The Perils of Feeding a Toddler

YesterJen: “When I have a baby, I’m going to feed it only organic fruits and vegetables, and we are going to have dinner at the table every evening, during which time we adults will share the events of our day and our child will learn to sit respectfully and listen.”

So that happened. If you call goldfish crackers and Kraft mac&cheese “organic fruits and vegetables” and meals shoveled mindlessly in mouths while we sit in front of the television “dinner at the table.” To be fair, there is a coffee table. Chris does sit and listen respectfully, to Yo Gabba Gabba.

I remember how excited I was when he started eating food, and he really liked the pureed fruits and vegetables. I thought, “He LOVES carrots and sweet potatoes! We are on the path to a lifetime of healthy eating!” I kind of hurt my shoulder patting myself and Gerber on the back.

Then we switched to actual human food. “He will eat what you eat,” lied my pediatrician with a straight face. A little while later, my kid developed taste buds and opinions… seemingly simultaneously.

“Chris, here, try this broccoli! It’s like little trees.”

“No, thanks Mommy.” When pressed for a reason, he explained calmly, “It’s too yucky.” Can’t argue with that. They are his taste buds after all. I thought broccoli was yucky for a lot of years.

I refused to do the “You will sit at this table until you eat it,” spiel. Not to protect my darling child’s personality or sense of freedom, but because I knew I he would out-wait me. Dude’s got 300% more stamina than me.

Instead, I took note of what he would eat. Accidentally and disastrously praising him for finishing all of his M&Ms. Maybe the green ones have some chlorophyll in them.

In the long term battle over food, we’ve gradually reached a kind of food settlement. It has been agreed that his entrees will be pasta, pasta with cheese, chicken in nugget form, pizza and cereal. With badgering, he will pretend to eat peas, green beans or corn (canned). The only nutrition-related victory I get is that he will actually consume fruit voluntarily. And semi-annually, he will ask for and eat a can of peas for a snack.

During one of my fear-based Google jags, I found that, for toddlers, you should consider the caloric and nutritional intake for the week, not for the day or the year. I think, deep in my mind, I’ve over-expanded that. Now I eat a lot of fruits and vegetables in the hopes that what matters is the nutritional/caloric in-take for the household not the individuals. This would work out for us all, since Jeff and I could stand to lose a few pounds, and Chris needs the vitamins. Can’t figure out how to factor in the cats, though.

Life and Death-Trap

My husband and I bought our house (a fixer-upper) for its charm. We had two incomes, no kids and an interest in DIY, or at least an interest in the deep discount you can get for a house when it’s basically falling apart.

Then we had a baby, and the charm of the vaulted ceilings, tile floors and stone work quickly turned to terror. The high ceilings made way for the loft with its low railing and 15 foot drop. The floors, covered in hard tile, perfect for bruising clumsy toddler faces, turns slick as black ice when a drop of water falls on it. The fire place, is a place for FIRES. The pool. The pool haunted my nightmares.

As long as he was a baby loaf, it wasn’t too bad, We could set him in one of his multiple baby-holding devices and be relatively certain he would be safe. Once he gained mobility, though, the dangers loomed everywhere. It seemed easier to wrap him in breathable bubble wrap than baby-proof the house. In the end, we decided on corralling him in a large square baby prison for most of his waking hours and carrying him to any area of the house he needed to go.

This method worked pretty well and had the added benefit of making the rest of the house seem like an exciting vacation land to a kid.  “Do you want to go to the kitchen?”  “YEAH!!!”  He’d cry, clapping his chubby hands. I wish I had that kind of enthusiasm for going to the kitchen.

Eventually we relaxed the physical boundaries and replaced them with psychological ones. “Don’t EVER touch that handle!” we’d warn, pointing to the knob on door leading to the patio and the locked pool gate. “There are monsters and demons out there, who want to eat your hands!”

OK, well we didn’t do that, but we wanted to.  We do warn and remind and quiz. “You can ONLY go out there with a grown-up, it’s not safe out there, do you understand?” And he does. The door is also locked and he can’t reach the lock, but he’s clever. Lest you think that we are overstating things. We live in Florida, at the edge of a swamp erroneously named a lake. The paralyzing terror of the pool aside, it is dangerous out there. Florida wildlife pretty much exists to annoy, poison or kill.

As soon as he could toddle, we started daydreaming of selling our charming little deathtrap to a healthy, equally stupid, childless couple. It remains a daydream, because even if the house didn’t have thousands of incomplete DIY projects, we don’t even have the energy to keep it clean enough for potential home buyers to view it.

