My Two-Year-Old Foodie

Last night, my youngest thanked God for broccoli as part of her nighttime prayers. The kid has food on the brain constantly. Her two-year-old tummy works on a schedule you could set your clocks by. She’s a walking, talking dinner bell, and she knows when it’s feeding time.

She’s also not shy when giving her opinion about what you’ve placed before her.

“But, I don’t like that!” she’ll groan loudly.

Or, “That’s my favorite,” she’ll squeal with delight.

It’s not too difficult to persuade her to try new things. She’s quite adventurous, especially if you catch her when she’s hungry, which was my tactic with last night’s dinner.

I’ll just come out and say, I’m not a chef by any stretch of the word. I’d consider myself a barely above average home cook. I’m pretty good with flavors, but I rarely consider presentation. Even still, I learned years ago it was cheaper and healthier to eat in, and that was motivation enough to take up the task more regularly. Now, I cook or prepare almost every meal we eat.

I’m always shooting for a balanced diet by sneaking in veggies wherever I can. Spinach in breakfast smoothies and mac and cheese; peppers, onions and garlic in spaghetti sauce and meatloaf; every vegetable under the sun in my shepherd’s pie and tourtière.

I’ve been searching for ways to get more broccoli into our diet. I like the vegetable, but the rest of the family is not too keen. I usually make it as the very occasional side dish that nobody else eats, or I boil it into a bacon, bean, and broccoli soup of which the kids approve.

Last night, I had some very thin steaks that were about to go bad, and I felt just brave enough to attempt an Asian inspired Beef and Broccoli. You see, I’m never the one to cook the steaks. I have a bad habit of overcooking nearly all meats, and it would hurt my heart (and budget) to mess up the only fine meat I let myself splurge on during my twice-monthly shopping trip.

The steaks come marinated in a vacuum-sealed pack. Of all the meats I buy, they are the last to expire, but I had put off cooking them till the last minute out of fear more than anything.

Since Sunday dinner usually rested on my partner’s shoulders—I was studying for my Master’s and had assignments to turn in by midnight—Sunday steak night has become somewhat of a biweekly tradition. I had been dreading cooking the steaks since buying them on my last shopping trip, and they’ve stared at me from their fridge position in the back of the bottom shelf all week.

I was positive my youngest wouldn’t make it past the first bite if I overcooked the filets. I could almost hear the “I no like it, Mommy!” that would follow the sound of her spitting the tough meat back onto her brightly-colored plastic plate.

Just in case I screwed it up, I needed something more than our usual side of oven-baked French fries to back up the beef. I tossed around a few ideas and remembered about the broccoli. Surely, rice and broccoli with a tasty sauce could entice both kids to tough it out with the steak. My oldest would eat the beef either way, even if she turned her nose up at the broccoli like she usually did. The real worry was getting something of anything into the little one.

It’s not that she’s a picky eater. The kid eats gnocchi drenched in pesto, red pepper hummus, chicken korma, every kind of Mexican food I throw at her, and various American and Spanish dishes. She just has high standards!

One time, she refused to eat a burrito bowl simply for the presentation. When I layered up the exact same ingredients (meat with peppers and onions, refried beans, Mexican rice, and shredded cheese) and made it look pretty, she scarfed it down.

If I mess up one of our regular meals in the slightest way, you bet she’ll be the one who notices and won’t eat it that time around. If I make a dish sing, she’ll be completely silent throughout the meal, stuffing her face and leaving traces from her chin to her hairline, because she decided to lick the plate. She’s like a mini quality assurance officer at my table. It sucks… in the most adorable way.

And, it’s nothing new.

My youngest has always been enthusiastic about her food. Whereas her older sister kept breastfeeding till I weened her at 13 months, the baby gave up breastfeeding at only seven months old. She wanted what we were having. It was clear, early on, my younger daughter craved more than milk.

