No Two Ways About It, That’s Strange. (Part 4)

The following facts about me are important pre-requisite knowledge for reading this particular blog. Most of you will know at least two out of three, so don’t get excited.

I was a vegetarian from birth until I was 18 years old.
I have always been strictly Kosher.
I am an infuriatingly and nonsensically bad eater.

So you can probably see where I am going with this. My attitudes to food are not exactly adventurous. I generally don’t order things in restaurants unless I know every ingredient inside it, and can see as few of them as possible. Even then, I bother waiters all around north west london on a regular basis with orders such as, “I’ll have the pesto and olive pasta, without the pesto, and with lots of cheese. And y’know what? No olives.”

Generally, my tastes haven’t changed since I was a kid, with a few notable exceptions. I now force myself to try new things once in a while, I now eat salad as long as it hasn’t seen a cut up tomato, (how hard is it to leave the cherry tomatoes whole?!) and I’m an unashamed carnivore, much to my mothers dismay.

But (and here comes my point) in absolutely no world, no matter how adventurous an eater I was, or however irreligious I became, or however little I thought of the animal kingdom, could I ever fathom people who trek to a specialist candy store to purchase the below.

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Sour cream and onion Crickets. For those intrigued rather than repulsed, they also offer Chilli, and Sea Salt flavours.

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These are basically the dare-devils answer to a bag of Revels. My advice is the same for both. I would recommend not munching through a box at the cinema. Nothing worse than chomping down on an orange treat and discovering its a sneaky coffee flavoured horror. I would imagine its similar when you think you’re getting a delicious beetle and accidentally begin chewing a centipede. Imagine how terrible that would be.

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This one is by far the oddest. After all, I obviously don’t know what insects taste like, and for all I know they’re delicious. (But if you’re gonna tell me they’re ‘just like chicken’ my advice would be, eat chicken, it’s not nearly £4 a bite.)
But this isn’t even really eating an insect! It’s just a worm, inside an ordinary lollipop. So you basically are eating an extortionately expensive chupa chup, with a bug in the middle. Do you crunch down on the worm when u get near the end? Is the idea to try and keep it whole?

I don’t get it. I don’t even mean from a disgusting point of view, because I’m in the ‘animals are animals’ camp. There really is no difference in my mind between eating a cow or eating a ‘cute little rabbit’ if kosher wasn’t a factor for me. I was more shocked by the deceit than the ingredients of Tesco’s horse burgers for example.

I just don’t understand why anyone would spend a fortune to eat a bug. They can’t be filling, I don’t really believe that you can taste anything under all the chocolate or seasoning they apparently need to be palatable, and they cost about ten times the price of a regular, delicious, non creepy crawling twix bar.

So I suppose it must be a status thing. Much in the same way that men swig beer, or teenagers down tequila shots, if you have enough wasps maybe they go from horrible to bearable to quite nice really, with the added benefit that you can pat yourself on the back for being part of an elite few, part of the latest fad, part of the new sensation.

Must make you feel bad when you’re watching Pinocchio though. “Always let your conscience be your snack” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, after all.

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On Bribery and Bargaining

We’ve all been there.

A frustrating meal time with a lovingly prepared plate being turned down to the tune of angry cries and unnecessary screams of apparent torture.

A public showdown with an angry toddler in a supermarket who won’t move from the inside of a chest freezer.

Two exhausted parents battling to get a child into bed for longer than forty five seconds at a time.

And we’ve all done it, reached for the biscuit tin, or the chocolate buttons. It’s so easy to manage the situation that way, without raised voices or threats or wasting hours of your time. Aside from that, it’s such a relief to finally have an old enough child that can be reasoned with enough to make a compromise. Eat five more bites of lunch and u can have a chocolate button. If you stay in your bed, I’ll go get you a biscuit. What a pleasure to not have a baby, to not have to reiterate your expectation seventeen different ways, speaking slower and louder as if your child is a Japanese tourist, with large expansive gestures. and at the end of the exchange you’re no better off, with the same comprehension success rate as you would have with the tourist. It’s just so tempting to save yourself the hassle, especially considering the extent of your compromise. It’s one piece of choc. It’s one animal biscuit, it’s a tiny bit of juice. What’s the harm really?

(I would add at this point its not just food, it’s also DVDs, iPad games, etc. basically any ‘treats’ which the kid doesn’t have on tap. In our house unsurprisingly, unhealthy food holds the most allure.)

