It's a little bit like dinner at our house. We know that sitting together at the table is what's "best" for our family so we try to do it as often as possible. But there's just no getting around it - family dinner kind of sucks.
We always start off optimistic. I set the table with cloth napkins, light our special dinner candle and turn on some music. I convince myself that even though Liam has hated pretty much every dinner since he was 15 months old, this one is going to be different. Because tonight there are choices! And new tastes he'll like! And condiments! No garlic or black pepper came within a five food radius of anything on his plate. THIS will be the meal that changes everything!
But then, before we even sit down, it's over. He whines about coming to the table and tells me he will not try anything new. I remind him about the rules - he has to have a good attitude and at least taste everything on his plate (how much he eats is up to him). Then he attempts to remind me of his rules (ahem) and I feel my patience slipping. Bill and I try not to focus on him while we eat our dinner and do our best to model good behavior - asking, "How was your day?" and trying to come up with interesting responses - but we can feel the energy slowly draining from our bodies. Watching Liam not eat dinner for the 1277th day in a row (I did the math and everything!) is sucking our will to live. Soon we're getting frustrated and slipping into old habits. "I don't care if you already had a taste. A taste is not dinner! Take some bites! Now! Seriously, Liam. TAKE A BITE!!!"
Surely that's not what the experts are pushing on families, right? Frustration, anger, threats, bribery, impatience, irritation...that can't be what's best for my family. It almost makes me feel good about the nights we end up letting Liam eat macaroni and cheese while we watch Wheel of Fortune together. At least we're happy!
It's not that we don't like hanging out together without Pat and Vanna. We do. We really do! It's just the picky eating thing is such a killer. If you haven't experienced it, it's...mind numbing. Like three times a day for the past four years I've sort of wanted to gouge my own eyes out. Liam's way better than he used to be (I swear he only ate oatmeal, bananas, apples, goldfish crackers and peanut butter for like an entire year) and he's come a million miles since turning four (he doesn't even gag when I make him try something new any more!), but he's still a pain in the ass date for dinner.
I think part of it is he's just picky (or selective or sensitive or whatever...), but part of it is totally our fault. We had NO IDEA what we were doing when we introduced him to food. We never let him get messy and after the initial baby food period ended (the only part that made sense to us), we just sort of froze. Our pediatrician told us to give him whatever we were eating but that seemed crazy. He barely had any teeth! He was just a baby! So we ignored him completely, stocked up on graham crackers and never looked back.
Pretty smart, huh? Of course I didn't know exactly how not smart it was until it was too late. Poor first born children...they're like adorable little guinea pigs who have to just wait around for their dumb ass parents to figure things out.
Liam was two when I started babysitting for a six month old who had just began to eat solids. One evening when her dad picked her up he said, "I just have to ask - how do you keep her clean all day? When we feed her at home she gets covered head to toe in baby food!" Initially I thought, "Gross! Why don't you just hold her arms out of the way while you quickly shove neat little spoonfuls into her mouth like I do?" But then, almost immediately, I was like, "Ohhh...so that's how you feed a baby!" It sunk in even deeper as I watched her grow into a really great eater.
Not long after that I read an article (probably in that damn Parent's magazine) that described a one year old with his first birthday cake. He sits there looking at it for a while before reluctantly touching the frosting. He feels it on his hand, looks at it intently and then pounds it into the tray of his high chair. He gets more of the frosting in his hand, maybe a little of the cake too, and squishes it between his chubby fingers, watching it, feeling it, experiencing it. Maybe he mashes some of it into his hair or, let's be honest, his ear. At some point the dog definitely licks some off of his face. People love it. They take pictures and ooh and aah. It's his birthday - let him throw cake! No one seems concerned with whether any of the cake gets into his mouth or not. I mean, who's going to force a baby to eat cake? Eventually though, he'll probably taste it. He might even love it! Or not. But the point is not what he eats; it's that he's learning how to eat.
And that is how all meals at this age should look.
When I read that I was floored. No wonder Liam didn't know how to eat - he was never given a chance to learn! We kept him neat and tidy, feeding him with a spoon what he couldn't easily feed himself. We never just stuck a bunch of food (rice, pasta, whatever) on his high chair tray and let him figure it out. Not once! And by the time we realized his eating habits were lacking, the window of opportunity to learn had long since closed.
Thank goodness for second babies! They benefit from all the trial-and-error the first borns had to endure plus countless bits of information that seeped into their parents brains over the years.
Needless to say, Finn's meals look nothing like Liam's. Instead of being focused on the bottom line (how many jars of baby food did he eat? do I have to change his outfit?), we're trying to let go and enjoy the experience.
Also, he's a mess! I let him hold the spoon, the bowl, the waffle...whatever he wants.
If he wants to bang the bowl on the table and throw food all over the floor, I really try to encourage him (but, wow, do I miss my dog).
It's amazing to me that even though he doesn't have a single tooth, he can totally eat real food. He's successfully eaten avocados, sweet potatoes, berries, pancakes, rice, beans, enchiladas, pasta, oatmeal...you name it! The only thing he doesn't seem to really enjoy is baby food. What a riot!
I am hopeful that all these messes will help Finn foster really healthy eating habits. As for Liam, I suppose he isn't doing that bad. He eats a pretty wide range of food now and will (reluctantly) taste anything I ask him to. But he doesn't really get hungry (like, ever) and eats slower than I could ever make you believe. For example - this morning he wanted to play "Cafe Mama" where I was the waitress and he was the customer (you know, unlike usual). So I made a menu, took his order, refilled his water glass, the whole business. He ordered some dry Life cereal, circle crackers, graham crackers and string cheese for his appetizer, cinnamon toast for his breakfast and chocolate pudding for dessert (maybe an a la carte menu was a bad idea...). Two hours later he was ready for his check. TWO HOURS! I'm not even exaggerating. He ate almost every bite that he ordered but it literally took him all morning (we had to stop to make the pudding, but still - it was instant!). Multiply that by three times a day and you can see why I am crossing my fingers that letting Finn play with his food will set us on a different trajectory. Oh please, oh please, oh please...
If not, at least he's enjoying the process!
What do you do with your picky eaters? I am about 99.9% sure I need to just LET GO and let Liam take over but it's tough. I'm pretty sure he'll starve to death if I don't remind him not to and I just can't have that on my conscious. Thoughts? Ideas? Spill it!