The Insidious American Diet

I am at swim practice. My daughter swims. You know, swimming. Suit. Goggles. Water.

The Insidious American Diet
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I am at swim practice. My daughter swims. You know, swimming. Suit. Goggles. Water.

I was told she should buy a swim cap. And kick-board. And mesh bag. And flippers. And a club membership to the pool and also don't forget the team membership.

And a funded escrow account to pay for the swim meet entry fees.

Escrow account? Did I just buy a house?

The coach tells me when the swimmers get competitive, they wear special swimsuits which cost $300. The suits are only good for about a dozen individual races. A wave of anxiety crashes onto me.

I walk to the lobby and pull a half hoagie from my computer bag. I’d been saving it. It tastes good. I can feel some satisfaction from the thin bread, slices of meat and cheese, and hot peppers grinding around in my mouth. It’s real. It’s tangible. It’s bought and paid for. Everything good comes out of my computer bag.

I’m talking with some other dads up in the bleachers of the natatorium while the kids do laps. We’re loud, going on about a Viking show. “The real problem is King Alfred just isn’t assertive enough. Uhtred, now he knew how to rally troops for battle.” Agreement all around. We switch topics to another show we like, this one sci-fi. “The thing about space battles is, there’s no fire in space.” The less we know about astrophysics, the louder we get. “You don’t want to be shooting off guns inside a ship.”

Nearby are a few moms, sitting alone working on laptops and important stuff. I think they get it, I do. I mean, a gun on a spaceship is a terrible idea. And remember, no matter the time in history, it’s all about leadership. They may be working on spreadsheets, but inside I know they are nodding.

My daughter and I stop at the frozen yogurt place on the way home. It’s late now. She swam an hour so I’m going to reward her with frozen gummy worms and broken candy bars. I didn’t swim, personally, but I’m not going to just sit there staring at my kid while she eats. I pick my flavor, Cookies & Cream, and pull down the metal handle. The iced confection slides through a refrigerated tube, out of the dispenser and into my paper cup. I shovel toppings on like I’m packing for the apocalypse. I know how to party.

“Listen, you gotta bring your arm up, like a windmill,” I mimic a dry Australian Crawl. She’s collecting a spoonful of those little tapioca balls. “Look, dad! Fish eggs!”

The car is a little stuffy. I roll down the windows. There’s this song my kids like unless I am singing it. So I am singing it, wearing my daughter’s rainbow swim cap. Windows down. She is yelling in terror from the back seat, trying to overcome the window locks I enabled as we cruise down the tree-lined streets of Squirrel Hill. I crank the volume.

On the center console, I have one of those store brand bins of spicy trail mix sitting open. The pepitas are my favorite, but who doesn’t love that ingredient they call “chili bits”? I am not sure what it is, but I know when I bite one. They should have called them “sodium bits” since that seems to be the main ingredient.

I fumble through the six or eight cup holders accessible from the front seat. Everything’s empty. The McDonald’s coffee, the cup of pink lemonade, my coffee mug from home (spilled), and the jar of iced coffee.

Ah, the Iced Chai protein drink. I chug what’s left to rinse down the sesame-chili-sodium blend. I have to shove the container hard because the cup holder is already filled with apple cores and granola bar wrappers from this morning.

The house is happy, we’re all home now and it’s Friday evening. My wife is thinking Thai, the kids love chicken on a stick. I get noodles.

“Did you pack a lunch today? Lots of leftovers, hon.”

“I sure did.” I sure did. I used this new citrus hot sauce I’m currently in love with.

I break out some snacks for the kids; I have a few nibbles myself. “Daddy!”

The food arrives. It’s unclear to me if the round plastic take-out containers are meant for one grown human to eat for one meal, or is it supposed to be the main course for a whole family? I don’t mind sharing, but it’s going to be a two-way street. Listen, I’m not getting angry about it. Maybe you’re getting a little angry. You can’t just take half of someone’s dinner, OK? Just let me get a piece of the chicken!

I tell my wife about swimming, all the costs and how it’s going to add up. She says we can manage if we cut some corners since our daughter enjoys the sport. “Sure, “ I say.

“Maybe eat out less often, little things.”

“Sure.” I slide open the freezer drawer to get some ice.

We are on the front porch. The sun is finally setting. “In the Viking days,” I tell my wife, each of us hovering over bowls of ice cream, “they didn’t have treats like us. They ate a lot of apples. No fruit gummies. And you can forget about pad thai.” She’s nodding but looking at the kids as they try to do handstands on the front lawn.

I go inside and start the dishes. Our dishwasher broke almost two years ago, so we just got used to washing them by hand again. It’s a nice meditative exercise. I harvest some of the kids’ uneaten food as I work, before shoveling the inedible remnants into the garbage disposal. That peanut sauce, though.

The kids go up for bed, read, brush teeth, and so on. I settle in with a book and decide to have a cocktail while I wait for my wife to come back down — a whiskey with ginger ale. Add a few cherries. I reflect on the lack of any remaining thin mints on top of the fridge. Chips are forbidden, so I only sneak them while driving.

My wife finally comes downstairs. We sit together on the sofa, reading, idle evening chatter.

“Your diet going pretty well, hon?”

“Sure is. Yeah,” fishing a cherry out of the glass.

“I’m glad we eat healthier. I think it makes us happier.”

“Not a doubt in my mind.”

“Don’t worry about swimming, hon. We’ll manage.”

“Yeah.” I smile. “We’ll be fine.”

She brushes my arm and asks if we have anything sweet in the kitchen.

“Sure do. Be right back.”