But at what point does making your life easier simply become spoiling your child?

Lately, I’m beginning to think its much less about how large the treat is, and more about the power play.

To emphasise, let me share a story from this week. R and I were sitting at his table, enjoying a (delicious, not that it matters) lunch of pasta and sauce. I’m aware my son likes his pasta exactly the way I did until I was 16-entirely plain and not touching any other foods. And it makes me want to scream. (Yes, I’m aware of the irony, and yes, I should probably apologise to my own mum.) but I’m trying really hard to break R’s habit at a younger age to my own. After fifteen mins of unsuccessful yum yum noises and many coaxing attempts at telling him what a big boy he is, reading stories and the like, I was ready to scream into a pillow. I turned to him and reached for my hidden Ace. “R? If you eat your pasta, you can have TWO choc buttons. Wowww” I stressed, emphasising the excitement of doubling the usual bribe.
My son sat down in his seat, and picked up his spoon with one hand. Pausing before he began eating, he turned to face me. Using all his new mathematical skills, he spread his other hand in my face, fingers outstretched.

“No.” He smiled through his tearstained face. “Five.”

As momentarily shocked as I was at my two year old playing hardball, I managed to remember my policy of not negotiating with terrorists, and he went to bed without any lunch at all.

But the episode has stayed with me. If I’d given him the five choc buttons, he would have happily munched down the entire plate of food, and it would still have been less choc than I would offer as a special treat in other circumstances. We brush his teeth regularly, he eats healthily and has sugar in moderation, it wouldn’t have done him any damage physically. But what’s stopping him asking for ten next time? Or a snickers bar for that matter? And how can I say no when I’m the one who has given him the expectation that eating his meals = chocolate. Or staying in bed = biscuits? And even more so, that its up to him to set the boundaries?

For me it’s a hard one. I don’t want to give up the ability to fix a problem 123, and sometimes when the food is new or the sleep is urgent I really don’t mind the normal rules dropping by the wayside. But I suppose I’ve noticed how easy it is for them to get lost altogether, and for the ‘one offs’ to become everyday practices. And with what amounts to a tiny little sponge learning from everything we do and say, creating his own world of right and wrong behaviour around our actions, I hope I can try and find some healthier methods of coercion at the next macaroni cheese slinging event or 2am wake up call.

bribing mealtime

Cooking and Connecting (Part 2)

Almost a year ago, I blogged about the first time my mother and I cooked together, an experience made somewhat awkward by the fact that it had taken 24 years to try it out. I made myself a promise to share the kitchen experience with my son, so that cooking and baking with me was something he experienced often, and treated as the norm.

Sadly, I haven’t repeated the experience with my own mother. But I have kept that latter promise. And never more so than this week. As I join the rest of the UK in a snow induced lock-in of tremendous cabin fever, I’m sure I’m not the only one who has turned to the scales and bake ware. And even with the following points, I’m sure you all agree it’s pretty adorable.
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Let me share with you my new expectations of cooking with toddlers.

Don’t expect to keep to a recipe.

It’s pretty funny exploring a kid’s version of ‘just a bit more’ when you are trying to weigh ingredients. My son anyway, just tips whatever he is holding upside down. If you are someone who really cares about precise measurements in your baking efforts, I would recommend pre-weighing everything like you are making a YouTube video. Even then, you will probably have broken glass in the batter at some point. And a lot more washing up. My thoughts? Let them tip it all in, because after all….

…Don’t expect to be able to eat anything

It’s really fun for kids to be involved in preparation for meals and treats. And obviously we can do our best to make food as hygienic as possible by washing hands beforehand etc etc. But let me tell you a secret. Do you know how long a two year olds hands stay clean for after you’ve washed them? About 3 seconds. I cant even lift R off the kitchen step from the sink without noticing his fingers down his trousers / up his nose / in the plug hole / picking something questionable up off the floor. If by some miracle their hands are moderately clean and stay away from the ingredients, you can bet your life that you will turn away for 2 seconds to get the vanilla essence, and turn round to their head stuck entirely in the bowl, tongue out.

