You say tomato, I run away

“I’m going to teach you a lesson,” I said to my son, Zack, just before teaching him the exact opposite lesson.

He took a bite of his chicken nugget and stared at me. In his three years as a little human, Zack has taught me many things, like what our houseplants look like with all the leaves plucked off, and how to execute a perfect forward flip off the couch, but foremost, he has taught me that people can happily survive on a wholly nugget-based diet. At a molecular level, Zack must be at least 75% nugget. I don’t know how, at this point, he does not have a thin breadcrumb coating.

“Don’t want to eat it,” he said, looking at the tiny yellow tomato I held between us. The tomato had been plucked from a vine not twenty feet from where we were sitting.

“Oh, these are delicious!” my wife, Kara, had said when the first batch ripened. Nobody else in the house would eat them, but the squirrels skittering off our deck with little yellow tomatoes in their mouths seemed to agree with her.

There’s just nothing like a fresh, vine-ripened tomato straight from the backyard, according to people who like tomatoes. Growing up, my family would cut our garden tomatoes into slices and eat them just like they were food. I was always the only one who recoiled in horror when they showed up in the kitchen. My parents imploring, “But they’re so much more flavorful than the ones we get at the store!” only drove me further away. The flavor was the whole problem.

“Oh, you’ll love these hornets! They sting so much harder than the ones you’re used to.”

I’ve spent my whole life running from tomatoes, and right there, at the table with my two children (while my wife had conveniently stepped away for a moment), I decided to stop running and start chewing.

“I don’t even know what yellow tomatoes taste like, and I’m pretty sure I don’t like them, but I’m going to eat this one anyway, because you never know until you try. It’s always good to try new things,” I said, because I’m a parent, and your parental contract gets terminated if you don’t try to make little people eat gross things.

Across the table, our six-year-old son, Evan, popped one into his mouth. Evan will at least try new things, though he generally doesn’t get too enthused about anything where the first ingredient on the label doesn’t begin with “high fructose.”

His face scrunched up.

“I don’t like it,” he said, powering through a few more chews before choking it down.

“I don’t like it, either,” Zack said, tasting by osmosis.

“Maybe you’d love it! Here’s how you find out,” I said, popping the little tomato into my mouth.

I looked Zack square in the eye as my teeth sunk into it. The juices squished out, and my brain braced itself, sensing that my tongue was awash in something unknown. It was like that moment when you see your finger on the hot rack in the toaster, and while you know it’s going to hurt very soon, there’s that instant where everything’s still okay, because your neurons haven’t quite caught up yet.

And then, like a whale breaching the water’s placid surface, the most powerful gag of my life blasted out of my face, complete with the retching noise that sounded so much worse for my attempt to suppress it. I paused to regain my composure, held up one finger as if to say, “be right back,” and walked quickly into the kitchen.

“Daddy’s gonna spit it out! Watch! Watch!” Evan yelled.

Zack learned a lesson, all right. We’d better keep stocking up on nuggets.

You can throw tomatoes at Mike Todd at mikectodd@gmail.com.

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