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Challenge: Parent Fails

If You Give a Kid a [Quinoa-Spinach-Apple] Meatball…

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(originally published on Trying My Breast on January 14, 2019)

A few days ago, I drove up into the mountains to visit my friend Mary, and I think we all were a little surprised that I actually got there. Google Maps routed me up a treacherously circuitous two-lane path — er, road — on which I alternately crawled (to avoid driving off the road) and sped (to avoid slowing down the raging-bull Tacoma behind me).

By the time we pulled into Mary’s neighborhood and my GPS cut out, my kids were so upset that Mache’s hair had gone white with shock and Bo’s hair had fallen out altogether. (See When Fur Babies Get Supplanted for a discussion of both my dog child and my human child.) We kept driving around the neighborhood until I located the house, and as I pulled in, I barely avoided hitting Olive, Mary’s friendly black Lab. I always know how to make an entrance.

“Welcome!” Mary blithely called. Apparently she had more confidence in my driving skills than I do. She probably hasn’t read The Story That Started It All.

I parked in a snowdrift from which I was certain I wouldn’t be able to back out, then gathered up my kids and supplies and tromped over to the picturesque trio of Mary, Olive, and Rhett.

Rhett is only about a month and a half younger than Bo, and they both have blue eyes and nearly-nonexistent pale blond hair. That, however, is where the similarities end. Rhett is an even-tempered and mild-mannered baby whose forays into walking seem driven more out of curiosity than belligerence and/or brute determination. When I hold him, Rhett calmly surveys our surroundings, and he doesn’t hit, claw, or bite me. His open face exudes wonder and awe when he looks at the world around him. In contrast, Bo is exactly the opposite with regard to all of the above statements.

We entered Mary’s Pinterest-perfect mountain cabin, and I set my kids loose to destroy the place. Mache promptly figured out how to use the doggie-door and took off into the unfenced terrain beyond. I told Olive, “Don’t worry. She always comes back. After all, how will she eat Bo’s food if she’s gone?” Olive didn’t look comforted.

Meanwhile, Borealis crawled over to Rhett and began to open-palm smack him on the head while saintly Rhett patiently tolerated the abuse. It’s beautiful to watch young friendships form.

I left the babies to their devices and went to unload my cooking supplies. I set my appropriately Halloween-themed reusable cloth bag on the counter, next to several pounds of defrosted ground elk and a few bunches of spinach. I had quinoa and apples for the meatballs; coconut oil and more apples for the vegan apple butter; a peeler, a steam basket, a baby spoon, and jars for storage. Amazingly, I had remembered everything! I started washing and peeling the apples as Mary went to rescue her son from mine.

Returning to the kitchen with Rhett, she asked, “What did you guys bring for lunch?”

Oh. That.

“Umm…” I began noncommittally. Mary plopped Rhett in his highchair. The baby giggled sweetly as Mary began to cut up finger foods for him. Bo bellowed from the living room.

“I kinda just thought I would feed him the apple butter and meatballs once they’re done?” I held up the solitary spoon as evidence of my half-baked plan. I hadn’t even brought a bib. Plus, glancing at our piles of very whole ingredients, I realized the fruits of our labor were still hours away. I let my arm drop back to my side. “But I also have a fruit pack in the diaper bag… which is still in the car.”

Mary glanced up from the butcher block and gave me a strange look. “Would you just want to give Bo some of the stuff I’m giving Rhett for lunch?”

I looked at the growing mound of sliced turkey, green beans, and tomatoes. Significantly fresher than the squeeze-y pack that was heat-cycling in the car. “If it’s not much trouble?” I hedged.

“No, none at all,” Mary assured me graciously. “Do you want to use Rhett’s extra highchair?”

Oh yeah. I hadn’t remembered that either. “Yes, please,” I said shamefacedly.

I retrieved Bo from under Mary’s living room rug (a new trick) and crammed his massive feet through the leg-holes in the spare highchair, then littered the tray with finger foods. Mache, sensing mealtime, reappeared through the doggie-door and trotted over to Bo, who promptly handed her a perfectly-rectangular piece of turkey. At least one of my children eats well.