Don’t expect to maintain a normal level of mess

If you’re one of those ‘clean up as you go’ types.. Good luck. If you can even see through the icing sugar cloud to move the used utensils closer to the sink, you’re doing really well. Expect everything to be covered in flour and oddly sticky even if the ingredients aren’t. Personally, I count the session a successful activity if I manage to keep the eggs unbroken and off the floor. (Why has no one invented a way to clean up a broken egg in less than twenty minutes and without making you contemplate suicide?)
As your kids get older, they will be able to ‘help’ clean up more and more, (and then less and less as they become teenagers as far as I’m aware. What age is the peak of help and cleanliness you will ever receive? 9? 11? More experienced mums, do tell.) but for me anyway, I prefer to do without the so called ‘help’ of even more things being spilled and spread everywhere and just let him lick out the bowl hoping to heaven he stays in one place until I can get the chocolate-y creature that used to be my baby into the bathroom. (Why is it so far away from the kitchen? Arms up, hands in the air! Arms up!)

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Don’t expect to keep it healthy

Most children I know think cooking is fun regardless of what you are making. But most recipes aren’t appropriate before the age of about 6 or 7 at the earliest. Tweens and teens and even younger kids love peeling, chopping, blending and reading our recipes. And generally don’t randomly spit in the bowl for giggles. But when your kid is under three, they may well shove a handful of whatever you are making in their mouths, making anything main-course-like a tad off limits, (raw meatballs anyone?) and are obviously unable to help with preparing of veg for soups and the like. Coupled with their belief in their divine right to lick the bowl / spoon(s) / counter-top, that pretty much leaves dessert as your main option. Alright as a one off, but with 4 days of snow behind us, and no end in sight, pretty soon I may have to lend R my hula hoop.

 
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The Night-time Tango

My ‘baby’ is almost two. Although he has always been a great sleeper, the last month or so has been really tough. Not tough in comparison to you reading this, whose child hasn’t slept since 2009, and whose kid is regularly up for 30 hours at a time, and dropped their nap at 5 and a half weeks, and spends the hours of 2-6 am playing the steel drum through your bedroom wall…. but tough for us, who are used to a baby who goes down at 7ish and wakes up at 7.30ish.

The facts are as following. We put him into bed as usual at 7-7.30. He has had his bath, milk, story/ies and we have sung him his night-time songs. We put him in the cot, turn his mobile on, and say goodnight. Before the last month, that would have been it, and the next we would hear is lively chattering at about 7 in the morning, followed by annoyed moaning at about 7.45. But now, the very second the door closes we are met with pitifully angry and upset screaming, which escalates in decibel level and seriousness of tantrum the longer it’s left.

I believe in controlled crying, to a point. Sometimes a toddler just has to be allowed to scream it out, and nothing that you do will make a difference, they just don’t want to go to bed. But I also believe in checking all the other boxes first before you leave them to basically cry themselves to sleep.

So that’s what we’ve been doing. But the resulting checklist is confusing and inconsistent.

I always leave him to ‘cry it out’ for fifteen/twenty minutes first. Then, a number of possibilities cross my mind.

Maybe he’s hungry…
Whether he didn’t eat a proper supper, or didn’t finish his milk, or it’s just been three hours since supper so why shouldn’t he be hungry, I often find myself going in with a snack, like a cracker or raisins. He always takes it hungrily, (but that proves nothing because he always takes ANY food hungrily) and mostly falls asleep after eating it.
Problems: Firstly, that i am “making a rod for my own back” as he will come to expect the snack, and get hungrier b/c he is used to eating then. Secondly that there is a niggle in my mind as to whether he is actually hungry at all, in which case I’m just feeding him to ‘shut him up’ so to speak. I’ve tried giving bigger suppers or a yoghurt/fruit pot after dinner. No change.

Maybe he’s scared…
I have read that this age is a common one for developing fears of being alone/ the dark/ nightmares etc. If this is the problem, I’m not sure what the answer is. If I stay with him, how does that help the underlying problem when I leave again? I could buy him a nightlight, or glow in the dark stars or a projector, but I’m not overly keen on making him reliant on something to sleep with, especially as up to this point he has been fabulous at falling asleep in travel cots and other peoples homes and the like, with nothing more familiar than his baby bear.

Maybe he’s over-tired…
In my experience, an over-tired baby can scream for hours. And hours. And I’m just not that strong to listen to the tears and chokes. 😦 I’ve tried making his nap longer during the day, sometimes it works, other times, not being tired yet- he plays in his cot for so long that he never ends up sleeping at all. In addition, being at a childminder some of the week means I’m not always in charge of how long he sleeps in the day. Just to confuse matters, on Friday night he stays up with us until about 9pm, and always always drops off instantly afterwards.

