AIDA AUSTIN: So I bought vegetables and for 27 years I made my offspring eat them

My children had all sorts of lofty ambitions when they were little: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, doggy rescuer, famous gymnast, Georgie Best. “Vegetable Eater” never got a mention. 

And seeing as this wasn’t on their list of achievable goals, I put it on mine. 

Somewhere near the top. I can’t remember where exactly – it’s a long time ago – but it was up there anyway.

So I bought vegetables. I even grew them for a short time. And for 27 years I cooked them and made my offspring eat them, like you do. Nothing fancy — I’m not talking braised artichoke hearts here, or kohlrabi slaw — just five-a- day, any old way. Broccoli here, tomatoes there and ketchup doesn’t count. You know the sort of thing. So I could sleep at night, that’s all.

By the time they were on the cusp of adulthood, their ambitions had transmuted into more realistic goals: zoologist, engineer, linguist, jewellery-maker.

But “Vegetable Eater” never got a mention at this point either.

So when they packed their bags for college one by one, I reminded them that even though I understood that “Vegetable Eater” was the single the most improbable ambition a parent could harbour for an 18 year old about to leave home, I still harboured it. 

So I asked them to put “eating five-a- day, any old way” on their list of ambitions, so that I could take it off mine please, thanks ever so much. “It’s over to you now,” I said, “but ideally, if you could put it somewhere at the top. Below, ‘changing bedsheets once a week’ perhaps, but above ‘drinking pints’.”

“Don’t worry Mum,” each said, “I will.”

So I took it off my list – and off they went into the world, taking with them what I’d taught them about basic nutrition and everything else, to do whatever they wanted with it all.

And now, three years after my youngest daughter left home, I am standing in the kitchen of her new house where she moved a couple of weeks ago with college friends who, like all students it’s been my pleasure to meet over the past ten years, are absolutely delightful but look as if they could do with a nice carrot.

I wander round the kitchen, looking for tea bags.

Besides looking for teabags, I am also patting myself on the back.

“Hats off to me!” I think [pat, pat] opening and closing under-the-counter cupboard doors, “for letting go! Especially of your youngest, who left home just seven months after undergoing brain surgery.

“I mean [pat, pat] it wasn’t as simple as asking her to put ‘eating five-a- day, any old way’ on her list of ambitions, so that I could take it off mine,” I think, as I continue my tea bag search, “that transition was an extremely complex emotional territory to navigate, never mind spinach [pat, pat,].

“But all’s well that ends well,” I think [pat, pat], “it’s so important to trust your children.”

“Where did you say the tea bags were?” I shout up the stairs to my daughter.

“In my food cupboard,” she shouts back, “above the counter.”

“I mean your four children aren’t just surviving, they are thriving!” I think, as I open and close above-the-counter cupboard doors, “which just goes to show [pat] the truth of the proverb, “give a man a fish you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime. I am so glad I taught them how to cook! [pat, pat, pat.] ”

“Which food cupboard is yours?” I shout up.

“The second one along,” she shouts down.

“Well done for teaching them to fish!” I think [pat, pat]. “TOP MARKS for letting them go out into the world, taking with them everything I taught them, to do whatever they want with it.” Which, I discover when I open her food cupboard, is this:

So I bought vegetables and for 27 years I made my offspring eat them.


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