On Monday, an encounter with my GP led to some serious pondering on my behalf. Not just on the question of whether to seriously attempt to make the small one eat, but more interestingly on the realisation that, as a family, we’re leaving one part of our lives behind and moving on again. Sometimes in life the transitions are blindingly obvious – big landmark occasions like giving birth or moving out of home, that you see coming a long way off – but sometimes they are so gently, subtly played out that it’s not until you’re on the other side that you notice – like looking at your baby and seeing that their awareness, their very ‘personhood’ has become so clear, they don’t look like a baby anymore. Undoubtedly, inevitably, we are leaving small’s babyhood behind. And it’s not all about the food. I realised we’re not trying to drag him prematurely out of babyhood, but that this is just one in a series of little changes that have snuck up on all three of us:
Small is getting very social and although he may not have the words yet, his intentions could not be clearer – if he sees someone that he wants to be with, his face becomes a big question mark, his arms stretch out, he ‘hhurrrs’ insistently, and if this goes unnoticed he gets quite irate. In fact he has definite preferences about many things – if we’re reading he wants to turn the pages himself, if the beloved or I are cooking he wants to inspect every bowl and pot, and if there are other kids around he trails them enthusiastically wherever they go, whereas once he would have lost interest if they moved out of sight. Things are changing for the beloved and I, too. Over the past two months I have been easing back into working, and I am so excited by this. I go to work, leaving small with the beloved or The Nanna, and I don’t miss him. I thought I would, but I get so immersed in the work and I know he’s totally fine without me, so I don’t miss him. But I am thrilled to see him again at the end of a shift as he comes galumphing down the hall ‘hhurrring’ at me. As I have picked up work hours, the beloved has been able to cut down hers. And as all of this has happened we both realised we’ve been so wrapped up in the intensity of being parents to a new baby, that we are missing being a couple. Little by little by little (as Dusty would say) our family dynamics shift.
So, back to the food issue. The following are some scenes from this week, the week in which the fun parent takes a back seat, and begins to think she may have been played:
Scene 1, Monday, a few hours after coming home from the GP –
The seed of doubt, sown by the GP, niggles at me. I wonder what would happen if I try and feed small some lunch. With great determination, I sit down opposite small in his highchair, squeeze some organic-baby-goop-in-a-sachet onto a spoon and aim it in the direction of small’s mouth. He sees this coming a mile off and starts windmilling his arms furiously, at the same time pursing his lips and trying to swivel his head backwards. I put down the spoon, secure both of small’s hands, pick up the spoon and try again. Lips still pursed tight shut. I wedge the spoon between his lips and he begrudgingly lets in a drop. Then he cries miserably until I squeeze his foot and say ‘honk’. Then he laughs. Hmmm, maybe not so sad. We repeat six times.
Over the course of the next few hours, I talk with the beloved and with some friends and I swap emails with family and friends. A wise woman, who has known me since we were both eleven years old, cut straight to the heart of the matter. She reminded me that even if I do something that may seem unpleasant, I am not going to become my step-father, her father or any of the other uninspiring parents in our shared lives. Gradually, I come to the conclusion that while it may not hurt small to just keep breastfeeding, it won’t hurt him to eat something either.
Scene 2, Tuesday, breakfast –
Once again, I sit opposite small, this time armed with weetbix and milk. Preemptively securing the windmilling arms, I offer a spoonful of weetbix. Small opens his mouth and takes it! Then he seems to realise what he’s done and squeezes out a tear. Just as quickly, he spots his toy car and is smiling again. A few reluctant spoonfuls and about forty minutes later, we call it a day. Well, until lunch.
Scene 3, Wednesday, afternoon –
I walk into the dining room. Small is in his highchair, looking up at the beloved who is wielding a spoon. He is opening his mouth like a little birdy and looking quite, well, happy. Then I see what she is feeding him…nutella. Hmmm. Little scammer.
Scene 4, Thursday, at work in the afternoon –
I am describing Scene 3 to my work colleagues. The in-charge for the shift, who adores children, advises me to just let him eat nutella all the time if that’s what he likes. One of the LMFs suggests mixing vegetables into nutella. One of the other LMFs thinks I should make my own nutella out of organic hazelnuts, pure cocoa and expressed breast milk. Another describes the times she discovered that her children could play her. Am loving that although I have had advice that ranges from the totally permissive to the absolutely authoritarian, I don’t feel confused or indecisive, but held up and buoyed by everyone’s support and encouragement.
Scene 5, Friday, breakfast –
Compromise. Small eats about three teaspoons of weetbix and a quarter of a slice of toast, with nutella. Then he smears weetbix happily all over me, the table, the floor and his own head. I suddenly realise that with a small bit of enforced feeding, his voluntary eating has seemingly doubled in the space of five days. He’s eating wholemeal apple bars for a morning snack, peanut butter on crackers for lunch and even a bit of rice and eggplant last night for dinner.