While the boys were occupied, Mary and I hustled through as much of the food prep as possible. We got the quinoa cooked; we steamed six of the apples (for the apple butter) and shredded the other two (for the meatballs); we mixed up the meatball mash; and we got the blender loaded up with steamed apples and coconut oil. At that point, Mary started to make us sandwiches (since I had — not surprisingly — forgotten to bring any food for myself) and just then, both of our kids started to cry piteously. (Although Bo’s cries definitely held a vitriolic note as well.)

We each retrieved our wailing babes and shushed them into submission. Neither boy would take being put back down on the ground. We stood there for a few minutes, bouncing our respective sons, until Mary realized, “I don’t think I can finish these sandwiches with only one hand.”

“Oh… yeah, that’s true,” I responded. “Here, hand me Rhett, and I’ll just hold both of them.” Mary complied, then snapped a picture of me and said, “Man, I’m glad I didn’t have twins.”


Firstborn privilege ft. Rhett's leg

Mary whipped out some delicious sandwiches in no time, and by then, the boys decided that they would actually be alright on the ground after all. They each commandeered a rolling walker, and Bo began to push his repeatedly into Rhett’s.

I returned to the kitchen and finished blending the apple butter. As I spooned it into our respective containers, Mary announced, “Alright! The meatball mix is ready.” She had set out two parchment-papered pans — one for each of us. “Let’s make them while the kids are still occupied?”

I glanced over at our sons. Mine was chasing Olive around the table while Rhett watched docilely. Mache could just be seen through the back door.

Seizing the opportunity, Mary and I started to form meatballs as fast as we could. Unfortunately, we had three things going against us: 1) the ever-present ticking time bomb of babies who prefer to be held, 2) the overabundance of quinoa in our recipe, and 3) the seemingly inexhaustible bowl of meatball mix.

Amazingly, Borealis and Rhett managed to keep each other occupied (for the most part). Instead, it was the latter two obstacles that were nearly insurmountable. The profusion of quinoa made for especially crumbly meatballs — so much so that we actually couldn’t even form them into balls at all. After a few failed attempts at spheres, we gave up and settled for rounded disks instead.

And the number of disks we made! Seriously. I think Mary must have quintupled the base recipe, because as fast as we made meat patties, so too did the quinoa-apple-spinach meat mash appear to regenerate. Our mom fingers were twin blurs as we sought to finish our task before either child began to cry.

Mary filled her pan first, and as she washed and dried off her hands, she surveyed the two pans. “Wow, yours look a lot better than mine do,” she commented.

And indeed, if you prefer meat patties that perch daintily on their pan like prim little petit fours, then yes, mine looked better. Mary’s were much more traditionally hamburger-shaped. (Notably, however, there’s no way that *any* of our creations could have survived the treatment of a traditional hamburger. Once in contact with the grill, the meat patty would have instantly disintegrated into its component parts.)

“Yeah, I guess old habits die hard,” I muttered. “I used to make cookies every week for Beta fraternity. They didn’t always taste great, but they were always exactly the same size and shape.” I looked at the meat mounds before me. “Actually, basically this size and shape,” I realized.

“Well, they look perfect,” Mary said.

“Yeah, Mache likes her food picture-perfect, and she’s the one who will be eating these anyway,” I answered. Mary laughed as she slid the pans into the oven.

Shortly thereafter, each of the boys started to get cranky again. I stuck Bo into our hiking backpack that we really never use for hiking, and Mary put Rhett down for a nap. We started blazing through the second batch of meat patties while the first batch baked.

All was going smoothly until both boys decided that — surprise! — they had gotten a second wind. Rhett began to mewl from his room, and Bo suddenly remembered that he actually doesn’t really like the hiking backpack.

“Ok, I’m basically done with mine,” Mary said over the sound of crying. “Do you just want to make more perfect little meat cookies out of the rest of the mix?”

I dubiously eyed the still-100%-full bowl of meat mash. Mary was already washing her hands in anticipation of my answer. “Um, I guess,” I ventured.

“Great!” Mary called from the nursery. She reappeared with Rhett a moment later.

