I was kind of excited to give my son food for the first time because I love food. Not making it, but eating it. And also because the books you read about having a baby portray all of the milestones as being kind of magical. “Giving him his first solid food? It’ll be magical! Experimenting with different tastes? It’ll be magical!” And then I got all excited going, “Oh great, this will be one of those heartfelt, magical moments. It’ll be totally magical!” And then I actually do it and it isn’t magical at all, and I’m sitting there going, “THIS WAS SUPPOSED TO BE MAGICAL! WHEN DOES THE MAGICAL PART HAPPEN? WHY WAS THIS NOT AS MAGICAL AS PROMISED?!”
I had read books talking about how to encourage children to try different tastes—how to get them used to eating a more adventurous, more varied diet. I had heard mothers cooing with pride over their children’s love of avocado or their children’s constant requests for sashimi. I once watched a small girl in a restaurant order and devour escargot. I loved the chapter in “Blood, Bones & Butter” where Gabrielle Hamilton unknowingly serves the enthusiastic, food-appreciative daughter of Mark Bittman at a summer camp. And I remember thinking, “That could be me! I could have a kid like that!”*
(*A child like the avocado-eating kid: There’s no way a child of mine is going to be as culinarily-advanced as the child of Mark Bittman, since most evenings my own dinner is Cream of Wheat, snap peas, and a cupcake.)
And so when he reached 6 months of age, I sat my son down in his highchair with a spoon and a small container of pureed sweet potatoes.
“Are you taking a video?” my sister asked. She mentioned that when her son had tried food for the first time she had taken a video.
“Oh, Ok, I’ll take a video,” I said.
HOW THE VIDEO WAS GOING TO GO IN MY MAGICAL DREAM FANTASY OF “FIRST TIME EATING” VIDEOS
1. As a couple, we lovingly say the date, which also flashes in the bottom corner of the screen, the way it did in the old VHS videos my dad used to take.
2. Jonathan playfully turns the camera toward me and I nervously wave it away, going, “Don’t get me on camera! I look terrible!” even though in this fantasy dream video I look totally great and I’m just being modest.
3. Jonathan and I both go, “Ok, so this is his first time eating solid foods!” and sort of talk over each other, which causes us both to laugh goofily at the charming clumsiness of our video attempt
4. I go, “Airplane! Here comes the airplane!” and the baby smiles and opens his mouth.
5. I get most of the food into his mouth, but a whole bunch of it gets on his face (What a mess! Babies are the craziest!) and it gets all over his hands and on my shirt and the three of us all laugh and laugh. I try again with another spoonful, and he eats it and enjoys it but makes a huge, hilarious mess.
6. Jonathan turns the camera toward me again and there’s food everywhere (but it’s fine! We are laughing!) and maybe there is even a little bit of food on the lens of the camera, and Jonathan goes, “Is that a wrap? All done?” And I do a pretend angry smirk at having to clean up all these sweet potatoes, but secretly I think the whole thing is adorable.
7. Sunlight streams in through the windows, lighting all of our faces perfectly, as if we were a family of models in a high-end photoshoot for a design magazine. The baby gazes up at us and smiles, overjoyed that we are his parents.
8. We immediately e-mail the video to my mother, which is what we do with all videos of the baby.
HOW THE VIDEO ACTUALLY WENT
1. We go, “Ok, this is his first time eating solid foods!” And we “airplane” the spoon into his mouth.
2. The baby promptly spits out everything we put in his mouth.
3. The baby then refuses to open his mouth again.
4. I try to trick the baby into opening his mouth.
5. The baby is not tricked.
6. I try to trick him another way.
7. He is briefly tricked. I get half the spoon into his mouth before he realizes what is happening and begins to cry hysterically.
8. Baby cries hysterically and does not stop.
9. I feel like two cents.
10. Baby continues to hysterically cry and Jonathan goes, “Ok, let’s stop filming?”
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I was worried.
Maybe he doesn’t like sweet potatoes, I thought. Maybe he likes peas. WRONG. You know how much normal people hate genocide and the horrors of human cruelty? That is how much he hates peas. But wait, what about peas with pears? No, he also hates those. “Apples!” you are saying. “Try apples!” I tried feeding him apples, and from the faces he made, you would think I was feeding him diarrhea and human hair. Broccoli? Didn’t work. Peaches? Of course not! For the record, this is a child who enthusiastically eats his shampoo when I try to bathe him, but peaches? Let’s not be ridiculous.
