The sad fact is, I’ve been working on this post for over a week. Just thought I’d mention that, lest you feel forgotten.
Hey there, people of the internet. I think of you all the time. We are all happy and well, but this whole “working with a baby” thing turns out to be — surprise — kind of hard. Let’s not talk about just how many papers I get graded while chasing our now highly-mobile Bean from deathtrap to deathtrap in the apartment, let alone how much reading I get done for the (totally fascinating!) graduate-level class I’m assisting for in addition to my usual courses, despite having… minimal qualifications in the field. Bad enough slogging through hundreds of pages of almost comically granular scholarship as a student; now there is the terrifying and very real possibility that I will at any moment be asked to facilitate a group discussion on some arcane point I only dimly remember. It is really fun, I must admit, to be learning about a new topic; I wish I could talk your ears off about it, but I’m a little chicken that the graduate program in question is unusual enough that doing so could make me vulnerable to googling. But if you notice feats of more-than-usually-spectacular nerdiness in future posts, this might be why.
The Bean is more charming every day. No, he still doesn’t really sleep. But he does crawl like a maniac, pull to stand at every opportunity, and perform constant experiments in balance of the kind that seem to spell E-A-R-L-Y W-A-L-K-E-R. We are proud and terrified. He has two teeth and known how to use ‘em. He interacts more and more with other kids and babies, which I find unexpectedly thrilling. He seems to like us, too; when Sugar was laid up while taking care of him, he seemed to be telling her jokes by throwing himself backwards onto the bed pillows in exaggerated gestures of lost balance and then cracking himself up, and when I was bedridden the next week (WTF?), he took three naps with me. He loves being kissed (and zerberted), and sometimes he grabs our faces and sort of rubs his open mouth on us, which I like to think is an attempt at reciprocation, though he might just be practicing being a lamprey. This Sunday, Sugar brought him to bed to nurse in the morning, and afterwards, he lay between us, touching us and smiling at us and generally looking so very happy to be all together. Then he caught sight of the cat, and Sugar and I saw what JOY looks like. Ah, well. They’ll have to keep us around at least until he can work the can opener.
He makes friends.
The other thing he does is EAT. A while back, Turia suggested a post about how we are handling food, so here is an attempt to get that done before he’s ordering his own cheeseburgers. If he doesn’t have an awful reaction to tomorrow’s flu shot, maybe it will even get finished.
(HAHAHAHA. I wrote that Monday night, on my train ride home from teaching. It’s Friday now. The shot went pretty well, actually, but see graf one. Also, I’m not sure what he’s been doing counts as cruising, but I’m also not sure it doesn’t count as cruising….)
Before I ever hopped into the stirrups and started down this spermy road to parenthood (ew), I had Definite Plans about how I would handle a few things — surprisingly few things, to give myself a little credit, but the Best Way to introduce food was high on the list of things I was sure about. (I’m pretty sure Sugar was in agreement about this, but realistically, my fervor was sufficient to overwhelm any objections she might have come up with, so she wouldn’t have stood a chance if she hadn’t agreed. She’s known me long enough to recognize that glint in my eye, and she is wise enough to pick her battles.) I was certain — so certain that it wouldn’t have occurred to me to describe it as a choice — that we would do Baby-Led Weaning.
At the time that I first started thinking about it, I didn’t even know BLW was a thing; I just liked the way my Danish friend was teaching her daughter to eat. I never saw Baby X spoon-fed purees or cereals; The Dane just handed her the food she reached for and she ate it. So easy! Baby X sat at the table with us when we ate and chose from the same foods we were eating. If she wanted something, she ate it, and if she didn’t, no big deal. Later, thanks to the Fat Nutritionist (whom you should read), I learned that what The Dane was doing was just what Ellyn Satter says we should do for children: we take responsibility for what food is offered (and when and where, eventually); we let them decide whether and how much to eat. I can’t overstate how much this philosophy appeals to me. I’m sure that those of you who know I am an American Woman will be shocked, shocked, shocked to hear that I have not always had a worry-free relationship with food; I love that this idea of division of eating responsibilities removes some of the most negative emotional possibilities from the dinner table without seeking to reduce food — which I believe should also be a source of pleasure — to only calories.
When the Bean had his four-month doctor’s appointment, I had just gotten my period and attendant milk supply drop. He was fussy and seemed hungry to me, I told the doctor as much, and by the way, I can’t pump without having vasospasms galore, so he’ll be getting formula when I go back to work at six months. Well, she said, do you want to try giving him some solids?
I was shocked. Aren’t solids a six-month thing? My breastfeeding hang-ups are a topic for another post (hell, they could have their own blog by now), but suffice it to say that I thought six months of exclusive breastfeeding was basically required. (I read later that there’s not actually much evidence solids need to wait more than four months; a lot of the discussions that suggest as much conflate the beginning of solids with the end of breastmilk.) We told the doctor that we didn’t want to do cereals and purees, that we liked what the Dane had done. (The Dane-lette is also her patient.) Fine, she said, just let him taste what we’re eating. No milk, no honey. See you in two months.