It doesn’t matter though, the new, safe home I imagine doesn’t exist. Each aspect of the fantasy home has some corresponding fear.  It is somewhere out of the city (crime), but not in the woods (animals) which leaves the suburbs (serial killers). It is one story (stair-falls), but the windows aren’t on the first floor (intruders). It is someplace warm (hypothermia, snow driving) but not too warm (snakes and biting insects). My brain’s capacity for imagining danger suddenly knows no bounds.  To talk myself down, I have to look at the facts: Billions of people survive childhood every year. My congested drive to the office verifies that, as they are all CLEARLY on the road, trying to cut me off. The problem is, how easy it is to become in my mind the parent of the one child who had the one freak accident. WHAT-IF haunts me. WHAT-IF never leaves and gains power all the time. WHAT-IF Is relentless, and it’s an asshole

Undeniable Roller Coaster

The kiddo found a plastic Easter egg in among his toys today. He picked it up an announced, “Oh!! We are going to have fun at school!”  And I knew he meant he wanted to bring it to school and show his friends. But they really aren’t allowed to bring toys, and I am very strict about it myself because I know that the silliest little thing can cause trouble.  So I had to tell him he could bring it in the car but not into school.  He was totally fine with that and didn’t cry at all. ButI felt so sad that I couldn’t let him do whatever he was imagining was going to be fun with that egg, it made me cry.

You could never have warned me about all the things that would make me elated and make me sad and make me scared about being a mom. I suppose that’s good, because I don’t know if anyone would sign up for this roller-coaster if they were properly warned, and it is undeniably the best thing I have ever done.

Cookie Addition

A ran an errand and when I came back Kiddo said: Mommy, I had a great day!

(I was gone for a 1/2 hour)

Me: You did?!! That’s great! What did you do?

C: I had a vanilla cookie, a vanilla cookie and a vanilla cookie and another vanilla cookie!

Daddy: He had 2.

C: Mommy??

Me: Yes?

C: I want a vanilla cookie.

Work/Life Balance is Bullsh*t

As I write this, it is October, and I have just discovered that this year, my son’s daycare has elected to close for the entire week of Christmas and the entire week of New Years. Of these 10 days (for which I am paying), I have exactly three guaranteed days off of work. This, I’m sure, is the case for most working parents. Possibly, since they sell themselves as a “preschool” instead of a “daycare” the owners feel justified in closing for that long, reasoning that other schools will be closed, why shouldn’t they?

I can’t help but think they misunderstand the purpose behind my son’s attendance at their establishment. I did not select this place because it is an elite learning academy. I chose it because it’s close to my house, is well established (this a requirement after TWO of his previous daycares closed suddenly) and is opened the minimum hours I need so that I can work my 40 hour/week job. Also, of course, the place seems safe.

When I questioned the administrator about the closing, she said if I find myself in need of “back-up” some of the teachers are available to contract for care. That was an interesting choice of words, and accidentally appropriate. When I think of “back-up,” images of TV cops frantically shouting into handsets spring to mind. That is actually about right. These people are robbing me, I should probably call for back-up.

I do wonder if there are people for whom this is not big deal. Folks that just send their kids in because they want them to have some contact with other kids, and maybe to learn something. I’ve seen some (many, actually) who drop their kids off in exercise clothes. I should say the moms are in exercise clothes, the kids are wearing the standard uniform. My friend chooses to believe they are all fitness instructors. I think that’s her generous way of not doing what I do. Which is to hate them with a violent envious passion. It’s my fault, not theirs. I’m sure they are all very nice people. And maybe they each have some work- or health-related issue that forces them to the gym daily.

The reason I hate them is because I can easily imagine they have what I want and can’t figure out how to get, balance, time… delicious freedom. I imagine after their work-outs, they shower leisurely, then meet friends for lattes at Starbucks. Or even more luxurious, they clean their homes. Oh who am I kidding, they don’t need to clean their homes, they have housekeepers.

This is pure speculation, and I will speculate. And then be jealous.

I have nothing personal against these women with the mystical magical lives. Maybe, if I gave them a chance, I could make friends with one of them, although trying to talk to someone with such a different life is like trying to communicate with an alien. Often, we smile politely and nod. I just can’t imagine what it must be like to have time to not need to be someplace. Also, I love being with my kid, and I like to sleep, so I can’t see myself waking up at 7 to take him somewhere he isn’t REQUIRED to be so I can go somewhere I’m not REQUIRED to be.

Even before I had a baby, I had to laugh at the concept of work/life balance. It’s in the handbooks of most of the places I’ve been employed. I know the employers mean it when they say, “We advocate good work/life balance,” but come on. Take 40 work hours, 5 hours of lunch, 5 or more hours of commuting, 3-4 hours of getting ready, then subtract the time spent sleeping, cleaning, buying groceries, cooking and eating, and there’s not much “life” left.

I do most of my life balancing in the evening, marveling at the cuteness of my son and letting the housework go undone. The mess is worth the time, and the potential mortification I would feel if anyone visited means i dont waste any of my limited moments hosting guests (although I spend some fearing guests). That’s as close as I get to balance, and any one little thing can throw everything off. For example, being absolutely furious about suddenly having to find “back-up” childcare to substitute for the care I’m already paying for. Honestly, the anger at the injustice of it is taking away valuable time.

So now I’m daycare shopping. That takes time too. I’ll tell you this though, i am typing this clumsily and slowly, because my son insists on holding my hand until he falls asleep, and that makes everything else seem like no big deal.