My youngest son was home from college for spring break a few weeks ago. Usually, when I’m expecting him home, I make a shopping trip to fill my refrigerator, and nearby pantry to their absolute, maximum capacity. Have you ever heard the proverb that says, “It takes a village to raise a child?” Well, I think it should say it takes a village, to “feed” a child. If you’ve raised children; you already know how expensive it is to fulfill all their unique and substantial dietary needs. Making my grocery list before my son’s visit, I paused to reminisce about what it was like to raise two extremely hungry boys. I then thought about how things have changed over the past few years. With my oldest out on his own, and the youngest in his final year of college; my food budget has been virtually sliced in half, and my vacation stash, has practically doubled.
To think that just a few years ago, due to my wife working long hours as a nurse practitioner in a hospital; I was doing most of the grocery shopping. To be honest – shopping is a tough job. I give a lot of credit to women or men, who balance careers, take care of homes, and raise children. I took grocery shopping seriously. I would clip coupons, look for specials at the supermarket, plan filling and nutritious meals, and do my best to keep the refrigerator full of an assortment of meats, cheeses, eggs, yogurts, and fruits and vegetables. My pantry would also be stocked with dry goods, assorted cans of soup, and basics such as sugar and flour. In my fervor to provide a balanced and healthy, but economical diet for our family, I overlooked one small problem. It seemed that I had piranhas in my pantry.
Well, maybe they’re not really piranhas. Most people call them teenagers, but sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference. Piranhas, like teenagers, move in large groups, have a single-minded purpose, will eat everything in sight, and often forget proper etiquette in their never-ending quest for sustenance. While raising my two boys – and should I say, dozens of their friends; I often thought that the only difference between ravenous, meat-eating piranhas, and a group of hungry teenagers, was that piranhas would clean their rooms and take out the trash if you asked them to.
My teenage sons would often have piranhas – sorry, I meant friends over. I remember my wife always telling them to make themselves at home. Make themselves at home? I couldn’t help but wonder; if I want to their homes, would I find empty refrigerators, barren shelves, drained containers of juice and milk, garbage cans full of empty bags, cartons and boxes, and a note on the refrigerator that said, “Went to the store for food. Be back soon. Please don’t eat the dog.” Do you think teenagers call the “Old Country Buffet,” home? I wonder if teenagers get together, and map out a complex strategy involving which homes to hang out at, based on quantity and quality of available food sources. I can imagine a conversation like this. “Hey, Joe. What do you say we head to Mike’s house? I heard they had tacos last night, and his dad just had bariatric surgery.”
“No, it might pay to hit Juan’s. Friday night’s always Chinese takeout, and I just saw a delivery of Jenny Craig, pre-packaged meals, His mom must be on a diet again.”
“I have a better idea. Let’s call Daniel Dykie, and invite ourselves over. His mom’s nice, they just bought an entire side of beef, got a brand new grill, and his dad, Patrick’s writing a book. He’s probably in the basement, pounding away on his old laptop, and won’t even know we’re there.”
After the teenagers had left, I’d root around the refrigerator, hoping something had been overlooked. My wife would always smile and say, “Honey, they’re just growing boys.” As I viewed the empty shelves and furiously scribbled down items needed for an emergency shopping trip, I would think to myself, “Growing boys? I thought they were bamboo or something. They give new meaning to the phrase, growing like a weed. If they grow any more, I’ll be broke, and their heads will be poking through the roof.” To be fair. Sometimes, these days after dinner, I’ll go through the refrigerator for some “supposedly” healthy snacks. My wife will catch me with a huge sandwich, and say, “Are you eating again?”
I’ll sheepishly say, “It’s okay, I’m just a growing boy.”
My wife will then give me a stern look, glance down at my substantial stomach, slowly shake her head back and forth, and just walk away.
After years of dealing with piranhas in my pantry, I’ve managed to learn a few things about the hearty appetites of teenagers. You may think that when they’re on the hunt for life-sustaining nourishment, much like schools of piranhas, they will indiscriminately feed on the nearest and most convenient food source. This isn’t always true. If you were to take a high-speed camera, film teenagers during a feeding frenzy, and then slowed it down, you would see something completely different. Teenagers are actually quite selective. I call it the “$8.99 rule.”
The rule in its simplest terms is this. Teenagers; especially boys, will search for, grab and ingest the most expensive items first. That $4.99 per pound bologna is safe for the moment, as is the bargain brand apple juice, and anything green, including lettuce. The first foods in the refrigerator to go are the gallon of pure Tropicana orange juice, the delicious Italian roast beef, the large chunk of Muenster cheese, the Ben and Jerry’s cookies and cream ice cream, and the last two slices of Sicilian piazza with the extra mushrooms that you hid way in the back behind the skim milk, and the low-fat pineapple yogurt. Teenager’s, also love hard-boiled eggs, red delicious apples, and fruit on the bottom, blueberry yogurt. The pantry is then emptied of Famous Amos chocolate chip cookies, soft and fluffy, white Wonder bread, Ritz crackers, and the last box of cherry Pop Tarts.
Oh, I almost forgot to tell you that teenagers don’t like leftovers. My wife is a fantastic cook, and when my sons were younger, she would make enormous pots of the most delicious chili. It would contain pounds of lean hamburger, red, black, and kidney beans, stewed tomatoes, and massive amounts of fresh chili pepper. Even after the incredible appetites of five or six young boys were finally satiated, there was always extra chili. Since, my sons, or their friends wouldn’t eat leftovers, it was my duty to finish the rest. I remember, by the end of the week, I had eaten so much chili; I was wearing a sombrero, listening to mariachi bands, doing a frenetic rendition of the traditional Mexican hat dance, and speaking with a Spanish accent. I won’t tell you what happened after a week of eating leftover beef stroganoff, courtesy of an old Russian recipe from my Aunt Anastasia. Let’s just say, my chiropractor, made a killing off of me.
Many times, I would open my refrigerator to find empty or decimated shelves. The strange thing is, they would often leave certain things untouched. I would usually find the leftover meatloaf from the night before, a bowel or two of okra, a few brown grapes at the bottom of the fruit tray, some cheese with green mold on the edges, my prune juice, and a big glob of either tofu, or that “Blob” thing from the old horror flick. I might even get lucky, and there would be a few slices of week-old bologna in the meat tray, and the two ends from a loaf of bread from on top of the refrigerator. Of course, there wouldn’t be any mustard or ketchup for it. They both disappeared with the two dozen hot dogs I was saving for a weekend picnic.
I guess, I better finish this simple observation. My wife and I are watching our granddaughter tonight. She’s only fourteen months old, and I don’t have to worry about her raiding the refrigerator – YET. She’s just starting to say her first few words, and it won’t be long before she can put full sentences together. Wouldn’t it be awesome, if in a few months, while me and her were checking out the refrigerator for a snack; she points, and says for the first time, “Pop, Pop. Is dat roost biff?”