Friday, 26 July 2013

How to drive your mother nuts

Like I’ve said before, I was a little (Ok, a lot) ignorant about raising children before I started raising one myself. For example, I thought that picky eaters were not born, but were rather created by parents who were too quick to bend over backwards and make special meals for their children. “Not me!” I thought to myself. I’ll just cut up bits of whatever I’m eating and feed it to my child. This seemed very easy, and proponents of “baby-led weaning” will imply that this is precisely all you need to do (and perhaps that any other way of feeding your kid is stupid and will lead your child into certain obesity and a problematic relationship with food…but let’s not go into that right now).

I had examples to follow – children of friends who would happily eat whatever was placed in front of them, including such things are an entire head of broccoli, or a Philly cheesesteak. This, I thought, would be a piece of cake. And then, I had my kid.

From the start, feeding this little man has been challenging. We struggled with nursing in the beginning, with a bad latch leading to painful feeding that made me cry each of the seemingly thousand times he nursed each day. With some help (OMG lactation consultants are amazing people), we figured that out, but then struggled with milk flow not being perfect for my little connoisseur. I would have to feed him in all sorts of awkward positions to get the flow to the right speed for his taste. Then, we went through a stage where he would get confused whether he wanted to nurse or just suck on his pacifier, and another where he insisted on pushing me away with his arms while rooting around in the air for my boob, resulting in ridiculous wrestling matches before I could get him to nurse. Needless to say, I quickly gave up on being a discrete breast-feeder because no nursing cover would stay put through all of this. Also, I think that because we are mammals, breastfeeding shouldn’t be embarrassing.
This tiny bagel gives me this indescribable emotion, guys!
Anyhow, once we finally seemed to have figured out now to nurse without tears, it was time to start weaning him off the boob and onto solid food. And to go back to work. But while his compatriots from my mother’s group took to this new and exciting stage with gusto, my kid would mostly just squash bits of food into his clothing and hair, taste a little and spit it out. And he flatly refused to be given a bottle, or milk in any vehicle (sippy cup, normal cup, spoon, etc.) except directly from me, which made going back to work rather difficult. Luckily, my supervisors let me mostly telecommute (“Oh, he wants the tit,” they said after I attempted to explain the situation modestly).

So let’s fast-forward a few months. This kid did not want to wean. By 17 months he was still nursing 4-5 times a day, and eating only scant solid food – mostly fruit. He would essentially starve himself at daycare, and then fill up on milk when I picked him up. Getting him down to “just” 4-5 milk feeds was a challenge in itself, involving a lot of tears and distraction (“look, birds!”…offer cheese blocks).

And then one day he was over it. No more milk.

Weaning himself overnight was both a blessing and a curse. At least when he was nursing, we knew he was getting nutritious food. But the plan to just offer him whatever lovely nutritious food we happened to be eating was not—and is still not—up to the kid’s standards.
Let me just taste this before we pay for it, Ok?
Now that he’s talking, he asks for an “ack” (his version of  “snack”) when he’s hungry. This word now makes me cringe, because I know what’s in store. This is generally how it goes down:

1. I offer him something to eat, like an apple.
2. He says “um, no.”
3. I try offering two choices: “would you like and apple or an orange?”
4. He says “um, no….ack?”
5. He goes over to rummage in my purse, thinking I might have something tasty in there, while yelling “ack? ack? ack?” repeatedly.
6. I offer him something else, like toast or peanut butter in a spoon.
7. Instead he opens the fridge and starts looking at and identifying everything.
8. “Milk! apple! olives!” he says with delight, pointing at things.
9. “Would you like _____?” I ask, after he identifies each item.
10. “Um…no. Ack?” he responds. Or worse, he does a little “uh?” sound, feigning interest in something until I open and serve him some in a dish, at which point he says “um, no.”
11. I become exasperated and flop onto the floor. “What do you want to eat, child?”

At this point we sometimes just walk to the grocery store a few blocks away and I let him pick something out, like blueberries. Often, this makes him happy and he eats the entire box. Sometimes, we have to keep walking through the store while he nibbles on all sorts of things, which then become that week’s shopping.

Other times, we go through lots of discussion and frustration on his part while he describes to me in broken words and gestures what he wants; for example that he’d like Cheerios with milk and frozen (not fresh! duh!) blueberries, but they have to be cut in half, and each half has to be placed in the bowl to be eaten one by one, and we have to do this all in the middle of the kitchen floor.

More inconvenient is when we are out and about doing something. I pack 5 different snacks, hoping one of them will make him happy, but knowing that there is no always-going-to-satisfy fallback. So we end up having to leave the beach early to go do our grocery-grazing because I just can’t stand him saying “Ack? ack? ack?” ad infinitum as he digs through the diaper bag looking for something he actually wants.
Hmm, these look suspiciously like something you made just for me. Think I will throw them in the grass, now.
So, darling child. While I love you and want to support your trajectory towards becoming an independent little person who chooses what and how and when he eats, spending my entire day attempting to decipher how to support you in this endeavor is just terribly exhausting. Won’t you just settle for some darn Mac’n’cheese, already?!

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