Aidan builds a tower of blocks in his playpen while I feed the cats and boil up quinoa flakes with strawberries, blueberries and a peach from our tree. Occasionally, he stands up and shouts “Mama!” I explain that I’ll take him out of his playpen as soon as the cats have eaten their breakfast. Don’t want him to get into the cat food, which he’d surely do if I let him roam prematurely.
Finally both Jack and Maggie have had a chance to lap at their minced salmon, so I put the leftovers outside, wipe up the sticky bits they’ve left on the floor and let boo out of his cell.
I wrangle him into a bib (“I’m gonna getcha, I’m gonna getcha,” giggle giggle, catch him, velcro it on). Usually I’d carry him over to his little table and place his sweet bottom on one of the little chairs he can’t quite get into himself, but today he’s pushed the chair into the kitchen, so I plop him into it and give him a ride to the table. He giggles at the novelty. I’m psyched, thinking he’s psyched. He points at the yogurt container, babbles at the spoons I’ve chosen, one for him, one for me…the energy is high.
I sit down in the other little chair facing him. Fill a spoon with yogurt. Lift it to his lips. Nothing. He grunts. Pushes it away. I hand him the other spoon. He throws it on the floor, points at his moose sitting on a chair across the room, says, “Moooo.” I fetch the moose, put it on the table with his spoon. Try another bite. “No.” He picks up his spoon. I push the yogurt dish toward him. He dips in the spoon, pulls it out, drips yogurt all over the table. He fixates on the lid to the cereal dish. Bangs it on the dish. I show him how it snaps on. He shakes the dish like a rattle, pushes it toward me to take the lid off. I pull it off, he puts it back on, pushes it toward me to rip it off again. He dunks in his spoon, gets a big bite of cereal on it. (I pray.) He throws it on the floor. I pick it up, rinse it off, bring it back to the table. He points at the tractor he’s thrown on the floor. I pick it up. He points at the train he’s thrown on the floor, the moose, babbles frantically in a tone I’ve learned means, “Gimmegimmegimme. Gimmegimme, mom.” I give them all to him (my RIE teacher cringing in my head), pray again, hold a spoonful of yogurt to his lips. “No.” I hold his face still (as one RIE dad suggested, his daughter needs to have that first bite, get into a groove, a suggestion that surprisingly did not make my teacher choke), try to force in that one bite. He tightens his lips, turns his head. I hand him his spoon again. He dunks it in the yogurt, drips it all over the table, looks up at me with big, not-quite-innocent eyes.
“That’s it,” I say. “No more.” I pick up both spoons, both dishes, put them next to the sink. Pick up the table itself, leaving him alone in his little chair, rinse it off. I’m not being nice about it. I’m pissed. He sits in his little seat, looks up at me. What, mom? Isn’t this how it goes everyday?
Last night I thought we’d had a breakthrough. We went through this whole song and dance and once I’d gotten up in a huff he started banging on the refrigerator door. I opened it and picked him up, thinking I just hadn’t chosen right. I pulled out some sliced turkey and got a strong reaction, so holding him in my arms at the counter, I fed him almost three slices, tiny bite-sized pieces at a time. He went to bed full.
This morning after the hissy fit just like last night’s, I open the fridge and let him take a look. He points at the yogurt. “You want yogurt?! I just gave you yogurt!” I offer him another bite. He refuses it. I give him a piece of bread. He gnaws on it for a minute, dumps it on the floor. “How about an almond butter and jelly sandwich?” I put a piece of bread in the toaster. I spread almond butter and jam, pull off a little piece for him. He eats it.
He walks around and around and around the kitchen island. Every time he comes through the kitchen I place a bite into his mouth. He chews and smiles and swallows and walks around and around and around.
By the time he’s finished, he’s eaten almost half a PB&J (AB&J). I’m satisfied. When you’ve got a baby who won’t eat, whatever it takes to fill his belly, right?
Not according to Catriona, my RIE teacher. She told me he doesn’t get five spoons (or, presumably, two spoons, a tractor, a train and a moose) at the table and he only gets to eat what I offer and when I offer it: I’m not a short-order cook. She says I’m in charge. I picture in my head how mealtimes should go and insist on that plan. He doesn’t get to eat whatever he wants whenever he wants it. She told me about the different types of parents—authoritarian, permissive, authoritative—and how kids of authoritarian parents rebel, kids of permissive parents go off the deep end, and kids of authoritative parents do just fine. We must define boundaries and then uphold them. Babies crave rules and routines. They push against them to test them, but they want them to be there and they want them to be solid. It’s up to me to offer the same exact meal routine (bath routine, bed routine) and he will appreciate it, find it comforting, eventually succumb.
What about when your baby wants something different every single time? When he won’t eat anything you offer? When he’ll only eat little bites of an almond butter sandwich when circling the kitchen island half an hour after breakfast has been shut down? Catriona conceded that this would be frustrating.