wasn’t hard-core at all. We built a fire, roasted hot dogs and ate M&M’s, hiked for twenty minutes (all the while me thinking TICKS TICKS TICKS TICKS), while I sipped a thermos of Moscow Mules.
But I know this is unthinkable for most people. Scouting made me better at thinking “Come on! Let’s just do it! It’s not rocket science. Pack a bag of M&M’s and let’s camp!”
I bored my kids with my “when I was a kid this was SO much harder” routine as I reminisced about the shitty camping equipment I was forced to use. Trust: military quilted sleeping bags and tents from the 70’s were NOT user-friendly, durable, warm, compact or lightweight.
At the little campground with my kids, I was all about “yes” and not setting limits. They explored, they dug around, broke sticks, and poked around in the fire. I had no reason to say “no” (the Moscow Mule helped).
At one point, my younger kid looked guilty as he made the fire flare up after tossing a pile of dried leaves on top. But I said, “It’s OK, buddy. I want you to learn about fire’s behavior. Plus, I get it. It’s fun to poke around.”
Isn’t poking around in a fire the best part about camping? (Scouting made me better at s’mores, too. Obvi.)
I mean – no forest fire are
going to start in humid-ass Connecticut. And if our fire had sparked, I was
prepared to quickly stamp it out.
This is all part of it – experimenting, pushing limits and learning.
I didn’t bring Swiss army
knives or even an axe (the fallen wood for fire-building was plentiful…and we
will carve wood next summer.)
But I gave them the flavor of camping. And they liked it!
(My 40yo+ body was not a huge fan. My neck and back were seriously creaky, afterward. For summer 2020: get a blow-up pillow.)
But this has all made me think my kids are missing out on these experiences I took for granted (nay: supposedly loathed). My friends found it such a big deal that I was camping, and despite being a gay tap-dancer, I wasn’t remotely intimidated to strike out on this mini-adventure. It’s in my educational background to know camping ain’t that big a deal (particularly when the weather’s perfect and you’re only 30 minutes from home) and nature is meant to be experienced.
Of course I’m looking past the conservative religious hijacking of Boy Scout culture, their leadership largely being old, conservative men, and their tumultuous history with the queer community. Let’s face it – they’ve adapted pretty amazingly DESPITE their leadership and strong rooting in conservative communities. And they’re coming out on the right side of history by including girls in the ranks and embracing children through the the queer community .
So anyway, now that my kids are growing up in NYC, I feel like they’re at the ripe age for having SOME KIND of value-laden extracurricular education.
I wish there were someone else lecturing them on the difference between right and wrong (besides me) and giving them survival skills (besides me).
When that internet apocalypse comes, the Russians hack all our phones and Trump’s tariffs stop all imports from China, all hell will break loose. And suddenly tying knots might actually be super helpful – not to mention reading a map, using a compass, and not fearing nature.
There are several NYC-based
Scout troops (most of them affiliated with Catholic Churches), but none of them
are convenient for us. (And by “convenient”, of course I mean within a
ten-minute walk of our apartment.)
Wouldn’t it be awesome to
start an inclusive troop at the LGBTQ Center on 12th Street? – ground
zero for the gay rights movement?
I love the irony.
And hopefully so would the
But this is not a manifesto
for me starting my own Scout Troop. I’ve got bags to sell.
I’m that guy who’s obsessed with how to get my kids to eat everything. Often, they do. Other parents hate me for it. Mwahahahaha.
At home, we have plenty of dinner drama over the introduction of new foods. Plenty.
But we don’t negotiate. “Kids, here’s dinner. Take it or leave it.”
There are zero substitutions and we aren’t short-order line cooks.
When I was expecting my first kid, among the many things I stressed over was dinnertime and eating. A dear friend counseled, “I don’t do the drama. If they don’t want to eat, they’re fine skipping a meal. No middle-class child in the Western world is going to starve to death after missing a meal (or even dinner for five nights in a row.) They’ll be fine.
Moreover, as long as you don’t let them snack too much (more on that later), their hunger leads them to eat. It’s as simple as that.
“You’re not hungry? No problem. You can go play in your room.” No drama. End of discussion. (But you ain’t gettin’ anything else.)
And if they come back saying they’re hungry, well…their dinner is waiting for them, still.
Our dinner rules are focused on how to get my kids to eat everything and can be summarized as such:
Eat your meal, get dessert. (It doesn’t have to be a “clean plate” mentality. Eat 85% of every item on your plate, I’m fine with that.)
Still hungry? Remember that 15% of dinner? Have that. When that’s gone? Fruit.
Still hungry? If I’m in a good mood, you’ll get another little sweet treat. And after that? Carrots.Iff there’s something new on the plate, you must take at least three bites – one to taste, one to feel, one to decide. If you do that, you can still have dessert.
If you refuse to try a new food, or if you refuse to eat something, that’s no big deal. You won’t have dessert. But you’re welcome to sit at the table and keep talking with us.
If you’re just killing time, distracting the rest of us, or throwing a fit, please leave the table and go play in your room.
No drama, no raised voices, no negotiation. There are rules. They know them.
We don’t waver on these rules (too often). And they work (when we’re consistent.)