Maybe something is wrong…
One of the reasons I find extended controlled crying hard is that you dont know whats going on in there. Twice I have gone in to shrieking noises, only to find my son’s leg trapped in the cot bars red and sore looking, and sometimes (less dramatically) it is as simple as giving back his baby bear who has escaped from the bed. If the problem can be solved easily, why not give yourself that chance? Short of buying a baby monitor for my 2 year old… I have to poke my head in ocassionally, dont I?

Maybe he’s lonely…
When I go in after the 15 minutes, he never tries to get up out of the cot, rather lying down and staring at me forlornly. I bend down and shh shh quietly, stroking his hair and making calming sounds. And he lies there, watching me. He is perfectly happy as long as me or C are there with him, but he doesnt close his eyes. If I pick him up, he nestles into my shoulder and lies still on me, giving the best cuddles ever, eyes open, and stays there as long as I’ll let him. Generally as soon as I put him down again and leave the room, the crying starts up again. Eventually after two or three of these cycles, the crying stops and he falls asleep until morning. The whole thing generally lasts no longer than 1.5/2 hours, on a bad night. and I wont pretend I dont love the cuddles.

The longest I have left him to cry is about an hour, and by that point he was so worked up that he could hardly breathe, and it took two hours to get him to settle.  It’s been a month, so i don’t think the answer is as simple as “he’s probably getting ill” or “his teeth are bothering him.”

Is this just a rite of passage in having a 2 year old?

I miss my evenings, so all advice and sympathy gratefully recieved.

The Warm and Fuzzies

Me and my son had a moment this evening.

A moment can happen at any time, and with any person. With a partner or a spouse, it reminds you what made you fall in love in the first place, and brings you somehow closer, even if you didn’t think there was any space left to bridge. With a friend, it normally teaches you something about yourself as well as them, cements the relationship further, gives you reason to trust them even more with your thoughts and feelings. A moment normally comes when you least expect it, without much warning.

I’ve had plenty of experiences with my baby boy over the past two years that have made me smile, or laugh, or even cry tears of joy or sometimes relief that he is ours, exactly the way he is. But I wouldn’t say that we’ve had too many moments, where I just wish the world would stand still and let me remember that fragment of time exactly how it is in my mind at that second. If I could give my son some memories of his first years in this world, tonight would be one of them.

Try not to lose the emotion of the moment while I set the scene.

I was eating a chocolate digestive biscuit. As anyone with children will know, if am eating a chocolate digestive biscuit, so is R. I broke off a small piece and handed it to him, and within a nanosecond it was in his mouth and forgotten about as he reached out for a second piece. When the second sliver followed suit I knew I had to choose a different route to go down. I broke off one more small piece, about the size of a thumbnail, and handed it to him slowly, clearly telling him “No more! Last bit!” 

He looked at me. He looked at the biscuit seriously. His look said it all. This is the last piece of biscuit, possibly forever. He looked back at me and smiled. He clambered up next to me on the couch, leaned back so that his damp freshly washed head of hair was lying in the crook of my arm, and began to eat.

I say eat, but nothing was chewed or swallowed. He licked at the chocolate, sucked at the sides of the biscuit, and kept stopping to pass the small piece back and forth so he could lick his fingers clean. He had no inhibitions about making little baby sighs of pleasure as he savoured the immense treat he had in his tiny hands.

He lay there for 40 minutes. I haven’t had a cuddle that long with my son since he was 6 months old. It was not just the best 40 minutes of my day, but a front-runner for best 40 minutes of my adulthood. And I just watched him. Chocolate smeared onto my couch, I didn’t move to wipe it away. He licked the couch, I didn’t say a word. His newly bathed arms and face looked like Augustus Gloop after a swim in the chocolate rivers of Willy Wonka’s factory, I smiled lovingly in the way only a mother can be delighted by their child’s sticky mess. Cleaning I could do later. He was so happy.

At the end of the 40 minutes, he sat up, grinned at me, and passed me the now non-chocolate digestive non-biscuit. I picked him up and he snuggled into my shoulder while I sang his goodnight prayers and songs to him quietly. I placed him down into his cot with his baby bear, and he rolled over and closed his eyes instantly.

A lesson from my son today, I hope I can learn to savour an experience the way he savoured that thumbnail of chocolate biscuit. At the very least, I hope I can remember this moment again the next time he screams for two hours before settling, or spends the witching hour between supper and sleep-time throwing toys at my head. I will make the most of this deliciously warm and fuzzy feeling, as that ‘next time’ will probably be tomorrow.