The Mealtime Blues

Each stage with a kid comes with its own challenges. When they are immobile, you have a constant bad back from dragging them everywhere; when they start moving, you cant keep them out of your cupboards. When they cant talk, you are filled with frustration that they cant tell you what they want; once they start chattering, they can shout and tantrum oh so much more effectively.

I would say that right now, at about 18 months, is a great stage for me and my son. He is walking confidently, which makes going out and about so much easier, and as the walking is still a novelty, it is almost a form of entertainment for him in itself. While he is still to say any real words, (this weeks addition is “Uhbul” -prizes for those who correctly guess the meaning) his understanding has sky-rocketed, and he can now fetch a large number of items, and understands enough of my tone to stop before he does himself any injury. Basically he now has the comprehension of a well trained Labrador.

But as we approach the aptly named “terrible twos” I feel my son testing me in new areas that we’ve never really  encountered problems with before. Lately, it has been food. Since about 8 months, my baby has always been a great eater, and like so many mums who opt for BLW (Baby led weaning) I am proud to say he has always had a varied palate and a great appetite. But lately, it is one trial after another. Being quite a baby led parent in general, I try to listen to what he is telling me, after all, babies are just tiny adults (gasp) and normally what they want is quite sensible.

When he was 8 months, I realised he wasnt interested in being spoonfed, and started the BLW process, giving him regular food for him to hold and try, and he took to it immediately. About 2 months ago, he stopped eating in his highchair, struggling against the straps and arching his body in anger. We duly stored the highchair in the loft, and spent an afternoon perusing table and chair sets, misting over at the idea that our little boy was old enough to sit in a big person little chair. Success, he loved it, playing merrily at the table with playdough, lego, books and toys galore. Eating? Another story altogether.

Thus begun the I enjoy walking around with my food stage. Sigh. This one was more my fault than his, as I never should have let it begin. But like most bad eating habits, it started with me being so happy he was eating, that why should it matter him wandering around the house with his bowl of chicken and potatoes?

After a week of looking the other way, I started enforcing the table rule for mealtimes, and we had moderate success. He now understands that we sit at the table if we want to eat. Great. Only thing is, he now decides he doesn’t actually want to eat.

In summary, we now have no highchair, but a table and chair which he loves, but wont eat at. And thus begins the current stage we are in now, which I affectionately dub living hell mealtimes. For those of you that remember those old Loreal adverts, Here comes the science. 20% of mealtimes are a pleasure. My son eats nicely, often feeds himself neatly and happily, and is a treat to be with throughout. The other 80% of mealtimes begin with ten minutes of rigorous shaking head and crying, and refusal to try the food, all of which I know he likes. Of that 80%, in around 50% of those cases, we have some foolproof tricks of the trade to encourage eating, which result in the entire plate being wiped clean. These are (in no particular order):

  • The Teddy Ruse. Grabbing a nearby cuddly toy, I proceed to feed the teddy with the spoon/fork while making delicious yum yum noises in uncanny impersonation of the character in question. R has a go himself, feeding the ted, and then proceeds to feed himself. Well, if teddy likes it, it cant be that bad.
    Pros: Easy, and lets face it, quite cute.
    Cons: Not one for when youre out and about, or in front of people you dont want to look like a complete muppet in front of.
  • The Gruffalo Adventure. An old favourite, simply reading this story out loud is sometimes enough of a distraction to get the mouth opening and closing and swallowing.
    Pros: As our entire family knows this one by heart, it is a pretty easy on the go solution.
    Cons: I’m not sure he knows he is eating, so it’s not exactly teaching him anything. Plus I now hate that book which I once loved.
  • The Brave Explorer. This food is horrible with that spoon, but not bad if I shove my fist in it, is the logic behind this technique. I agree that kids shouldn’t be expected to just open their mouths to food when the whole experience is quite new and unusual for them. So I’m quite liberal with the whole using fingers part of mealtime. And it does happen quite regularly that the meal is scarfed down happily with hands, when it was refused point blank with cutlery.
    Just a shame when that meal is weetabix.
    Pros: er.. they eat something.
    Cons: Not for public, and as all BLW mums know, invest in a good splash mat.
  • The Noise Attack. Just. Dont. Stop. Talking.
    Sing, dance, chat, praise.. Try not to even stop for breath. If they are opening and chewing, thats all you need to focus on. Doesn’t matter if what you’re saying makes sense or not, just let them concentrate on the drivel you’re spouting out, and not on the protein you’re spooning in.
    Pros: Public friendly, needs no props.
    Cons: A sore throat.