She sprouted teeth at five-and-a-half months old to prove it, and she continued to do so (two at a time) till she had an impressive set of eight chompers by her first birthday. Her sister, by comparison, had only four and a half teeth by the time she turned one and mostly stuck to homemade purees.

Not the little one, though, she ate EVERYTHING—even if she wasn’t quite ready. I remember the terror she struck in me during those early months.

Without properly chewing the food she insisted on sharing with us, she would attempt to swallow. She would begin to gag, and we would freak out. Then, she would simply hawk it back up into her mouth and continue chewing till it was time to give it another go down the esophagus.

Chew. Choke. Chew some more. Swallow.

It was a terrible habit, but one that we all adapted to, eventually. It created a hilarious show when we ate with others, and they jumped out of their seats to save her. Bottom line, she refused to slow down, and she refused to eat baby food. Don’t worry, I went through Heimlich maneuver and CPR training multiple times in the Navy.

My baby is also a flavor junkie. She has to put everything in her mouth. She’s one of those kids you need to watch every minute for fear she might pick up something nasty off the floor and give it a taste. One day on a walk when she was about eighteen months, she tried tree bark.

You’re probably thinking, if she’ll eat tree bark, she’ll eat overcooked steak. I’m sorry to report her standards are higher these days.

She even smacks her little lips a few times just before she drifts off to sleep. It’s a new development I’ve started to notice at naptime. She’ll toss and yawn, like usual, then comes the lip smacking. She’s either searching for evidence of her last meal or preparing for a delicious dream. In either case, I don’t want my cooking to be the cause of disappointment.

After two YouTube videos on how to pan-sear very thin steaks, I held my breath and gave it a go. With the broccoli steaming and the rice boiling, I put the frying pan over high heat. I tossed in two of the three filets, and the steak gave a lovely sizzle when it hit the olive oil. After what I hoped was the appropriate amount of time, I pulled them from the pan, and let them rest on the cutting board, before throwing the third steak in the pan.

I cut the meat into small strips, mixed it with the broccoli, rice, and sauce, and served it up. To my great surprise the steak was extremely tender, and both my kids ate everything in their bowls—broccoli and all.

I know the dish will make a repeat appearance on our menu, and not just because there are leftovers in the refrigerator.

My youngest often thanks God for food—since she’s only two years old and food ranks very high on her list of things to be grateful for—but I was shocked when she thanked Him for broccoli. It was a proud mom moment for sure.

I’ll continue to improve my cooking game to please her. If not to see a clean plate and a healthy kid sitting next to me at the dinner table, than to ensure the next time she smacks her lips before bed, the food I make leaves a smile on her face and creates material for her dreams.

Who knows, maybe she’ll be the chef in the family.



Featured Photo by Polina Tankilevitch from Pexels

Amplify Black Voices for Juneteenth

My daughters and I were watching BOOKMARKS: Celebrating Black Voices on Netflix a while back. It’s a wonderful series with authors and celebrities reading from children’s books that amplify Black voices and experiences.

We enjoyed the entire Netflix series, and I hope it brought added understanding and empathy to all our hearts.

While watching, my oldest daughter and I fell in love with Vashti Harrison’s illustrations for Sulwe, a book written by Academy Award winning actress Lupita Nyong’o.

Guess what came in the mail today from Amazon!?! Our copy of Sulwe!!

Happy Juneteenth, Indeed!

If you would like to check out Sulwe or would enjoy perusing a long list of wonderful works by and/or for people of color that amplify their voices, I would recommend the list found in The Brown Bookshelf’s Juneteeth post in support of the African American Children’s Book Project.

Be the change you wish to see in the world!



Steaming towards the end… of Potty Training!

A funny thing happened to me today, and it reminded me of one of my very first posts to this blog. Both involved potty training.

I snuck off to the shower earlier while my kiddos were playing nicely in their room. Halfway through my relaxing shower, the two-year-old comes rushing in. She has business to doo. She peels off her diaper and sits. A few minutes later, I’m hanging over the bathtub trying not to drip all over her as I wipe her bum.

