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Please Don't Do This When My Kids Visit

Photograph by Darby/Twenty20

"What do your kids like to eat?" asks my mother. She's hosting my family for a long weekend and wants to have my kids' favorite foods on hand. It's the same question that my husband's parents and both of our aunts ask us before every trip. I appreciate their generosity and willingness to stock up on the kids' staples, but I decline the offer.

In fact, I tell them all the same thing: No need to have anything special on hand for us.

I don't want my kids to travel half way across the country to their grandmother's house only to eat the same breakfast cereal and yogurt they eat every day at home. Would they be more comfortable if they saw their old familiar Go-Gurts and granola staring back at them? Absolutely, but that's not the point. The point is for them to step away from their lives and routines—including those involving food—and to experience new things.

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When I was a kid way, way back in the 1970s, it would have never occurred to my grandparents to ask about my favorite snacks or breakfast foods. They never served my beloved Frosted Flakes when I visited them during winter or spring breaks. Nope. I would have to wake up to the unknown in my grandmother's house, staring down a bowl of Malted Meal with a pad of real butter or a plate of soft-poached eggs, foods I'd never seen before.

Going to visit someone else meant that I had to step outside of my comfort zone and fling myself into the brave new world of someone else's pantry or snack cabinet.

While I appreciate that my extended family and friends want to make my children feel comfortable, I'm not all that interested in their comfort.

To this day, some of my fondest memories involve the strange and wonderful things I ate while at my grandparents' houses. One grandma had cookies I'd never seen before—Fig Newtons and a generic brand vanilla Oreos that almost blew my mind. She used the bacon grease from breakfast to make a salad dressing at dinner time. At her house, I tasted corn bread and honey for the first time. My other grandmother cooked chicken fricassee and gumbos that were murky and intimidating on my plate. Her idea of a snack was a single Lorna Doone cookie that reminded me of chalk and asbestos baked in some unholy combination.

Maybe 9-year-old me pined for an authentic chocolate Oreo with the creamy vanilla center like I ate in my lunch every single day, but 42-year-old me appreciates the exotic flavors I associate with my grandmothers to this day. Their foods created my most vivid childhood experiences.

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My memories would be flattened if they had stocked their cabinets with instant oatmeal and an array of Kellogg's cereals—foods I ate every day of my life back home.

While I appreciate that my extended family and friends want to make my children feel comfortable, I'm not all that interested in their comfort. I much prefer that they eat avocados and fresh mango with their grandmother from California, and cultivate a taste for smoked meats from their kinfolk in Texas. These moments of discomfort create vivid memories that enlarge my children's experience and appetite for new tastes.

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