These mealtimes, while exhausting, are at least a success. However, whateverIhaveleft%  of meals are spent doing all these things and more, but to no avail. They are still a huge disaster and no food at all is eaten, no matter what we try. In the worst cases, the food ends up on the floor or in my lap, and I have to go scream into a pillow. (Sound familiar parents?)

The general consensus is that “Its just a phase” and that he will revert back to his happy eating, and that he wont starve himself. But it is beyond tiring having to do a song and dance 3 times a day for a coin toss of a chance of him eating a meal. So if anyone has any ideas of how to break the tantrum cycle, I am all ears and open to suggestions!

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Which songs can I sing to make my child a genius?

We all worry about the same things when raising our babies. Are we giving them the right foods, the right toys, the right social interaction? Are we introducing things too early, or leaving them too late? In hindsight, each decision seems well thought out and correct, if not immediately then eventually, (have you ever seen an adult worrying if his life problems are due to which playmat he had?) and yet at the time, we agonise and ask questions to anyone and everyone who has an opinion, and work ourselves into a state if we cant do our ideal response to any given situation.

When my son was tiny, I had a morning routine. Morning was whenever he woke up, which was obviously a different time each day. I would look at my watch, and begin counting. I’m going to give him his first bottle now, so in order to fit all 5 in today, I will feed again at 10.30, and then every 4 hours and 45 minutes until bed time. Some mornings were really stressful. Oh no, he’s slept until 8.30.. How am I going to fit all the bottles in? Yes, you heard that correctly, I said “Oh no. He’s slept until 8.30.” I apologize. But the most important thing to me was getting the full oz of milk into him. There were days when I fed him every 3 hours, and other days when I left nearly 6 hours between feeds. I wouldnt have dreamt of simply leaving out one feed that day, or making the others bigger or smaller. It was all about the maths, with the handy guide on the side of the Aptimil carton as my friend.

Looking back now, I think I’m pretty crazy. But I dont give myself too hard a time, as I watch so many other mums do the exact same thing when it comes to their children and routine. It might not be milk, but most mums have their own share of craziness in one way or another. If she sleeps now, and then we’re going out later, she might fall asleep in the car, and then will she sleep tonight? If he eats that, it’s only an hour until lunch, and then he might not eat enough of his proper food, and he’ll get hungry mid afternoon.

We’re all a little crazy. As I scan the motherhood forums and see the same questions coming up again and again, tips for weaning, when should I drop the afternoon bottle, what kind of toys are right for a 6 month old.. I think our kids may be the luckiest and unluckiest generation ever. Many of us complain that our parents generation don’t understand what it’s like to be parents nowadays, and they would be right. But a lot of that is because we have unnecessary choice and access to opinion. Our parents are about to start weaning us, maybe they ask their own parents, at a stretch the local doctor or a close friend. But the excess ofnew companies and books, let alone the faceless crowd of opinion on the internet, was simply not available (or frankly needed) thirty years ago.

I’m not saying that it’s entirely unwelcome, after all, knowing more means that syndromes such as cot death has been more than halved, and behavioural and social issues are rarely ignored, in comparion to decades past. However, we also have more serious allergies in younger children than ever before, which many put down to our obsessive cleanliness and hygeine guidelines. There are also so many of us walking around feeling like we’re not doing it right. Maybe I’m wrong, but this is not an issue our grandparents had. Self esteem as parents was most likely not even thought of, wheras now, we are constantly comparing ourselves, not only to our friends, but to people we don’t even know on the television and the internet. A new revolution in reality TV is basically entitled “Terrible parenting that makes you feel better about yourself.” Whether it contains ‘problem teens’ or ‘kids running riot’ or even sending your kids abroad to get a week with “stricter” aka “better” parents, the genre has become a phenomenon.

I wonder if we need any of it? Our parents all managed to get to adulthood eating, sleeping, drinking the right amount of milk, without seventeen different opinions about which teat they used. The same goes for us. I’m sure our parents and grandparents still had the same questions and craziness, it seems to arrive with the baby in the hospital, but without the plethora of opinions and people to ask, they just made a choice and got on with it.

I guess I’m saying, whatever decision you make, your baby will be fine. And if we didnt have all these other people to ask, we’d probably make quite a quick decision. But we have too much choice.

Of course, none of this stops me from checking mumsnet to see if anyone’s got more advice on what R should be sleeping in tonight. (Well…. the room is currently 24, but it’s only 2 degrees outside, and I’m not sure if he needs a long or short sleeve vest….)