I resume my shower, and she goes off to find a pair of “big girl panties” to replace the diaper now flopped face-down on my bathroom floor. Instead of enjoying the rest of my time in the water, I hear her struggling with getting her legs through the proper holes and I ask the older one to help her little sister out. I shut off the tap, pull back the curtain, and am affronted by an unpleasant steam that is not coming from the shower.

I clean up her mess, but I’m not upset. I’m laughing. It’s the only way to get through days like this. Hashtag MomLife. Also, I’m pretty dang proud of how well she’s doing with this whole potty training thing.  

The old blog post that today’s episode brought to my mind shares my experience with teaching my older daughter to ditch the diapers. It includes a “how to” with step-by-step directions. It’s a great approach for the first-time mom without a clue. It taps into my own mother’s wisdom. She raised five kids, so she has some great tried and true methods.

Instead of sticking to the timeline in my 2018 post, however, I’ve been able to be a bit more patient. For one, I don’t feel restricted to a two-week window. As a first-time mom, I needed everything to go exactly to plan. I had to see the clear path through the woods and be confident with the course before setting out. With the second child, things feel less like a test and more like an experience. I’m much more relaxed and at ease with my parenting now that I’ve been through the gauntlet once and came out fairly unscathed.

Instead of leading with the second child, I tend to follow a bit more. I’m better versed in toddler and I’m able to read her cues. Also, the second one is better at communicating her needs than her older sister was at this age—having an older sibling helps in that department. She’s also easily incentivised by M&Ms, which is a new trick I never used with the first kid. Either way, I’m not inclined to push the younger one to stick to the plan.

Secondly, it’s summertime in Spain! Potty training a kid in summer is easier. She won’t freeze her tushy off. So, I’m cool with her running around in undies until she figures it out.

I suppose my slow approach also has to do with my age and stage. I started this blog while I was staying at home with my older daughter and working on my Bachelor’s degree. I am, now, tackling my thesis for my Master of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing. Once I complete this terminal degree and my youngest goes off to school in September, it will be time for me to rejoin the workforce. My stay-at-home-and-study days are nearing the end. Each milestone (my children’s and my own), puts me one step closer to the door.

I’m taking the awful job of potty training slowly and enjoying every little steaming success, because this is the last summer I’ll be able to spend with these tiny humans without a 9-to-5 dragging me off to work.

Time flies, mamas! The only real advice in this post: Hold your kiddos as close as you can for as long as you can.



Facebook Groups: Community or Conditioning?

Post updated August 9, 2020

Have you ever felt like virtual groups you joined to lift you up and support you were actually having the opposite effect? When I was pregnant with my first child and struggling as a first-time mom, I found amazing support on Facebook from breastfeeding groups, to cloth diapering groups, to local parent support groups, and numerous pages and blogs in between ready and willing to answer all my questions.

Navigating the waters of motherhood would have proved a lot more difficult without them.

Lately, however, I’ve been searching for connection and not just information—what with the current world situation and finding myself at home with two small kids more often than ever before.

This virtual sisterhood that I’ve come to cherish over the last five years has recently been bringing me down, and I wanted to share my struggles with you.

One particular Facebook Group that I joined a few years back, which I believed would help me create the type of homelife I desire, has turned out to be a scary place to hangout. Whereas the group’s title is exactly what I thought I was seeking, the conversations held there—especially this year—have not reflected the group’s name. It feels like the group is being shaped or molded by the moderators and admins. More and more, I’m beginning to wonder if this is because it’s an American election year.

The group is a “moms” group. It is international, with members from around the world, but its membership is predominately American. It’s supposed to support spirituality and the crunchy kind of lifestyle I dabble with in different forms.

Since the beginning of the year, I’ve seen this group’s message become more and more narrow. Diverse voices from women of color were being silenced in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, the subsequent demonstrations and riots, and Blackout Tuesday. Sadly, many women left the group during this time.

