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The Care and Feeding of Teenagers

Photograph by Getty Images

There’s a story I like to tell—a little too often, according to my daughters—about one of their elementary school classmates. Matty lived with his dad a few blocks away from the school, and one day when we were giving him a ride home he told us about all the different things he knew how to cook—mac and cheese, tuna sandwiches, quesadillas—because his dad usually didn’t get home in time for dinner.

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At the time my girls barely knew how to cut open a bag of Cheetos, so I told Matty how impressed I was, and that it was great he could find his way around a kitchen.

“You think so?” he answered innocently. “Don’t you think it’s wrong that a 10-year-old has to cook all of these things for himself?”

My heart broke a little right then for Matty. I knew what he meant; even though it was true that he could make his own dinner, he didn’t always want to and wished someone would prepare that mac and cheese for him. I wanted to invite him over for dinner every night and feed him a hot meal, but my girls assured me that would be creepy.

I wish I could say that this incident is what spurned my overreaching love and need to feed my kids, but sadly my obsession goes way back. First there were the hours of preparing and freezing homemade baby food (I would spend hours looking for the best way to make puréed carrots the most palatable to my 6-month-old’s taste buds), and later there were those ridiculous sandwiches cut into the shapes of hearts, flowers and animals that I would stay up late making for their school lunches. Once I even made eyes for a duck-shaped PB&J out of a dab of cream cheese and a snip of raisin, just to take the crazy to a whole other level.

They’re in high school now, and even though their skills have moved beyond Cheetos to include ramen, eggs, grilled cheese and coffee, I still feed them dinner every night and make their lunches every single day. Let me show you what this kind of insanity looks like:

Sure, I get accused of coddling my kids. Last year I made what I thought was an innocent comment on Facebook about being too tired to cook and how the kids could just make their own dinner. I got berated by more than a few people who asked why I was still cooking for my teens anyway, and even a couple of helpful people who pretty much said I was a bad mom and an enabler and to show my lazy girls how to use a can opener already. To which I replied, “JUST LET ME TELL YOU THE STORY ABOUT MATTY.”

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The truth is I love feeding my kids. It brings me joy, and I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of it. I’ll be the one sending huge care packages to them at college, and preparing elaborate meals for them when they come home. I’ll insist they bring their boyfriends over for dinner, and guilt them into regular Sunday dinners when they’ve got their own families. Eventually, I’ll be the grandma who says, “You should all spend Thanksgiving here, it may be my last one,” every single year. And if they refuse? I just might have a 20-year-old duck-shaped sandwich tucked away in my freezer to remind them who they’re dealing with.

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