On there subject of the food ingested, we aren’t insane about electrolytes or organic everything. I mean, yes – we’d prefer everything to be locally-sourced and organic. I wish everything we ate were locally-sourced, organic, and sustainably delivered to my doorstep. We can’t afford that.
However, we know Michael Pollan’s philosophy “Eat Food, Not too Much, Mostly Vegetables” is at least the goal. And as he suggests, we do most of our shopping “around the perimeter of the grocery store, instead of in the processed aisles.”
And because I love my kids more than I love oxygen (and I’m obsessed with how to get my kids to eat everything), I commit to feeding them healthily and diversely. An open mind and pallet are cultivated through an open stomach so they’re hungry for adventure, experience, and flexibility.
(* – meaning they haven’t been snacking all damn day.)
Not every food needs to be LOVED. A frequent refrain in my house is, “Was it not your favorite? That’s okay. Was it the worst thing you’ve ever eaten?”
Plus – man cannot live on chocolate cake alone. There’s even a diminishing rate of return on chocolate cake. (It’s an economic law!) Even I can only eat a piece and then the rest of the cake just isn’t worth it. (Same goes for Oreos, which aren’t even my favorite…but I can house a box of those in twenty minutes.) But you gotta eat the veggies before you gorge on the cake or Oreos.
Also, at the risk of sounding like a complete hypocrite, McDonald’s fries are the best. (Everything in moderation.)
But we aren’t those sanctimonious parents who preach one hundred percent adherence to perfect eating. I mean – come on. Extremism doesn’t do anyone any favors, does it? I mean – who wants to sit next to these self-righteous hypocrites on the playground:
Have a cigarette, amiright?
Anyway, how have I indulged my obsession with how to get my kids to eat everything? Through the education of taste.
With a diverse pallet from the beginning stages of eating purees and solids starting at six months. We introduced herbs, spices, all manner of vegetables, and eggs.
There are, of course, foods we avoided for the first year.
Honey – the common knowledge from doctors and the intrawebs is we don’t fedd infants honey because it could contain botulism. The chances are very low, however. I’m not so sure we need to freak out about this. Read on.
Nuts – allergies are a real concern, of course, but the science is still out on whether or not nut allergies, and other, can develop in infancy. Though I’m no paranoiac, I avoided nuts (meaning peanut butter) until my kiddo could safely chew them, himself.
Fish and meats? Eh. I fed them all. I mean – my kid didn’t have a steak til he was able to really chew well. But mashed chicken (see below) and fish were totally on the table.
But it was all about the introduction of new foods as regularly as possible. Like…weekly.
I wish I’d known about the French Pediatric Society, in which the French government suggestions two new vegetables per week (as opposed to the American pediatric website that says, “serve a couple green veeteables and some yellow vegetables.” Could we be any lazier? (I swear I read that somewhere…and I’m still looking for the link…#fakenews.)
Anyway. It’s all about exposure, especially before the age of two, which is when it’s reported most children begin their food neophobia.
(Not nihilism – that’s Neitsche…which kids develop when they piss away 75k/year in college and return home blaming us for all their problems and proclaiming “God is Dead.”)
No: food neophobia, in which 3 out of 4 kids develop their fear of new foods.
So in the meantime – pump them full of new foods before they’re aware, and they’ll develop a taste and expectation of differences.
And the following recipes helped me introduce varied and complexity and made them eaters (especially salad eaters)…
Again – super easy. Let’s just poach a chicken and a sweet potato. Need some guidance, there? Watch/read on…
Recipe 3 – Kale salad with toasted hazelnuts
I’d have this salad and my kid wanted to eat all the toasted hazelnuts. And I was a selfish SOB and didn’t want to share my hazelnuts. I felt like the greatest gastronomic sacrifice I needed to make as a father was to let my kid have the last bite of a donut. And I made that sacrifice happily. But seriously, dude – don’t eat all my nuts!
So in order for my kid to “earn” the hazelnuts, they had to have a bit of greens between each nut.
Pretty soon, my kids were eating the entire salad on their own.
My kids never met a cracker they didn’t like. I would easily figure out how to get my kids to eat everything if it just came on a cracker. I can’t blame them. I’ve eaten half a box in the last fifteen minutes of typing. But I figure a cracker is a vessel to the mouth for some kind of dip.
And dips bring flavor, texture, and gastronomic experience ot my kids.
So every other cracker they eat has to have a dip.
And every few crackers require a carrot stick, cucumber spear or broccoli flower head. Do I count? Oh, yes. You know I do.
These three dips are easy and delicious and expose my kids to flavors we discuss (video below for a charming demo of all the dips)…
Buy one of those over-priced jars of sun dried tomatoes. I know – it’s insane how expensive they are, isn’t it? But listen – you’re going to get your use out of it with this recipe, not to mention they keep in the jar for *awhile* and you’ll remake this dip weekly…and never end up throwing out food.
And when you don’t toss food – you undermine the MAN. Because you just KNOW the MAN high-fives his minions of capitalist earth-haters every time we toss food.
And how easy is this? Take a 1/3 jar of drained sun dried tomatoes (vary the amount according to your taste), blend it with a log of goat cheese.