I continued in my Sisyphean task — only now, with the added twist of an angry child pulling at my hair. A pleasant reminder of why I don’t use this backpack very often. Mary set Rhett down long enough to wrestle my hair back into a *fashionable* side bun, but that hairdo soon fell to the wrath of Bo as well. Rhett, of course, placidly endured through the drama.

And then, amazingly, all the meat mix was gone — and just in time, too, since the timer went off only a few moments later. I washed my hands and took over baby duty while Mary transferred the cooked meat patties from the pans and replaced them with the uncooked ones. With the second batch finally in the oven, we all breathed a sigh of relief.

And then, I caught sight of the dirty dishes.

We had just piled them in the sink throughout the afternoon, and by now, both sides were unusable. I approached the imposing tower as Mary guided the kids back into the living room.

“Hey, is the dishwasher dirty?” I checked.

“Yeah!” Mary confirmed. “But, you don’t have to do the dishes!”

“I’ll just do the dishwasher-safe ones,” I lied. “What do you hand-wash?”

“Just the pots and pans!”

“What about the knives?”

“Oh, and those.”

“And the mixing bowls?”

“Them too.”

“And the blender?”

“Also that.”

I quickly stowed the dishwasher-safe items and stepped back to assess the other 90% of the dishes. No time like the present, I thought.

As I finished the second mixing bowl, Mary yelled, “I feel bad! You really don’t have to — Gentle, Bo!”

I winced. “Is everything alright in there?”

“Yeah, it’s all good. No, you can’t climb in the fireplace — don’t you just want to go back under the rug like before?”

I narrowly avoided slicing open my palm on the blender blade and moved on to rinsing one of the pots. “You have the babies, Mary, and it’s basically impossible to do both baby duty and dishes. We’ve gotta divide and conquer. I mean, if you want to do the dishes, we could switch?” I suggested.

Mary appeared around the corner. “Yeah, let’s do that.”

“Ooh, I’m sorry, that was a disingenuous offer. My hands are already sudsy. We’re not switching.” Mary laughed and disappeared into the living room again.

I rinsed off the last dish right before the over timer chimed for the second set of meat patties. Mary set them to cool, and then we packed up my few belongings: the peeler, the steam basket, the baby spoon, some unused jars, several jars filled with apple butter, and a Ziploc bag half-full of baked “meatballs”. Mary shoveled the rest of my cookie-like patties into the bag and said, “A bag full of perfect little patties. Mache will be so pleased.”

Speak of the devil, and my dog appeared. “Gotcha!” I shouted, collaring her by the scruff. I reattached Bo to my hip, and somehow even managed to remember my bag of stuff too.

Scooping up Rhett, Mary said, “Ok, so to get home, you should just take three rights and then two lefts. That will put you on the highway back to Golden.”

Still holding our kids, Mary and I hugged an awkward goodbye, and I shepherded our little family out to the car.

“Three rights and two lefts!” Mary called from her front porch. I shot her a thumbs-up.

We somehow managed to back out of the snowdrift with just a little engine revving. Three rights and two lefts later (plus a few more turns accidentally thrown in for good measure), and we were indeed on the highway back to Golden. I smiled in the rearview mirror at Mache and Bo, both of whom were gazing out the window at the mountains beyond. One day, maybe, Bo will bring his own dog to those very mountains.

To my delight, the drive home was remarkably picturesque and pleasant. That is, until a Day-Glo orange sign informed me that the road ahead was closed, and that our detour would take us to — shudder — I-70.

Two major interstates run through Colorado: I-70 and I-25. Both kill people — like, a lot. And for mountainous I-70, you’ll hear the same story over and over: a driver swerves, over-corrects, loses control of the car, crosses the median, careens into oncoming traffic, and collides with another car — inevitably killing both drivers (and usually any additional passengers as well). Tragically, this type of accident happened just this past Christmas Eve. It definitely put a damper on Christmas in Golden.

Now, to reiterate: I am a bad driver. I avoid I-70 like my life depends on it — because it probably does. So once I merged — slowly — into eastbound interstate traffic, I hugged the curb and camped out in the far-right lane, behind all the slow semis. No median cross-overs here!

