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Erin Mantz

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What Food Can Tell Us About How We're Coping With Divorce

Posted: 02/08/2013 6:45 pm

Yesterday, I needed to change the way I make my 8-year-old's eggs. After years of making the omelets he loves (flat, perfect circle) or putting a fried egg on a bagel, he had a new request that took me by surprise: "Sunny-side up!" Where in the world did he learn this? I'd never made a sunny-side up egg; I didn't even know how to (thank you, Google). It's how daddy's girlfriend makes it for him, he said. Oh. Wow.

This revelation shocked me -- but it didn't upset me. I think I was more surprised that he'd tried a different kind of breakfast than anything else. I wasn't jealous, just surprised. But what did strike me was that he'd discovered something new without me. And I actually said a silent thank you in my head to her for helping him branch out with his breakfast choices. But a few years ago, fresh from my divorce, I would have been in a state, beating myself up for missing this kind of moment and worrying that he was enjoying meals with them more than at my house. I would have thought, how dare she influence my son's meals or barge into the world of breakfast favorites that he and I had built up over eight years?

Food has come to play a significant role in reassuring me that the kids are alright. In marriage, their dad was often away for business and absent at family meals. Today, he's home not only for their dinner, but often cooking their dinner. They excitedly tell me: "Daddy made salmon! Daddy made chicken! Daddy made pasta!" They rave about his cooking. They are more than okay over there, three blocks away at Daddy's house. They are eating well.

Some things will never change. They still like the way I make their chocolate milk, and I know the only brand of frozen pizza my 11-year-old will eat. I am the one who cooks their favorite shrimp dish in the wok, and they can count on homemade (Betty Crocker) brownies every Thursday when I work from home. There are favorite foods that are the comfort of mom's house, and there are favorite foods at dad's.

I am not putting a completely happy face on co-parenting here. In the early days and months following my divorce, there were moments in the kitchen were I wanted to cry into the frying pan, trips at the grocery where I stocked up on way too many Oreo cookies in an effort to cheer up my kids. Chocolate milk at 3:00 am was a craving and perhaps a comfort my youngest son wanted for weeks. And I complied. We finally broke that cycle, thanks to some wise advice from a very smart woman.

Co-parenting is often about giving up some control over the little things. And food is one of them. I can't micromanage their intake of fruits and vegetables in two homes. Truth be told, I don't think I even give them enough at my place. But I do buy bananas in various stage of ripeness so they can grab just the right yellow one on any given day. I try. When they're away from me for a long weekend, I have no idea if they're drinking enough milk or eating too much sugar. But let's be real: I work full-time and am not even sure what they're snacking on after school when my nanny is here, either.

But with a little time comes perspective and a realization that something like the eggs don't matter much.

There are still a lot of little things I worry about, like will they find and wear their hats on 30-degree winter mornings when they aren't with me. But the food? I think my son's new breakfast request may also be just a part of him growing up. And, at 42, so am I.

 

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