Jan 26, 2010
During the adventurous and oh-so-entertaining period which shall henceforth be referred to as The Epoch of Weaning, I used to pretend the carrot and mango purée stains on my son’s bibs were Rorschach tests. You wouldn’t believe what I saw. Once, I spotted Mary Poppins doing a handstand on top of her umbrella. Another time I made out a smack of jellyfish making its way up one side of the Eiffel Tower. You see, entertaining myself was required at such a madcap stretch. After all, at what other point in my life would I find myself squeezing my breasts into a bowl on the table so as to add the essential milk to the baby rice cereal?
Somewhere along the line, somebody (read: Annabel Karmel) convinced me that making all of my son’s food was the best way to ensure he received organic, nutrient-rich meals without any artificial ingredients, preservatives or disguised sugar. In preparation of W-Day, I lined up the army of accoutrement on the kitchen counter: a hand blender, colourful suction bowls, heat-sensitive baby spoons, bendy ice-trays, plastic baggies and markers to label and date them. Go Team Introducing Solids!
How exciting for my little guy; he was taking his first step on the path to pulverized pieces of pleasure, of macerated delights. And, after taking said step, he made it known that he did not care for baby rice cereal. That’s okay, it happens. He didn’t care for smashed bananas. That’s okay, it happens. He didn’t care for puréed pears, apples or sweet potatoes. Like I said, it happens. Take a deep breath and remember that the first stage of weaning is all about acquainting my son with new tastes and textures, helping him learn to take food from a spoon, and familiarising him with the process of moving food from the front of his mouth to the back and then swallowing. New day, new efforts. He didn’t care for porridge or parsnips or yogurt. He didn’t care for the first formula we tried, or the second, third or fourth. Time to consult the weaning experts again.
I quickly learned I was doing one thing wrong – microwaving my breast milk before adding it to the different purées. I’m sure I knew in the back of my head that I should not be doing this, but pair a seriously sleep-deprived mum with a crying baby in her arms, and the relatively new mother is bound to do silly things. I also learned that I was probably introducing solids at the wrong time, either when my son was too hungry (i.e. before his usual breastfeed) or too full (after his usual breastfeed). The recommendation was to pull my little suction cup off of the breast after he had half of his feed and then introduce him to the specials of the day. Easier than it sounds. There must be a support group somewhere for mothers who interrupt their little one’s feed.
No more microwaving my mammary gland rations and feed my son solids at a time that is – as Goldilocks would say – just right. Long live good advice; I soon discovered that my little munchkin liked avocados and mangos. This only happened with a few intermittent mental breakdowns though. Once while looking for the ingredients for a particular purée recipe, I trekked in a torrential downpour to six different markets. When a woman at the last market told me they didn’t have the sought after ingredient, I grabbed her, started crying and asked her to please hold me for a moment. The post-natal hormones were still hosting parties in the home known as me. Another time, I asked a stockist at a market if she knew which of the 150 yogurts on the shelves was the brightest-coloured. She gave me a funny look and said, “Now why would you want to know that?” I nearly replied, “Don’t ask any questions, just do as I say,” until I realised I wasn’t telling her to do anything; I simply had a query.
After a few days, I tried some of the previously rejected foods. Round two for the pears and apples. And with a friend’s suggestion to keep the food coming like one continuous stream (“that’s what babies are accustomed to up until now”), apples were now added to the catalogue of favoured crushed cuisine. Pears still did not make the cut.
At the same time the weaning experts said I should start moving from smooth purées to adding a little more texture, we took a trip to the US to visit family. I momentarily panicked as we were just starting to get into the groove of this weaning thing, and I was afraid that time, surroundings, and ingredient differences would mean that weaning was adjourned. Just the opposite happened. Perhaps because my parents were more relaxed about the whole liquids-to-solids state of affairs, or possibly because my son wanted to bypass the whole pulp provisions stage and go to the chunks, lumps and flavour stage, my little prince was introduced to and loved tortilla soup, rice and beans, salmon, asparagus, strawberries and whipped cream, and sherbet.
