“Homemade pizza!” My 8 year old son, J, grimaced as he said it, like he had just received bad news from the doctor.
Mike, my boyfriend, nodded enthusiastically. “Yes, homemade pizza! You’ll love it!”
J merely nodded, slowly backing out of the room, a hasty retreat for a panicking child with a delicate palette. Soon, in the next room, I heard J exasperated. “He’s making homemade pizza! Oh no!”
Mike looked nervous, and I gave him a reassuring hug. He’s been getting used to dating a guy with children, and to even having a children around, and he’s been adapting quite well. It had been a few weeks previously when he had mentioned casually that my sons don’t eat quite as healthy as they could, and I had laughed almost hysterically. Eight years worth of feeding children came rushing back to me in a series of horrible and hilarious memories: spaghetti sauce washed out of hair and belly buttons, two year old mouths clamped shut refusing even one bite of turkey, ordered plates at restaurants met with tears and horror, being told my pancakes taste like garbage, and favorite meals rejected out of bad moods. I thought of all the ways I had tried making diets more nutritious, from pureeing beets and spinach into smoothies to mixing protein powder into waffle batter. I relived every time I had ever reached the decision to just feed them what they would actually eat rather than fighting them over choosing carrot sticks over Cheetos.
But to Mike I just smiled, and said I’m sure the kids would love his cooking.
I mean, Mike is a phenomenal cook. It’s one of his many talents. He can pick up fresh ingredients and cook phenomenal dishes from scratch. He’s been challenged, working with my vegetarian pallet, and has creatively used tofu and every kind of vegetable in making delicious casseroles, frittatas, pastas, cream soups, and salads. I have loved every dish. My kids, though… they wouldn’t have tried a single bite of any of them even if they’d been offered one.
While the kids played in the next room, Mike lovingly crafted pizza dough on two separate pans. He made a sauce of tomatoes for the kids, adding sugar to sweeten it, and a pesto sauce for the adult’s pizza. He spread cheese and pepperoni over theirs, then goat cheese, sesame seeds, fennel, spinach, and arugula over ours. It took a few hours while I played board games and toys with the kids, then he placed them in the oven.
Several minutes later, I heard an “oh no!” from the kitchen and rushed in to find Mike pulling the pizzas out of the oven frantically. Somehow, he had doubled the dough recipe, meaning the pizza crusts had risen to twice their standard size. He muttered quietly, trying to squish them down to size and spreading new toppings over them.
Thirty minutes later, we sat down at the table for dinner. J panicked, the pizza placed in front of him in an even slice.
“I, um, do I have to eat this?”
Mike looked nervous across the table, wanting to win the kids over with his cooking even though they were already very fond of him. I gave J a dad look and he looked away.
“Listen, buddy, you like pizza. You’ve had pizza before and you liked it. You can at least try this.”
“But we’ve made homemade pizza at mom’s house before and I didn’t like it very much! I know about homemade pizza already!”
“Buddy, just try it.”
His brother, A, took a small bite of the corner of the cheesy crush. “It’s not bad!” he muttered, enthusiastic, trying to reassure his brother. A often has problems with food, but he tends to only act up when his brother isn’t.
“Try some, J.” I said, in a sterner voice.
J reluctantly reached up his thumb and forefinger and picked up a crumb off the corner of the crust, placing it on his tongue. “There, see, I don’t like it.”
I could see his anxiety rising as he worked himself up. “J! Take a bite!”
He grimaced and closed his eyes, leaning his mouth down to the plate and taking a brief lick against the crust, getting a touch of sauce. He recoiled. “I think I’m allergic!”
I breathed out as Mike patted my arm. “It’s okay, he doesn’t have to try it.”
“I want him to at least try it. Come on, J.”
He looked panicked, over at my slice of pizza, covered in salad and seeds. “Um, maybe I would like yours better.” He was searching for any way out that he could.
I silently held my slice up and he took a bite, chewing on it slowly. “Um, this is okay! I like yours better!” he said. Then I watched him chew three times, open his eyes wide, and then promptly vomit his partially chewed food and the rest of the contents of his stomach all over his plate.
It was a few hours later, as the kids were tucked in soundly and sleeping. The rest of the night had gone well. J had cleaned himself up, had a good cry, and had eaten peanut butter and jelly. He gave an apology. “I just really really don’t like homemade pizza. I only like Little Ceaser’s. Or Domino’s. Or Pizza Hut or something. Just not homemade!”
Mike and I stoked a small fire in the fireplace and cuddled a bit, laughing about the day. After the vomit, he’d looked like a wounded animal and had vowed he would never cook for the kids again. I had merely laughed at that, knowing the feeling.
“Parenting is the fun stuff, like wrestling and tickles and Pokemon battles. But it’s also wiping up urine off the floor, working through crazy crying fits, and, yeah, even cleaning throw up off the double-stuffed crust homemade pizza you spent three hours making.”
He grimaced and snuggled harder into me.
“The big thing is that you tried.”
And then I noticed an inexplicable dislodged piece of pepperoni across the floor on the carpet across the room, and the laughter started all over again.