Not What I’d Intended

Posted: August 3rd, 2006 | Author: | Filed under: Friends and Strangers, Miss Kate | 2 Comments »

Growing up my godparents, Mimi and Uncle Ant, lived next door. They never had children of their own. As Mimi puts it, “The only thing that ever ran around my house was a picket fence.” So, with their physical proximity and the closeness that our families had in that good old-fashioned neighbor way, Mimi and Uncle Ant were like grandparents to me. Wonderful kind Italian Americans who taught me about my heritage (i.e. how to swear in Italian), fed me often and well, and both corrected my ways and boasted about my accomplishments like family.

It should be known that Mimi and Uncle Ant were set in their ways. Dinner at 5:00, basement tools organized to perfection, and never so much as a mote of dust wafting through their living room. Comparatively, the Bruno girls, as my sisters and I were known, were a catastrophic train wreck–always late, wrinkled clothes, arguing with each other in inappropriate places, and invariably cutting the cord on the hedge trimmers we’d borrow from them. Typical family stuff, as my mother would rationalize. Mimi and Uncle Ant were the way they were because they didn’t have kids, she’d say. Kids force you to be flexible. (I can’t help but think that even with a family you’d be able to bounce quarters off the beds in their house.)

Like all good Italians, Mimi and Uncle Ant were into food. Mimi and her sister (and neighbor) Mary could cook a meal that would make a dead man salivate. And in that finicky perfectionist way of his, Uncle Ant could always find fault with it. “Emily!” he’d bellow. “You overcooked the spaghetti! And what’s with the olives? You know I hate olives!” Uncle Ant was a renowned picky eater.

So, whenever I’d mince my way around a pickled beet or a tomato as a kid, my mother would sigh and call me “a little Uncle Ant.” And instead of being put off by the comparison, I loved it. In fact, Uncle Ant (short for Anthony, if you were wondering) and I used the food thing as a platform for some serious intergenerational bonding. “Mushrooms!” we’d cry. “Blech! Who’d ever want to eat those?” Even as my palate matured and there were fewer foods I was averse to, it remained my favorite way of getting Uncle Ant going.

When I was pregnant Mark and I would crawl into bed at night and sometimes talk about the things that were important to each of us as parents-to-be. Sometimes it’d be spurred on my some friend’s kid who we’d seen that day. “Our kid will eat all different kinds of food,” I’d say. “Definitely,” Mark would agree. “I don’t want her living off of mac and cheese.”

Making your child a different meal than yours every night not only took extra time, but it showed that the kid ruled the roost. “There will be one dinner in our house, and one only!” I’d proclaim. “This is what’s for dinner, boy-o. Love it or leave it.” Besides, there’s something cool about being able to feed your kid pate in front of other people—like our friends, the gastronomically-advanced Surh kids–and have him eat it without batting an eyelash. We’re foodies, therefore our child will also like food. Right?

Ah well. Ten months in I’ve already caved. In an attempt to get Kate to eat something tonight, here is what I offered her:

1. Multi-grain toast
2. Monterey Jack cheese
3. A scrambled egg yolk (babies her age can’t eat whites for some reason…)
4. A nectarine
5. Summer Vegetable Medley baby food
6. Peas and Brown Rice baby food
7. Sweet Potato and Turkey baby food
8. Oatios (organic Cheerios)
9. Puffs (Gerber cereal that’s probably packed with preservatives, chemicals, and carcinogens)

Of these NINE items, she ate a small ration of Oatios, and of course, some Preservative Puffs. God help me.

I think I’ve been a pretty patient and easy-going mother, but the one thing that has driven me to call Mark in a “when-are-you-getting-home-I-need-back-up-fast” fit, is The Dinner Stand-Off. All I want is for her to eat something. Preferably something with some nutritional value. And not cry and wimper and whine throughout the whole meal. Is that so wrong?

Where most parents probably want this for their kids, I’ve got a strong streak of the Italian “need to feed” thing. When we first introduced solids, Mark asked me when he was feeding her how much food to give her. “I don’t know,” I said. “I just feed her until she cries.” And I wasn’t kidding. I’d just keep spooning in that rice cereal until she had to wail in protest, in lieu of being able to say, “Enough already! Back off with the spoon, lady!”

So she wasn’t always so picky. But now her will has sprung forth fully-formed. I come at her with a piece of fruit and she pushes against the high chair tray and turns her head while clamping her lips shut. I must say, she’s gotten good at screaming with her mouth closed. When she used to let her guard down on the lockjaw, we’d often sneak in a spoonful. No such luck these days.

Tonight I finally gave up. It’s getting to the point where I’m fearful that the neighbors are going to wonder what I’m doing to her every evening when they hear her screams from our open windows. Running on the “she’ll eat when she’s hungry” assumption, I took her out of the high chair red-faced and wailing and minutes later plunked a cheerful babbling baby into the bath tub. Move her from one room to the next and you’d never guess it was the same kid.

What everyone seems to say is that at this age everything comes in phases–both good and bad. So, when your kid is sleeping through the night, don’t get cocky and tell your friends. Next week he’ll start teething and be up every two hours. I’m hopeful that’s the case with Miss Kate and her food issues, though Uncle Ant was 92 when he died last year, and he was a picky eater to the very end.


2 Comments on “Not What I’d Intended”

  1. 1 Megan K. said at 2:50 pm on August 4th, 2006:

    Don’t feel bad. Ella had pizza crust and watermelon for lunch today. I’ve heard you should look at a baby/toddler’s diet in terms of days, not meals. And I’m buying it. It’s what saves me from feeling like a bad mother. Plus, you have to pick your battles — and I’ve discovered that this is one battle that I’m never going to win!

  2. 2 Melanie said at 4:26 pm on August 7th, 2006:

    oh, that sounds too familiar. the tray covered with food, the floor covered with what gab’s could get off the tray before i caught it… and the concern that she will wither away on a diet of formula and cheerios… the joys of motherhood! but the babysitter gets a daily shot – good because i can share some of the pain, but bad b/c i have to hear someone else voice the “would not eat” refrain! again, the joys of motherhood. so one of these days we will catch this on video and when she is grown and will only drink veuve and eat oysters from japan and homemade pate (her dad makes it), i will look back and remember where it all started…

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