And for a couple months he ate—nothing. People would say, “He’s so big– has he started solids?” and I did not know how to answer. No? Sort of? If they had asked, “Do you sit him down every day and playfully push a spoon at his face until you both become visibly upset and he begins frantically sobbing?” I would say, “Why yes! That is exactly what I have been doing! Clearly you have been watching the video surveillance footage of my kitchen!”
People suggested tricking him into opening his mouth. Or putting something sweet at the front of the spoon. People said to give him formula first so that he wouldn’t be starving. Or to feed him BEFORE giving him formula, so that he’d eat more because he was starving. They suggested making the puree thicker. Or less thick. Or they suggested letting him feed himself. I tried everything. Nothing worked. He ate nothing.
Every day I dreaded trying to feed him. Some days I didn’t bother. People would say encouraging things like, “Oh, it’s normal that babies spit up a lot of what they eat,” but I wanted to say, “You are not understanding this. He is spitting up 100% of what he is eating, and that is when I am able to get it into his mouth at all.” I am trying everything. He would have been more amenable to my sitting him down every day to draw blood. He began to hate his high chair by association.
My dreams of having the well-balanced avocado-eating kid went down the tubes. This was not a child who would ever request chervil on his eggs. This was not a child who would enthusiastically ask me to order him a Perigord salad. Forget about my previous worry of having him grow up into an adult who ate nothing but grilled cheese—I now had a child who refused to eat anything.
I talked to my doctor who reiterated that my son should be eating from a spoon by this point. He was so big, she said. He should be eating. I should try harder. It went on like this for over two full months. Sit. Attempt to feed. Frantically try to trick him into opening his mouth. Failure. Crying. And baby would reach for a bottle, hoping to drown his sorrows in formula. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
And it was after yet another failed feeding session, tears streaming down his face, that I watched him frantically comforting himself as he drank his formula. And I saw the relief on his face and realized suddenly, “He’s not comforting himself with his formula, he’s comforting himself with his bottle. The same way he used to comfort himself with his pacifier. How was I so much of an idiot that I did not realize this earlier?” And so after 20 minutes of flatly refusing to eat pureed vegetables from a spoon, I gave him the exact same pureed vegetables in a bottle. Which he immediately ate. I tried it the next day, and he happily ate them again. I immediately Googled, “feeding a baby vegetable purees from a bottle” and was met with the online consensus that feeding a child pureed vegetables from a bottle was slightly less responsible than abandoning your child in the bathroom of a church. Women responded, saying things like, “Oh no no no no no! Do NOT do this! If they’re old enough to eat they should be eating from a spoon.”
Feeling terrible, I went back to the spoon the next day. He, not surprisingly, ate nothing.
And so I was faced with every mother’s least favorite decision in the world: Do you listen to what everyone in the entire world says is best for the baby? Or do you trust your gut, even though everyone will think you are a lunatic and, if anything goes wrong, everyone will blame you and whatever it is you did that you were not supposed to do.
I took the vegetable puree and poured it back into his bottle.
He happily drank it. He would drink anything. Sweet potatoes. Peas. Broccoli. Apples. Where before it would take me 30 or 40 minutes with no success, suddenly he was the wonderful baby who would try anything. I mentioned to my doctor what I was doing and she said, “He really should really be eating from a spoon,” and my husband and I nodded, and as soon as she left the room we looked knowingly at each other. Yes, he should be. But he wasn’t. So rather than force the issue, we continued to give him different foods in his bottle, which he continued to eat. I always supervised his eating in case anything strange happened. Nothing ever did. But I supervised it regardless.
My son didn’t hate food, he (for whatever reason) hated eating from spoons. Once I figured that out, he was more than willing to try different things. And maybe I am a terrible mother and should have listened to the doctor and the random women weighing in online. Or maybe I am totally fine with what I did. Or maybe I am somewhere halfway between the two things, which is usually the answer.
My son is eating more and is trying more foods. He doesn’t hate his high chair anymore. He doesn’t resent me for wanting him to try pureed carrots or bananas. He doesn’t cry when I feed him.
And the other day, just to see what would happen, I took a little of the puree out of his bottle and put it onto a spoon. He looked up at me curiously, and I waited for him to open his mouth. And he did. And I put the spoon into his mouth and he ate everything that was on it, getting only a little bit on his face. And I smiled, because I was so thrilled, and he smiled back at me. And I gave him another spoonful, which he also ate. He was so sweet and so happy, and I was so proud of both of us.
I opened the bottle and fed him the rest of his vegetables from a spoon.
It’s such a shame that I didn’t manage to catch it on video: The sunlight was streaming in through the window and my hair looked great that day.
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