(Here’s the part where I say how overwhelmingly grateful I am that the allergy theories have shifted again and we get to give the baby almost everything.)
I didn’t *rationally* believe that we could get the Bean eating so much food by six months that I could avoid giving him formula when I returned to work, but I admit to some fantasies in that direction — not because I believe there is much of anything wrong with formula (because given consistent access to clean water and sufficient funds to serve it full-strength, I don’t), but I am far from immune to the praise given to mothers who breastfeed and withheld from those who don’t. (And if I ever get this post done, I’ll sound off on that phenomenon At Length.) Nor will I deny that avoiding formula appealed because deep in my heart of hearts, I want to do at least one thing my mother couldn’t. She didn’t even take time off from medical school when I was born, but I was by-golly going to win when it came to Earth Mother-hood.
(Good Lord, y’all, it’s been over a week. I’ve written myself into a corner, and I can’t find my way out.)
The Bean showed signs of enjoying the tastings — that is, he started sometimes pulling our hands back for another go — after about three weeks of on again, off again efforts on our part. At five months, he seemed so interested in sitting at the table, that we decided to ignore the “6 months” label on his swanky high chair. He loved being at the table and happily grabbed whatever we were eating. If it met with his approval, he would shovel it so enthusiastically into his mouth and against his gag reflex that exuberant vomit followed, resulting in a net loss of calories. …Win? At about five and a half months, while we were visiting Sugar’s parents, he discovered pickles and thank god did not puke all over his grandmother, who was slightly horrified that we were giving him big pieces of food, not mush. (I felt smugly superior. Mush! Ha! Not for my discerning baby!)
As my rational brain had predicted, when I went back to work two weeks later, he was only occasionally swallowing food; he still needed just as much formula as he would have had we waited until then to offer him solids. We had fun getting the Bean to taste things, but, well, you can’t hurry love. But a funny thing happened in my addled brain: all those tastes of real food meant that the Bean wasn’t only eating breastmilk, and suddenly formula no longer seemed like a sad replacement for something I should have been able to provide had I been mother enough to suffer my vasospasms for my child’s sake (or, better, the sort of La Leche League poster-mater who doesn’t have breastfeeding problems because her heart is just that pure). It just seemed like one more food the Bean sometimes eats. No big deal. I will confess to some disappointment that giving him formula two days a week didn’t magically improve his sleeping habits; I will confess to a little satisfaction on that count, too. What can I say? Addled Brain Is Addled.
At his six-month appointment, he’d dropped significantly in the weight percentiles. His doctor wasn’t worried — said this was just the age when breast milk was no longer enough, that we were doing the right things with food and he would start eating — but then he started crawling all over the place and got slimmer and slimmer. The weather got cool enough for long sleeves, and he could still wear onesies he wore in April. I took him to a motion study at the university associated with Kips Bay Mega Hospital, and their (sloppily measured) weight put him in the Danger, Will Robinson area of the growth chart.
At about six and a half months, a switch threw itself in the Bean’s noggin. Overnight, his attitude towards food went from polite curiosity to GIVE ME THE BANANA AND NO ONE GETS HURT. Two meals — one before his first morning nap, one midday — were required to forestall wailing. He also made it very, very clear that he wanted to eat more food than pure BLW was going to allow, and so I have reluctantly admitted that our mothers were both right about the food mill.
…You know, I think I’ve realized why this post won’t resolve, and since this is a blog and not a proper essay, I’m just going to tell you about it instead of, say, fixing it. (GOD, it’s good to be out of grad school sometimes.) When I started this post, I did all that set-up about my righteous belief in BLW because I thought that we’d failed at it. A little pride-ever-goeth schtick. But the more I think about it, the less I think we really did fail, at least when it comes to the things I most liked about BLW.
Yes, I’ve ground up more food than I had intended to, but actually, in the time it’s taken me to write this thing, the Bean has mostly stopped needing more mashing than a spoon can provide. (Uh, I mean his food doesn’t need mashing. To be clear, we have never attempted to mill the baby.) Yes, I’m feeding him with a spoon, but we settled quite by accident on using ice tea spoons with very long handles (and very small bowls, hence the choice). This allows us to hold only the very end of the handle, while the Bean grabs the handle farther down and either puts the spoon in his mouth or shoves it away; he is still in control of what goes in his mouth. He has some finger foods: sweet potato fries, Cheerios, and as of today, goldfish crackers (only from the coop, so they’re actually shaped like rabbits and if that isn’t genetic engineering then I don’t know what is). He drinks water or his new favorite, seltzer, from a cup. Since I’m cheap as the dickens, we haven’t been buying pre-made food; for the most part, the Bean has been eating what we eat, which makes me glad. I realize there is a natural narrowing of the palette in toddlerhood and that the 3-year-old Bean will probably subsist on hotdogs and cherry chapstick, but for now, he seems to love almost everything, from bananas to sardine pasta to kimchi. We sit at the table together at meals, me eating with one hand and holding his spoon out to him with the other. Whaddya know, a happy ending.
(Teeth. Did I mention that? Just the two on the bottom.)