Wednesday, December 10, 2008

My son Zev eats cucumbers at night

It's been over a half hour now. You still sit with furrowed brow and tight, pursed lips. Elbows on the table, your chin rests in your hands.

I watch you across the room from the couch as I read the fiction piece in the December issue of Harper's. It arrived weeks ago. I haven't had time to read it yet. I put it down, walk to the table. I should know better than to try reading during dinner time.

"Let's go big boy," I say.


I knew you would say this, yet I have few options in my arsenal. I am resourceless, but not defeated. We stare at each other. We often reach this impasse.

I come home late everyday from my second teaching job. I only have an hour or so with you and Akiva and Sivan before you go to bed. I don't want our time to be spent like this.

First were the fishies with a bit of ketchup, a side of frozen grapes. You did a great job, devouring the fishies in minutes. I expected that. They're your favorite. Then came the finely chopped cucumbers, mixed with vanilla probiotic yogurt. This is the only way you'll eat cucumbers, which the doctor says you must.

Stalling for time, you play with your hands, pretending they are wild animals fighting each other. You frequently play like this. I did the same thing when I was your age. I feel a strange sensation. Not sure what it is, I push it down. Maybe to examine later.

Now is not the time for such things. I'm all business. You must eat your vegetables.

The cucumbers turn the yogurt into a watery mess. I don't blame you if you don't want to eat them. I fix it: Pour out the watery yogurt, replace it with a newer, fresher batch. It returns to its original consistency.

Placing the bowl back in front of you, I scruff your hair affectionately.

"Mmph," you say gruffly and move you head away from my hand.

The doctor says you have to eat vegetables--they will help your condition. Sometimes you don't poop for days. You choose to hold it in--an incomprehensible act of childhood power and defiance. Once when you were three, it went on for two weeks. I used to find you hiding under the dining room table, your face a twisted mask of discomfort as your tiny stomach muscles worked to close your bowels like an iron clamp.

"Why, Zev?" we would ask. Then we would beg, "Let's just go the bathroom, please!"

The doctor said your bowels must be swollen with constipation, that it must painful, that perhaps you can no longer feel the proper time to go. Then came the accidents. Sudden and unexpected, they were a seeming validation of the prognosis. The doctor said avoid dairy, wheat, anything that binds; he said we have to give you daily doses of fresh vegetables with copious amount of olive oil. This would somehow produce the desired effect--that your colon would shrink and allow you to feel the proper sensation again, that you would poop again, regularly and normally.

I try to explain this to you.

You dismiss it all.

"Zev," I say, "You're being unreasonable!"

I know how ridiculous this sounds. You are five years old, far beyond reason.

You still sit there. I get desperate. I begin to think of bargains, the requisite if/then deals. How can I snatch compromise out of the jaws of defeat?

Sometimes the defiance is legendary, as it is tonight.

But so far the cucumber yogurt treatment has yielded small successes. No accidents for a long time. No more holding it in. Good reports from your school in Manhattan.

At home, you will often be on the floor playing when suddenly you'll look up with a crazed look in your eye: "Poopy!" you yell, and run to the bathroom.

"Yay, Zev!" we all yell in unison.

Don't let the smile fool you. He hates red onions and tomatoes too

Now it is later. All the cucumbers have been eaten. Previous angers and tempers drain away like warm bath water from the tub. After drying off and getting into your pajamas, you ask me to lay in bed with you as you fall asleep--a small, conciliatory act of remorse from the five-year old mind, a desire to clear the slate.

I say, "Yes, of course." I am glad you asked. It doesn't always happen.

You are asleep within five minutes. Turning over, I look at the soft rise and fall of your chest. Tomorrow brings another day of school for you, with its social maze. Later, high school, girls, politics. I suppress a shudder, lay my arm across your waist. The fuzzy feel of your winter pajamas, the slight smell of stale urine, rekindles distant memories of my own childhood bed.

What did my father think as he watched me sleep? Was he as lost, as spinning as I am tonight?

In the haze of consciousness between waking and sleep, I have an image of us walking together, hand in hand through an enormous field of cucumbers that stretches for miles in all directions.

Flanking the field on all sides rise buildings of dizzying heights. Still beyond them, mountains, then deep blue sky. Still further beyond, space. Coming from everywhere, the sound of people talking, laughing, rushing. Somewhere overhead, airplanes zigzag the sky. As we walk, I ask you to stop, wait a moment.

Bending down, I pluck a ripe green cucumber from the ground. Kneeling to meet your height, you look into my face as I hand it to you.

"Here, take this," I say. "They taste good."

Spinach, Goat & Cottage Cheese Tart in a Potato Crust

With the green color of spinach and the tangy taste of goat cheese, this recipe is sure to be one that adults love but kids hate. Seth originally published the recipe here.

