When I was a child, I was a notoriously picky eater. I routinely hid food in Kleenexes under the dinner table, later flushing the little "care packages" down the toilet. I became a mastermind at distracting my kid sister while simultaneously transporting food from my plate to hers when she wasn't looking. And my relatives, to this day, talk about the time when they visited and found sausage links behind our living room couch that I'd apparently ditched from my morning breakfast. I had no appetite, and I had no shame. My parents worried about me constantly. What were they going to do with this skinny, little child who didn't want to eat? They tried everything -- bribes, rewards, pleads... the starving children pitch. Nothing seemed to work. Nothing, until my grandmother happened upon a miracle food that you'd never guess if I didn't tell you: A&W chili hot dogs. I know what you're thinking. How in the world did anyone convince me to take that first bite? After all, a chili hot dog is not exactly bland and hardly what you would think a finicky eater would agree to try without serious duress. To understand this, you have to know something about my grandmother and her special charm with children. This was the woman who kicked my grandfather out of their king-size bed so I could sleep with her and get special attention when I spent the night. This was also the woman who taught me how to play poker at the age of 5 and insisted that I was grown-up enough to sit with the adults at family dinners instead of being relegated to the "kiddie table." I was the apple of her eye, and I knew it. So when she asked me to accompany her to A&W to try a chili dog and root beer, I felt it was the least I could do. When she came to pick me up for lunch, I was dressed in a pretty, frilly pink dress, white tights, and patent leather shoes (like most grandmothers of little girls, she also spoiled me with clothes). When we arrived at the restaurant, I immediately opened the car door and began to hop out. "Where do you think you're going, young lady?" she asked me. "Inside the restaurant," I flippantly responded, thinking she'd lost her mind. She then proceeded to tell me that, at A&W, you could order from your car, via an intercom, and a bell-hop would bring your order. This was the coolest thing I'd ever heard -- not having to leave your car! I remember her letting me flip the intercom switch on the speaker box to let them know we were ready. I couldn't imagine why other restaurants hadn't picked up on this ingenious method of food service. I was feeling pretty good as we awaited the chili hot dog delivery -- until my grandmother pulled out the heavy artillery. You see, another thing you have to know about my grandmother is that she always came prepared. Knowing a chili hot dog, a 5-year-old, and a pink dress were a hazardous combination, she'd packed a bib, cloth napkin, baby wipes, and a towel for me to sit on. I began to have serious doubts if I was going to enjoy the experience. But shortly, the chili hot dogs arrived, and history was about to be made. For the first time in my life, I took a bite out of something without poking it, prodding it, sniffing it, or picking it to death. I just picked it up and started eating it! My grandmother was so shocked and mesmerized at the sight of me eating that she spilled chili sauce down the front of her HER blouse. She got a kick when I matter-of-factly asked her if she'd like to borrow my bib. This became the first of many trips to A&W with my grandmother over the years. I eventually graduated from a regular to a foot-long chili dog and from a baby root beer mug to a standard size. I also began giving hitherto vetoed foods a chance. My grandmother was happy; my parents were ecstatic; and I had a new appetite and wonderful memories of special days with my grandmother that I will never forget.
My son, Jack, is 11. He is sociable, sweet, and silly. I enjoy his company every day, and he enjoys mine. He has not hit puberty. I know it's coming. Soon I fear. The day when he wants me to disappear into the background... or off the face of the earth. The day when his bedroom door, and his heart, will be more closed than open. The day when he prefers his friends to family and, in the famous words of Kurt Cobain, makes my house smell more like "Teen Spirit" than Tutti-Frutti. But today is not that day. Not yet.