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The Papa Belly

My wife is sprawled out on the sofa, her feet gently touching the exposed brick, her baby bump hanging out like she drives trucks for a living. It’s late afternoon. I am prepared for her suddenly declaring some random food item the new crack and insisting I put on pants to go out and get it.

While my wife has developed a cute little baby bump the shape of an egg, I’ve started to develop the less frequently discussed Papa Belly. Also egg shaped, but nobody thinks of it as cute. Strangers on the subway do not ask to partake in the joy of my belly or openly engage in conversations about it.

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I’m already in my pajamas and in ultra relax mode because I think I’ve come up with a groundbreaking strategy to preempt the cravings: I’ll just ask her. “What do you want to do for dinner?” What I’m really saying here is: Let me help you help me ... from looking like I’m pregnant too.

“Pizza?” she says in between complaining about illogically getting heartburn from eating a banana.

“That banana can go to hell,” I tell her supportively.

So into the kitchen I go to make some pizza dough. By the time our 3-year-old, Kavya, comes home from school, not only has the dough risen, but I’ve pre-chopped the veggies, pre-baked the crust and even have time to do a little pre-victory dance. We all eat the pizzas, and I use some of the dough for strombolis (we are, after all, in Jersey). Kavya and I are stuffed. Sona, however, isn’t bound by the usual laws of nature.

Within 15 minutes of finishing the last slice, she waddles over to the kitchen, sniffing about for things to eat. None of the gazillion snacks she bought the other day is going to do it for her tonight. She comes back to the sofa and mimes the words “ice cream,” at me, which Kavya immediately recognizes, and her eyes light up. I tell them I’m just going to keep them company. She laughs. Kavya laughs. None of us wants to change into grown-up clothes, so we wear our pajamas and walk the two blocks to Toricos, a homemade ice cream parlor that’s open year-round.

When Sona picks up a large box of Lucky Charms, the lure for chocolatey Cocoa Puffs is just too strong to resist.

Living a six-minute train ride into Manhattan certainly has its perks, as does living in Jersey City—which also offers some great local eats. But Sona’s cravings are wreaking havoc on my formerly (pseudo) healthful eating schedule—especially because we have to pretend to be maintaining law and order at home with our daughter. If Sona has a craving for Korean crepes down the street, a Japanese burger in the West Village or some spicy Muslim Chinese food from one of our favorite cheap joints in the East Village, I’m not going to sit there and order a salad after getting all dressed up to get to the place (putting on pants is equivalent to me dressing up). Not eating what they're eating goes against my religious, cultural, spiritual and political convictions. So: hello, Papa Belly!

It’s even inserted itself into our grocery shopping. We do the proper grocery shopping with Kavya and pick up healthy food, snacks and cereal. Then we’ll sneak in another trip without Kavya for pure junk. When Sona picks up a large box of Lucky Charms, the lure for chocolatey Cocoa Puffs is just too strong to resist. Then we come home and hide both boxes in the basement away from the 3-year-old, guiltily munching and slurping only when Kavya is fast asleep. In the morning, we stress the importance of Kashi blueberry cereal with its antioxidants and vitamin-fortified bran. Luckily, Kavya buys it. Fool.

This is our second pregnancy, so you’d think I’d be better prepared to handle Sona’s cravings, but it’s a completely new experience for this papa. When we were having Kavya, Sona’s doctor was down the street from her parents’ place in the suburbs of central New Jersey, so we’d be there almost every weekend. Her parents acted as buffers between my belly and Sona’s cravings.

Whenever Sona would get a craving, it would have to be satisfied by whatever was in the area, which meant a lot of spicy Papri Chaat, kebabs, generic fat-crust pizza, and lots of average-tasting pasta. Most of the time, someone would just drive down and pick up the food. Their fridge was always fully stocked, unlike our fridge at home that has a mish-mash of things at any given point. The suburbs allowed me and Sona to maintain different eating plans without jeopardizing our marriage.

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With this second pregnancy, things are very different. Our OB is in Manhattan, and Kavya’s fully ensconced in the local preschool, so we’re spending most of our time at home. That means whatever Sona has a craving for, there is a restaurant that serves that exact thing. She doesn’t need to compromise. A few weeks ago, she wanted some good-old West African yassa, so off to Harlem we went. We, of course, do cook at home, but nothing beats food that’s prepared by someone who doesn’t care about the long-term well-being of your family’s health and nutrition.

Tomorrow I’m eating a salad. OK, I probably won’t, unless it’s included with whatever Sona’s having. It’s tough being a papa some days.

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