I am relieved to inform you that we did not die. We didn’t even get into an accident. Instead, after nearly unendurable and seemingly interminable miles of steep grades and Subarus, I exited — slowly — to return to Golden. Back on my “home turf”, my fear level dropped from crimson back down to chartreuse, and we made it home with only a few hopped curbs along the way.

I pulled into the driveway and emerged shakily from the car. Bo had napped [read: had been frozen in terror] on the interstate, but he had woken up as we got back into Golden. As I opened the car door, my son glared at me and wailed something that translates to, “I’m hungry!” I retrieved him from the carseat, grabbed the bag of supplies/food, and let Mache hop down from the trunk.

Once inside, I thought, “Why not just give him the meatballs? They’re still warm, so I won’t even have to heat anything up!” This thought process may seem lazy, but that’s because… ok, it’s because it actually *was* lazy. I settled Borealis in his highchair and scattered a few crumbly, tepid meat patties onto his tray. I put up the rest of the supplies in the kitchen while Bo noisily obliterated the quinoa balls in the adjoining room.

I ventured back into the dining room to find what I expected: a tray that was nearly empty of food, all of which had somehow traveled either onto the floor or onto Bo’s shirt, and all of which was now disappearing rapidly into Mache’s gullet.

Looking at my canine vacuum, I apologized, “I’m sorry, Mache. I know you like your food picture-perfect.” She didn’t respond.

I grabbed Bo from his chair and shook him gently to dislodge any remaining quinoa/spinach/apple/meat/etc. Meat chunks rained down in a weird, real-life version of “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs”.

Since I had been up at Mary’s for most of the day, we had a few chores to do before Taylor got home. Bo helped me put away some of his toys [read: scattered them as quickly as I gathered them] and assisted me in sweeping [read: rode on my hip the whole time]. But then, as we walked past the back door during our sweep of the hallway, Mache shot me a desperate look and pranced next to the door with a crazed smile affixed to her muzzle.

“Oh no,” I realized. “Outside! Outside! Outside!”

But I was too late. As I reached for the door knob, Mache vomited up a bright pool of spinach/apple/quinoa/meat/etc. — and even worse, continued to gag. Quickly assessing the situation, I estimated that our back door didn’t have the height with which to clear the puke puddle — and I was right. Even so, I threw open the door, smearing the regurgitated baby food across the tile floor as Borealis looked on with interest. Mache dashed into the yard and retched again.

“Taylor!” I shouted. No, he hadn’t just arrived home; I was simply hoping that his ESP might pick up my distress call. No luck. And then, for good measure: “Taylor, Taylor, Taylor!” At least our kids won’t learn any curse words from me… although they’ll know their dad’s first name at a pretty young age.

Meanwhile, Bo was trying to writhe out of my grip to reach the exciting yellow blob below. I could kinda understand the appeal. The splotch made an attractive, sunny arc against the otherwise mundane and monochromatic tile. What’s not to love?


There was a lot not to love.

I knew that if I set down an unsecured Borealis anywhere in the house, he would just come running back — or, rather, toddling at top speed. Admittedly, much slower than a run, but still faster than I could clean up the mess. I would have to secure him somehow. Confining the baby in his nursery just makes him cry (every time), and he wasn’t tired enough to be content in his crib, either. That left only one option: the highchair that he had so recently vacated.

Now, the stakes were high here. Unless I wanted my son to scream at me for my entire vomit-cleaning session, I needed to provide him with a tantalizing and interesting food with which to play / potentially also eat — i.e. a finger food, not a puree. The meat patties were obviously out. I could think of only one potential salvation: blackberries.

I know what you’re thinking. “Aren’t blackberries messy? Like, especially for babies?” And the answer is, yes, they are. That’s why my son likes them. He revels in how they squish between his fingers (and, to some extent, also in how they taste).

I strapped Bo back into his highchair and liberally strewed blackberries onto the licked-clean tray. My son promptly picked up a berry and smashed it in his baby fist. I didn’t stick around to see if he ate it.

