Filling Your Niche
industrial ketchup

Summer visitation prep

Next week, Miss L arrives for our summer visitation, so yesterday, we went grocery shopping for Miss L foods: hash browns, cheese sticks, little yogurts. And ketchup. Lots and lots and lots of ketchup. In fact, 7.2 pounds of ketchup, the kind that comes in a massive can from Costco and makes you a little queasy to look at if you think about the implications too long.

“What really gets me is that this entire can will be gone by the end of summer,” I say to Dan once we’re back home, as I line up a row of smaller squeeze bottles so I can distribute the canned ketchup for easier use.

Dan mumbles a patented Dan Non-Response™. This is a new form of communication he’s developed since we’ve been together that technically acknowledges that I’ve spoken, while simultaneously sidestepping any actual course of action or definitive opinion.

The ketchup argument is a long-standing one that we’ve had many times, so I understand why he’s ducking the subject. But I’m not trying to bait him; I fully accept that the ketchup battle is one I lost soundly and years ago.

Not that I’m an anti-ketchup person. Ketchup is great, on ketchup-appropriate foods. Burgers and hot dogs and French fries. Sometimes mac & cheese, or scrambled eggs.

But ketchup shouldn’t be added to lasagna and spaghetti. Ketchup should not top off a sloppy joe, which is already hamburger drowned in a ketchup-based sauce. And ketchup should never, ever, ever be squirted liberally over teriyaki chicken and noodles. Reflexively, without even attempting to taste the food first.

When Miss L was age 7, I thought the excessive ketchup use was, maybe, an unfortunate holdover from picky eating habits in the toddler years. At age 16, there’s no reasonable excuse for ingesting such a horrifying amount of ketchup. Or, at least, there isn’t one that makes sense to me.

I envision the bemused condescension that will greet her on every single public dining occasion— first dates, proms, job interviews— as she pours a pool of ketchup the size of a pancake onto her plate at each and every meal.

I imagine Miss L at a fancy dinner party as an adult, snagging a server’s arm and whispering a request for ketchup to slather over poached salmon or pork tenderloin medallions, only to met with a look of revulsion and horror.

I don’t want that for her. I want her to be capable of ingesting foods that are not covered in ketchup. At the very least, I want her to be capable of considering not having ketchup at every single meal. And failing either of those, I’d totally accept demoting ketchup back to condiment status: a dab on the side for dipping. Not the food item that takes up the biggest chunk of real estate on the plate.

When Miss L was younger, and I (foolishly, mistakenly) thought my role as her stepmom was to help raise her into the best person she could be, I fought the ketchup. I complained about its ubiquitous presence many times to Dan, who always agreed with me in private but then, back in the real world, only sometimes remembered to issue vague admonishments like “Less ketchup on that next time kiddo” and dole out other occasional, half-hearted attempts to keep the flood of ketchup at bay.

With Dan’s lack of consistency, I thought as the other parental figure in the house, I was responsibility-bound to step in help him out:

“Kiddo, lasagna really isn’t a food that needs ketchup.”

“You know, the sauce for sloppy joes is already mostly ketchup.”

“What if you put a little ketchup right on top of your burger instead dipping the whole thing into a pile of ketchup before every bite?”

Miss L met each suggestion with palpable resentment. Restricted ketchup intake became yet one more reason having me around ruined her entire life.

So, I let go of the ketchup thing, like I’ve let go of any other attempt to parent Miss L. Instead, I buy a 7.2 pound industrial-sized can of ketchup every early June before she gets here. And if the fact that it’s gone by Labor Day makes my stomach turn, it’s a small price to pay for having a happy kid around the house rather than one who hates summer visitation the whole time she’s here.

You gotta pick your battles. Mount Ketchup is not a hill worth dying on.

stepparenting

Maarit • 06/06/2015


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