I laughed when one friend told me to make “yummy” sounds as I was introducing these new foods to my son. What exactly is a “yummy” sound? And surely my son can see how incongruous my wannabe scrummy sounds and facial expressions are. ‘Tis true that while tasting – and sometimes even smelling – some of his baby food, I gagged.
As he tasted and attempted to chew new foods, I would exaggerate my own chewing gestures, moving my jaw in a circular motion and smacking my lips. My mom said I looked like a giraffe chewing. This gave me a great idea. When I returned home to London, I found on youtube a great video of a giraffe chewing and decided to show it to my son, saying, “Would you look at what a great chewer he is, how his lips, tongue and jaw muscles all work in conjunction. Now that is something to strive for.”
I admit to weaning envy when my friends were able to feed their precious offspring spaghetti Bolognese and cottage pie. Alas, we were progressing to the next stages at our own pace. We moved to solid foods at two and eventually at three feeds. And with all his new teeth, my little guy favoured chicken, cheese and carrots. One fellow mum told me that she learned in her first aid class that carrots are the main food that little ones choke on and as such, I developed a paranoia. Every time I fed my son carrots, if he stopped chewing for more than 2.5 seconds – at which time I assumed the unchewed carrot was making its way down his throat, causing him to start choking – I would make him cough up what was in his mouth. To this day, I think he believes that that’s how carrots are eaten – chewed for a while and then spit out. Oh dear.
Once, while at the health visitor for a routine check-up, I told her that my little guy was addicted to butter. He wanted butter on everything or even by itself with a spoon. She said there was no harm in him eating butter all the time, so long as it didn’t upset his stomach. I know it upset one fellow mum’s stomach when we all got out our respective child’s lunches and began feeding the little angels. She asked what the blob in the little blue bowl was, and I told her butter. She asked, “He eats it by itself?” I said, “Oh, ya, he loves the stuff.” I witnessed this strange movement in her throat and mouth, indicating that she might just heave.
My little prince and I entered the next stage, during which he started to show his love for bread, eggs and chips (fries, as they are called on the other side of the pond). Now that he was over a year old, he was now also able to eat peanut butter, and eat peanut butter he did. If he had it his way, he could sit with the jar and a spoon and likely finish the entire jar. This always made me question whether the foods we eat as pregnant women affect the likes and dislikes of our babies. I ate peanut butter all through those nine months. And to the dismay of obstetricians and paediatricians the world over, I also ate a lot of ice cream and chocolate – both foods my son now favours.
After witnessing my son’s eating habits, one friend said that he should definitely be taking vitamins. She recommended vitamin drops, and upon her counsel, I added them to his fruity morsels du jour. All went pear-shaped (no pun intended) as he started to shoot out pieces of half-chomped fruit, with projectile vitamin liquid to follow.
Another friend said she read that we should never give our babies diet drinks, tea or coffee. I couldn’t resist. I told her, “But in my baby nutrition book, it says that as the baby becomes increasingly used to eating solids, he or she should be learning to fit in with what the family eats. I figure I drink coffee a few times a day, so why not give Enlai some too.” She looked stunned. Once again, I thought someone might call Child Protection Services on me, or at the very least, the Baby Nutrition Police. And because her stunned look didn’t go away for at least seven minutes, I felt it necessary to invite her to the next playdate, when I planned to have the How a Sense of Humour Can Save a New Mother chitchat.
While it seemed brilliant advice at the time, the suggestion to use cookie cutters to make different-shaped foods so as to entice my little sweetie to try new grub backfired. Ultimately, he only wanted dinosaur-shaped sandwiches, teddy bear-shaped pancakes and star-shaped papayas. Not easy to accommodate when we’re away from home, and he refused to eat the food in its usual shape. Using a butter knife, I tried to carve a diplodocus into a tuna sandwich, and it came out looking like a tyrannosaurus rex ate the diplodocus for lunch and then spewed out the bits he didn’t want.
Both a comical and sometimes exasperating experience, weaning endowed me with yet more patience, as well as much-needed insight into my own eating habits (since when are truffles, brioche and gingerbread lattés not food groups?). And now that we’ve got the solids stuff down, it’s time to get the sharing, manners and tidying up bits and pieces down. Wish me Godspeed. Or at least some Häagen-Dazs at the end of what may be exhausting months ahead.