6-8 medium Yukon Gold potatoes
2-4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
1 bunch spinach, stems removed, and sliced into thin strips, washed and not dried
8 oz. fresh goat cheese, crumbled
1 cup cottage cheese
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
¼ cup basil, chopped
Sea salt and fresh ground pepper

Peel the potatoes and slice into 1/8 inch rounds. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a wide skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add a layer of potatoes to the pan and cook, turning once, 3-4 minutes per side, until golden and easily pierced with a knife. Set aside on plate lined with a paper towel. Repeat with remaining potatoes.

When potatoes are done, add 1 tablespoon olive oil to the pan. Add garlic and cook until light gold, about 1 minute. Add the spinach (with water clinging to its leaves) and cook until bright green and tender, 2-3 minutes. Transfer the spinach to a bowl and gently add fresh goat cheese, cottage cheese, eggs, lemon zest, lemon juice, and basil. Stir gently. Season to taste with sea salt and ground pepper.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. To assemble the tart, lightly butter a 9-inch springform pan. Line the pan with potatoes, covering the bottom and sides, covering any empty spaces. Pour in the spinach-goat cheese mixture. Bake until firm and golden, about 50 minutes.

Release the spring from the pan and gently left the side. Set the tart on a plate, slice, and serve.

6-8 servings


Seth said...

This is a very sweet, and tender blog, Steve.

Is there a name for your son's condition? I like how you describe it: "an incomprehensible act of childhood power and defiance."

Is there anything more enjoyable than a good poop? Sometimes, after a good poop, I stand up and give a little acceptance speech:

"I'd like to thank my mother, my father..."

Truly, I do.

Steve said...

Not sure what the name might be, but it's fairly common. A lot of the doctors we spoke to said kids on the ADD spectrum have all kinds of "poop" issues.

Most think it's some sort of power, control thing.

Jill said...

Unfortunately my daughter suffers the same affliction... and truly no amount of fruit and veggies will cure it. We know because that's all she eats and she still suffers. Or suffered. Miralax. It's a miracle for her. Mix it in anything. Even cucumbers and yogurt. My husband is a GI doc and says it's harmless and could be used every day for the rest of her life...could be worse!

Steve said...


We've discovered it as well. It does works wonders, mostly because its the only laxative that doesn't taste nasty.

Previously we tried everything- I even slipped some "Smooth Move" senna leaf tea into his apple juice one time. No dice. He sniffed it out immediately.

Mark said...

Richly, sensitively written, Steve. The dream-walk through the cucumber field left me having to take a temporal pause before going on to your recipe.

The voiding issues are interesting. I had a son (#3, I think) who experienced similar behavior, but he sorted it out himself before I had to become an expert on it.

I loved sleeping with my kids (most of them are grown or gone now), or walking through the house checking on their slumber in the wee hours, that wonderful, peaceful time of the parent's day.

Seth said...

I really had no idea there was such an epidemic of childhood constipation.

I'm fascinated. It seems like the solution is simply making bowel movements come easy--so that the child finds pleasure and relief in releasing the bowels.

Seth said...

My niece was recently potty-trained. She gets an M&M every time she tinkles, and 2 M&Ms whenever she poops.

To her, a poop is a cause for celebration.

This weekend, at my place, she had to poop. She went into the bathroom with my mother, plopped on the toilet in excitement, and did her thing.

Sadly, it was not to be. Nothing happened. My niece looked up at my mother and said, "It was just a toot."

Steve said...


You have NO idea. It's a pandemic. Either that or it's just always been this way. Probably the latter.

Children are like old men in that it's all about the poop.

Easily 65%-75% of the conversation among young, newer parents is about their child's bathroom habits.

It's really charming.

Steve said...

The following excerpt says it all- it is the opening lines of Tom Perotta's novel "Little Children", a dark, comical, satire of suburban life among young parents in a cushy Connecticut suburb.

I love Perrotta's work and consider this novel a must read for young parents. But oooh is it dark, dark, dark.


Chapter One

Bad Mommy

The young mothers were telling each other how tired they were. This was one of their favorite topics, along with the eating, sleeping, and defecating habits of their offspring, the merits of certain local nursery schools, and the difficulty of sticking to an exercise routine. Smiling politely to mask a familiar feeling of desperation, Sarah reminded herself to think like an anthropologist. I'm a researcher studying the behavior of boring suburban women. I am not a boring suburban woman myself.

Jennifer said...

We had used stickers and M+Ms when potty training Jacob until I read that food should not be used as punishment or reward. I kept up with the stickers and he's doing great! Constipation is not fun. Marianna did not have a BM for 14 days when she was only four months old. That is not normal for strickly breastfed babies (for her, it wasn't a control issue) and we never figured out why it happened. I tried prune juice, caro syrup and suppositories. Finally, I went to the ER and she pooed five times while I waited to be seen. She's been regular ever since! Good luck with the vegetables. Jacob hasn't eaten veggies in over a year. Thankfully, he likes fruit and we give the kids veggie chips, veggie pasta and veggie/fruit juices. Thank God for multi-vitamins too!

scott said...

very sweet words for your kid, one of those moments i wish we had children