The other day my daughter F. was digging worms in the garden while I weeded. “I found another one!” she shouted every few seconds. That kid knows how to find worms, I thought. Then I discovered that she was merely “finding” successively smaller pieces of the same big worm, which she was chopping up with her shovel. I hid my grimace as she held out yet another hacked off bit of worm for my inspection.
I also restrained myself when she ran up to show me a “cute brown caterpillar” which was actually a millipede. “Let’s just put this guy back in the grass,” I said, outwardly calm, while inside my brain squealed like a tea kettle: EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!
I’ve always liked insects and the natural world, but my bug-love does not extent to spiders, centipedes, or millipedes. Yet I don’t want to pass on my own hesitations, fears, and repulsions to F. I want her to explore her surroundings with an open and fearless curiosity (within the bounds of relative safety). I want her to dig in the dirt, collect “cute” bugs and try new and different things – including food — of all kinds without hesitation.
Because of this, I must hide my own particular distastes that have no reason beyond personal quirk. For example, I can’t abide egg yolk. Mash it up and make egg salad and I will dig in. But if it’s the cooked yolk of a fried egg, it’s a different story. There’s something about its sticky, gelatinous texture that makes my throat close up. But I try to set an example. I cut it up and put it on toast or swallow it with a sip of coffee, trying to keep my face in a smooth mask of acceptance. It’s hard enough to get kids to eat well; I don’t need them seeing me freak out about a bite of egg.
It’s easier, I think, to hide repulsion than it is to teach it. For instance, our autistic son H. has no clue that certain bodily substances are best disposed of with a flush. To him, that item is a thing of wonder and fascination, with its distinct scent and texture. Yes, we’ve had several horrifying instances of just that spirit of curious exploration I want to instill in my kids, instances that required me to don a Hazmat suit and spend long periods scrubbing furiously at my hands, like an odiferous Lady Macbeth.
Incidents like these have really put some steel in my spine where once I might have been a bit more squeamish. Recently a friend told me she would no longer use lemon zest in recipes because she’d seen some expose on citrus fruit. I didn’t ask for more detail. No doubt it involves vermin of some kind, and some miniscule amount of the above-referenced substance.
I refuse to get worked up about it. I’ll continue to rinse my lemons well and zest them with — well, zest. I’ll be an admirable role-model for my kids, and save my anxiety for the things that really warrant it, like potato eyes, and monkeys wearing suits…and clowns.