Returning to the puddle of sick, I took a second to brainstorm how to deal with the problem. Wet vac? Too much cleanup on the back-end. Mop? We don’t have one. Dish towels? Probably not, unless I wanted permanently yellow rags. Alas, it seemed that the right tool for this unfortunate job was plain ole paper towels (and a grocery bag with which to dispose of the used ones).

I got down on hands and knees and did my best to absorb the saffron liquid and to scoop together the crumbly, eerily-familiar ingredients. I feel like I just did this earlier today, I mused.

I had to swish the door back and forth a few times to dislodge all the recalcitrant chunks beneath. Eventually, all signs of dog puke were gone, so I sprayed the tile with a disinfectant and called in Mache.

“Yay!” I exclaimed to my pooch as she guilelessly strode over the site of her recent mishap. “We got everything cleaned up before Daddy got home!”

Feeling incongruously buoyant, I skipped back to my son, only to discover… this.


"Don't mess with me, punk."4abe552528ae3a3b473a14529c7bb99121765bf0.jpeg"You shoulda seen the other berry."

[Author’s Note: I typically introduce pictures with a description of what’s in the following photo. Here, I have let the images speak for themselves. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words, so about 0.7 blog posts.]

Borealis had thoroughly dismantled and dispersed the blackberries that had so effectively occupied him. His [thankfully dark] shirt was so sodden with berry juice that I was reluctant to even touch him. Blackberry remains coated not only the area where he will one day struggle to grow a beard, but also the back of his head — as in, the literal apogee of his mouth, where the berries should have found themselves. I was actually stunned by the mess.

“Oh no!” I bleated impotently. “Taylor!” (Still no luck.)

After panicking ineffectually for about a minute, I finally plucked Bo from his seat and held him at arms’ length. (The phrase “I wouldn’t touch that with a ten-foot-pole” comes to mind here.) I set him on the changing table long enough to grab a change of clothes and a fresh diaper (not sure why I didn’t do that before removing him from the highchair), and then we retreated to the bathroom — him, babbling contentedly, and me, babbling discontentedly.

I learned my lesson from the bath featured in Makin’ Bacon, so I started by grabbing the removable shower head and using it to hose down my son — clothes and all. I then pulled the now-skintight bodysuit over Bo’s head and tossed it into the sink to soak. His full — but thankfully not dirty — diaper went into the trash, and suddenly, all that was in the bathtub was a naked baby and an abundance of blackberry nibs. I plugged the drain and let Bo play in the bath for a bit. After a few minutes, I glanced at the clock and said, “Daddy’s gonna be home soon! We gotta get out of the bath!”

Borealis got excited at the mention of Daddy (as always), so wrestling him dry and slathering him with lotion was even more of an ordeal than usual. Eventually, however, my minikin monster was clean, moisturized, and clothed. We returned to the living room to await Taylor’s return. Bo patted an exhausted Mache while I did my best to wipe up all the residual berry juice in the adjoining dining room.

Luckily, we didn’t have long to wait before the best part of the day!!! (At least, according to my son.) At the rumble of Taylor’s Tiburon, the three of us rushed to the front window, where I lifted Borealis so that he could buck and squeal at Taylor’s arrival. As my husband emerged from his car, Bo nearly threw himself from my grasp in his fervor.

Taylor waved at the window, then disappeared around the side of the house — an act which always sends Borealis into a fit of hysterics. (At some point, he’ll learn that Daddy *always* enters the house through the front door.) Bo continued to cry until he heard a familiar call of, “Buddy!” At that point, he tried to run toward the noise — but, as mentioned earlier, he can’t run yet. Instead, he fell to the rug after just a few steps, and continued toward the door at a breakneck pace on hands and knees.

By the time I reached the front hall, Taylor was holding our son with one arm and holding Mache off with the other. My husband handed me back the human child and apologized, “I’m sorry, I really have to pee.”

For the interminable seconds before Daddy came back, I managed to occupy Bo through a combination of sheer grit, brute determination, and dumb luck. When Taylor reappeared, he scooped Borealis back into his arms, turned to me, and asked, “Why is one of his shirts soaking in the bathroom sink?”

“Well, that’s actually a funny story,” I replied. “See, if you give a kid a quinoa-spinach-apple meatball…”

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