Yesterday morning we set off to visit Caroline’s parents at their lake house Virginia. We make the trip every summer (and several other times each year) but there is added poignancy to this visit: It will be our last trip before we move to Michigan, where for the first time ever we’ll be outside of driving range from our families.
Just across the Delaware line we stopped for gas and, after some deliberation, for a Cinnabon. It’s not the type of thing I eat in real life, but on the highway, where calories don’t count and the monotonous miles call out for stimulation, the idea of eating that sweet, soft treat seemed like a thrill on par with dining at El Bulli.
While I pumped the gas Caroline went into the food court. A few minutes later she returned with the Cinnabon in a box and a plastic fork and knife. As I pulled back onto the highway Caroline eyed Jay warily in the backseat, where he was absorbed in his Magna Doodle.
“Should we eat it now or wait for him to fall asleep?” she whispered to me conspiratorially.
“He seems pretty drowsy, maybe ten minutes?” Caroline said hopefully.
“Alright,” I said, my eyes darting over to the Cinnabon. “Let’s wait.”
Now, it’s not that we don’t love Jay, and certainly I look forward to introducing him to the fruits of the world. It’s just that delicious things seem a little wasted on him. Every bite for Jay would be one fewer for us, and since he’d never had a Cinnabon it’s not like he’d know what he was missing, whereas Caroline and I would find ourselves coveting every last forkful squandered on his amateur taste buds. Plus, he’s a guy who likes to dip his pretzel sticks in water so how much respect should we give his culinary preferences, really? It’s not a close call once you think about it.
In Maine over the 4th of July we had lobster rolls for dinner one night. All of us, that is, except Jay. For him we ordered $.99 clam cakes, and when he clamored for lobster we put him off with lies like, “Oh, it’s too spicy you wouldn’t like it” and “If you eat your delicious clam cake you can have some lobster later.” Finally Caroline, who loves lobster more than anyone, felt too guilty. Her mouth stuffed full, she tossed an insubstantial little piece to Jay. He chewed it twice and then spit it out.
Poor boy. Little did he know, but with that display he guaranteed himself another half-decade of food deprivation.
Over the last year we’ve deemed a long list of foods to be “too delicious for Jay.” These include the Belgian dark chocolate with orange essence that Caroline received in her Christmas stocking last year, the $17 Windsor Burger with English cheddar and house-cured bacon that occasionally we take-in from the gastropub around the corner, and fresh squeezed orange juice from our local produce store that costs more per ounce than 20-year Scotch and is worth every penny.
For the most part it’s pretty easy to slide these delectables past Jay. We ate the orange chocolate only after he’d gone to bed each night (and in fact, I think Caroline ate it only after I’d gone to bed, too) and we water down his orange juice until it exists only as a hue. Earlier this summer we bought a one-pound bag of the most perfect Michigan cherries I have ever eaten. I consumed them hiding behind the refrigerator door while Jay ate his lunch, later secreting the pits into the trash while he was busy mounding hummus on the tray of his booster seat.
But Jay is savvier than ever these days. A couple of times, after he’s woken up from his nap, I’ve gone into his bedroom while still chewing on a cookie. I’ll be barely two steps into the room when Jay, standing behind the bars of his cribs, will point at my mouth and demand I open up for inspection.
So, as Caroline and I balanced our desire for the Cinnabon against our desire to have it all to ourselves, I knew that if Jay spied us eating it there would be no putting him off the scent.
But more than ten minutes had passed and Jay still hadn’t fallen asleep. If anything, he seemed more alert than ever, as if some sixth toddler sense were telling him that if ever there was a moment in his life when it would pay to stay awake, this was it.
Caroline and I considered the Cinnabon cooling and conjealing in her lap.
“Should we just eat it?” Caroline ventured.
“Maybe if we do it really quickly he won’t notice,” I said.
Caroline popped open the box and began to cut the Cinnabon into pieces. She speared one with the fork, and glanced over her shoulder. Jay was busy drawing and singing an abridged version of “Old McDonald.”
“Ready,” Caroline said, “One, two, three.” On three she put the fork up to my mouth. I opened wide, but just as I was about to bite down an ominous silence descended over the car. Jay’s singing had stopped.
My heart was pounding. I turned my eyes slowly up to the rearview mirror and there was Jay, his finger pointed, his fierce eyes staring back at me.
“I want dat,” he said, and so he got it.