Contrary opinions by group members in response to politically persuasive posts were being deleted by moderators, even if the comments were backed up with facts. In various posts where a mom would ask for honest opinions from fellow members regarding specific public figures, any criticisms that differed from the majority opinion were immediately addressed by the group admin or moderators with sugary sweet aggression. Basically, “agree or be quiet, please.”

At first, I felt like this was being done to help keep the peace. We’ve all seen these sorts of groups get out of hand with drama at times. Unfortunately, I kept seeing certain voices silenced and other voices amplified, certain messages promoted and other messages removed as the conversations were clearly being steered. All this within a moms support group.

Right now in my MFA studies, I’m taking a Communications class and a Marketing class in addition to my Creative Writing studies. Both classes outside my core curriculum address the social media landscape. The COMs class is teaching students how to identify “fake news” and judge various content on the Web for hidden bias and overall accuracy. With the help of this course, I can easily put a name on what has been lost by this moms group little by little this year, and that is objectivity.

“Objectivity is the extent to which material expresses facts or information without distortion by personal feelings or other biases.”

-M.A. Tate in Web Wisdom, 3rd Ed., 2018.

The Marketing class is teaching students how to sell a brand or message online and engage readers, especially via social media. It also extrapolates on the power of social media as a social change agent, if a business or organization can foster a sense of community. This class helps me to see exactly the type of member shaping and conditioning that is taking place within the Facebook Group I’ve been discussing–and it’s disturbing.

There are studies of Facebook Groups being created or infiltrated specifically with community shaping in mind, because Facebook is where people hangout most online and can be influenced. 

This moms group is large–a couple thousand followers–and new members are added daily. I’m distressed by the fact that, amid the childcare and faith dialogue, these unsuspecting members are being (very politely) force-fed a politically-charged message by a seemingly benign group, which flaunts a name that in my opinion does not reflect the hidden undercurrent being peddled.

When I wrote to a moderator concerning her deletion of a few comments in a thread promoting a controversial figure in the news today, she was unreceptive and could not explain her moderation actions, which were not a reflection of group established rules. When I then turned to the group administrator asking about these censorship tactics, I received no answer at all.

Here is a small excerpt from my private message to her: “I have offered differing opinions in the past on certain issues and never been censored. This [new] practice is not conducive to open and honest discussion and I find it disturbing that this group attempts to steer group opinion [in] a very singular direction. I agree on so many topics and support so much of what this group stands for, but I don’t let any one group dictate to me how I shall think or feel. Are you attempting to create a safe space here, or not?”

The truth is, I’m not looking to be politically persuaded by a Facebook Group of moms that is supposed to be trading in motherly and spiritual support. I understand the need to vent frustrations over current events, but the political stance held by the administrator and the moderators is getting so apparent, I’m beginning to wonder if someone is getting paid to spin the message.

There are plenty of Facebook Groups for politics. There are Facebook Groups for professionals to network. There are Facebook Groups for learning a new trade, or new diet, or new hobbie. Facebook even opened an avenue for businesses to create groups that could foster customer feedback and can help determine the future of the brand–you know, since mall surveys are pretty much a thing of the past. 

When we join those sorts of professional or business groups, though, we do so freely with a good sense of what to expect, since the message is more straightforward. I love some of the new writer’s groups I’ve joined recently.

However, in friendly support groups regarding personal topics like these moms groups, it begins to feel more like a meet up with confidants. We get really personal sometimes. If the group fosters a supportive vibe, sometimes it’s the only place some mothers can open up about private issues. I can’t believe this group that I cherished could become so skewed so quickly.

Is it a reflection of a politically polarised society at large? I don’t know.

From now on, I’m going to be a lot more cautious of these types of groups and their thinly-veiled ulterior motives. The world is divided enough without a support group of Christian mothers being conditioned to take a side.

Seek unity, friends! …and continue mothering humanity.



Featured Image Photo courtesy of Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels