In which Attila the Hun and a trout’s anus are used to illustrate the complexities of feeding an infant solid food and the nature of milestones.
Milestones. Every part of life is fixated on milestones. They can be the intimate like that first kiss, the loss of virginity or the first time you actually understood the thinly disguised sexual metaphor in the lyrics of a hip-hop song. They might be grown-up things like moving out of your parents’ house, buying a home or having to pay taxes. They could even be more profound such as the loss or acquisition of a faith, the crushing realisation of your own brief mortality or realising that wrestling isn’t real.
The thing with babies is that they have a lot of milestones pushed together in a short space of time. It often feels hard to keep up with their constant development. For example, within a few short months they go from just about rolling over to taking staggering steps towards something they want and you, as a parent, grow all nostalgic about when you could trust them to stay where you put them.
It seems that barely a day passes without some change. A new word-like sound (ours is currently ‘monkey’ the boy’s favourite toy), a new way of getting places (he’s just discovered how to go down steps without walking blindly into space in the expectation that someone will catch him), or a new way of showing affection (which at the moment is slapping us on top of the head, like he does to the cat).
Of course, these are the milestones that happen as the boy chooses to do them, there are other parental milestones that we try to force – sometimes with resistance.
I’ve written about the movement from boob to bottle before and now we face another milestone.
Movement from bottle to solid food.
Now, the boy likes to put pretty much anything in his dribbly gob and so we thought the process would be fairly easy. Provide him with a range of tastes and textures, avoid spicy food and the job’s a good ‘un.
Unfortunately, we seem to have bred an epicure.
We hand him bits of food to eat and each is picked up and surveyed like a jeweller checking a diamond for flaws. His expression is one of weary indifference, languidly sang froid about the whole endeavour. Roughly half the time the food is cast over the side of the highchair table, rejected for whatever quality control check-list occurs within the mind of an infant.
If we are lucky, and if it passes the visual inspection, the piece of food in question will be slowly placed the mouth and chewed. At this point it may be spat out down the front of the highchair to join the growing pile of carrots, ham, cheese, raisins, peas, pasta and banana beneath his seat.
The final option is that he continues to chew, nodding to himself as he does. The first mouthful will be followed by a second and a third. Often this is done without any attempt to swallow the previous lumps of food filling his mouth.
Sometimes he will shovel so much in at once that he can no longer chew. This is a situation that he finds amusing and will give a ripping half-chuckly smile to which allows a sizeable portion of baby masticated food to drop out, adding to the pyramid of half-eaten and rejected items below.
The other effect of laughing with a mouth full of food is that it invariably makes him choke on something. In something approaching a blind panic, either or both of us will start forcefully slapping his back to dislodge whatever has got stuck.
Impressed no doubt by our speed at getting to him and the sudden rush of attention he finds even more humour in the situation and starts smiling and giggling.
It’s like he’s mocking us.
The conclusion is that by the end of his meal times our kitchen looks like Attila the Hun has been through at speed.
The food that the boy chooses to eat also makes us pause for thought.
We make a lot of the food that the boy eats at the weekend and freeze it up, defrosting as needed through the week. We try hard to make tasty and wholesome food that isn’t too heavy on the salt and spices but still something we would want to eat ourselves. It’s important to us that he eats a balanced diet full of veggies that are low in additives; the best way make sure he does this is to cook his meals ourselves.
Obviously, there are times when that isn’t possible, when we have to work late or if we are travelling.
In these instances we buy the pouches of pureed food from the supermarket. In Thailand the brand is called ‘Peachy’ and they do a flavour called ‘Salmon and Brown Rice’.
The issue I have with ‘Salmon and Brown Rice’ flavoured Peachy food is the smell. Imagine, if you will, that you have been cooking fish on a warm evening and absent-mindedly thrown the off-cuts of in the bin. In the morning, when you open the bin to throw your teabag away, the smell that emanates is several places down from pleasant.
That’s what ‘Salmon and Brown Rice’ flavoured Peachy food smells like.
And the boy loves it.
In a side by side test of diligently created, home cooked food and something that smells like the arse end of a trout, what we lovingly make doesn’t even get a look in before becoming another strata in Mt. Stuff The Boy Doesn’t Want To Eat.
Today I was making a salad for lunch and the boy pointed to the open jar of green olives. Feeling mischievous I fished one out of the brine, shook off the moisture and handed it to him, fully expecting him to spit it out straight away.
He ate it. And then he held out his hand for another.
I was in my twenties before I started liking olives.
At this rate he’ll be appreciating dark roasted coffee by two years old and single malt 35 year-old whiskey by the time he starts school.
Once again, we have a ball of contradictions babbling his way through mealtimes. One the one hand very fussy. On the other, a veritable enthusiast for unlikely flavours.
Part of the issue is that he knows he will be able to fill up on formula when he’s done messing around with his food. The compulsion to eat to satiate his hunger isn’t really there and so he can avoid food altogether if he wants.
Soon will come the time when we will have to force him off the bottle more assuredly, moving him on to cow’s milk and a wider range of solid foods, letting him experience hunger and knowing how to overcome it. It might take a week. It might take a month.
We occasionally fret over these things. Recently we became concerned that he wasn’t able to drink from a cup. Apparently he should be able to do so by now.
We realised that ultimately, it doesn’t really matter. I’ve never seen someone sat in a pub looking confused at the pint glass in front of them, decanting their beer into a teated bottle and getting stuck in. The boy will learn as and when he needs to.
And that’s the thing about milestones. At the time, when you’re aware of them, they seem almost insurmountable. Once they have been passed, they seem so insignificant.
Like changing the tyre on a car or losing your virginity.
Or getting a baby to eat their food.