When You Grow Up With Less Than Your Kids, Some Things Just Taste Differently

I grew up in black urban America, in a single parent household. We weren't poor, but we damn sure weren't wealthy. My kids are much better off. With that comes some trade-offs.

It all started with a Stouffer’s lasagna.

My oldest daughter had been sick and, with the responsibility of taking care of her, our then-newborn daughter, and balancing everything else that needs to happen in our household on a daily basis, my wife reached out to me with a simple request: Can you take care of dinner tonight?

Now, I’m no slouch when it comes to cooking and I can get down with the best of them when it’s time to flex the culinary muscles. But my wife had given me specific instructions. The cleaning people had just come that day and she didn’t want any new messes in the kitchen because a sick kid, plus a nursing baby, plus a husband living out his Chopped fantasies on a Wednesday night would probably break her.

Second, she didn’t want me picking up any fast food. This was actually code for “Don’t do that thing where you go to Boston Market” because, let’s face it, Boston Market is the place you go if you want something like a home-cooked meal that’s nothing like a home-cooked meal (side note: I genuinely believe their tagline should just be, “Nobody’s happy about it, but fuck it, we gotta eat something tonight.”). So that was out.

Finally, she mentioned that our sick little girl had brought up lasagna and, between my unwavering desire to make sure my children are happy and the spirit of Garfield that resides deep within my soul, I had it. I was going to do something special for my family that night. I was bringing home a Stouffer’s lasagna.

Now, before we get too far into this, let me give you a little background on me. You see, I grew up in black urban America, in a single parent household supported by a mother with a government job. I won’t say that we were poor, because we weren’t. But we damn sure weren’t wealthy. Like, I can recall watching my mother take items out of the grocery cart as she did the calculations and permutations in the check-out line at the grocery store. Having to wave goodbye to luxury items like a box of Pop Tarts or the actual name brand Oreos because they’d bust the budget because we needed real fruit and food with actual nutritional value instead is a thing that has always stuck with me.

But there were also little joys and treasures that we knew would come with forsaking the extravagance of name brand sodas. Namely, the glorious pan of lasagna made by Stouffer’s. If you’re unfamiliar, imagine a two-pound brick of meaty and cheesy pasta deliciousness often paired with some slices of toasted Wonder Bread topped with butter and garlic salt. It was special. It was $6.00. And it tasted like payday.

So, when my wife asked me to take care of our family that night, I harkened back to my own childhood and reflected fondly on the pure happiness that came with a Stouffer’s lasagna. Like I said before, I want to make sure my children are happy. Plus, we’re in a different financial place than I was growing up. Hell, I can buy a Stouffer’s lasagna when it ain’t even payday.

In that moment, I was proud. I was successful. I was a provider.

I brought that Stouffer’s lasagna home with great fanfare as I placed it in the oven (making sure I gave it seven extra minutes to get the corners crispy) and prepared the accompanying garlic bread. I danced a little dance. I sang a little song. I regaled my daughter with stories from my childhood. And then it all went to shit.

Upon presenting my family with their respective plates of this glorious lasagna, I watched as their faces dropped and lips curled in moderate disgust. My wife casually and politely pushed her portion away saying that she wasn’t as hungry as she thought she was. But my daughter was brutal, simultaneously calling it “yucky” while using her napkin to wipe her tongue. Even the newborn stared at me with disgust and disappointment.

I was hurt. It was an insult to me, to my mother, to my upbringing. I was simply trying to share a part of me with the people I love and they rejected it. I felt like they thought they were better than me.

I tried to convince them to give it another chance, and then I ate a forkful myself and found that they were right. In the 25+ years since I’d last danced with this date, things had changed. That salty, sloppy pile of processed pasta had been there for me for a time, but now times had changed and changed for the better.

It was at that moment that I came to the realization that, while I’d grown up with a relationship with food that was based on first, making sure we were full, second, making sure it had nutritional value, and lastly taste, my family is no longer constrained by those same parameters. My children have, by virtue of class and exposure, grown up with a more sophisticated palate and more refined tastes than I ever did. My children think they’re better than me because they are better than me. I made them that way. I want them to be that way.

The fact that my family regularly eats organic meals with exotic names that I didn’t get into until my 20s means I’m doing something right. It’s been years since I’ve had to take something out of the cart or deny myself exactly what I want to eat because necessity precedes pleasure. And my kids have never known that life.

So, I’m learning to not take it as a personal rejection when my kids don’t appreciate something that I may have grown up loving. Thankfully, they don’t know the struggle and hopefully, they never will. I hope they reach even higher heights than I can imagine and live their dreams in such a way that their children frown upon some of the rinky-dink meals we slap together from time-to-time.

Until then, though, I’m going to save myself from these existential moments of personal reflection. And when my wife asks me to pick up dinner, I’m taking my black ass to Boston Market.

Corey Richardson is a husband and father of two daughters living in Chicago, IL. He’s the author of We Used To Have Money, Now We Have You: A Dad’s Bedtime Story available for download in iTunes, Amazon, and Google Play.