Why does Weetabix, if not cleaned up within seconds of being smeared around every available inch of a kitchen and child, set to the general consistency of concrete? So tired have I become of frantically scrubbing the stuff from the teething-sore, gnome-like red cheeks of my cherubic 14 month old Angus that we’ve moved onto porridge. Until this morning when he upturned the entire bowl onto his head. Getting gloopy oats from the hair of a screaming one year old isn’t my idea of the perfect Saturday morning.
Food and its many fun facets, is a sensitive subject in our house at the moment. I have a baby who prefers ambling with one of his sister’s sparkly bags around his neck to sitting in grateful anticipation of the nutritional treats lovingly prepared by his caring parent
The highchair is his personal hell. Screams ensue. Lips are squeezed together with a determination previously unseen in a little chap who is, apart from mealtimes, a pleasure to be around. The brief victory of coaxing a splodge of pureed vegetables through the vice-like clamp of his jaw is soon eclipsed by the howls of anguish as he promptly spits the whole lot out again by blowing an exuberant raspberry.
Yes, I have one of those children. For all you mums who are now looking fondly at the rotund arms of your own little angels, you know me and my ilk. You’ve seen us in cafes, the floor under and around us strewn with the aftermath of another lunch time battle. As you’ve effortlessly fed your placid child, whose mouth opens with a winning smile of anticipation at the sight of the approaching spoon, you have tried to stop your fascinated eyes wandering to the mother in the corner who has apple puree in her hair and an elegant drip of fromage frais hanging delicately from her left shoulder. You pack up your empty lunch pots; shake your head in wonder, and thank your lucky stars for your happy little eater.
Those empty pots of the neighborouring mother, that willing, smiling baby, full of organic vegetables and peach slices, used to leave me weeping silently in the baby changing room. But no longer, I am relieved to say. You see, I’ve been through all this before. My baby is a carbon copy of my eldest child in all matters food related. I had to feed her wearing full body armour (well, Kath Kidston pinny and eye goggles) as she spat out 90% of what we fed her to a range of several metres. What little time I spent away from attempting to force food into her was taken up with cleaning up the war zone like mess which resulted from each battle. I watched the effortless feeding times of friends and strangers alike with an envy not experienced since teenage shopping days with classmates who were given their child support money for clothes. I spent anxious evenings reading Annabel Karmel and planning the next day’s assault on young taste buds. All to no avail. Nothing I did made the slightest difference. Well-meaning friends would peer around the folds of their chubby offspring at my nutritionally defective nutter of a baby and offer their own babies favourite meals as enticement ‘What about a lovely bit of mashed avocado, Elizabeth’ they’d say confidently, proffering a spoon in her general vicinity, little knowing that avocado, when spit by a professional regurgitator, could stain a helpful friend’s clothes horribly.
I know I’m not alone in ‘the child that won’t eat’ world. One of my dearest friend’s daughters is such a mass of frenetic activity that she rarely has time in her busy, Barbie-filled schedule, to eat. Every meal is a fiddling mass of commotion whilst she plans her great escape back to the world of unicorns and play dough. Her mother has, after years of angst got it down to an art form. Chicken, gravy, veg. Eat, then off you go. Mix it up occasionally with a bowl of spag bol and you have a healthy, happy and utterly lovely child. Not that evidence of health and happiness affects the way we mothers of reluctant eaters see our children. Not in a world where nutritional scare stories have become a national pastime.
All my food related maternal breast beating and guilt (you know what I mean; the ‘it must be my fault’ etc) disappeared practically overnight when I began to wean my second child. I popped her into the high chair and she opened her tiny mouth, like the angel she is, and I tentatively placed the spoonful of baby rice in… and she ate it. Yes, it was as simple as that. She simply took the food and swallowed it. And every meal was the same, honestly, for years. It was like feeding a little hungry bird; mouth open every time. Ah ha! I thought, with that Euclidian moment of self-realisation. It’s not me! It’s not my crap parenting! It’s all down to the child!! So, when my third settles into his comedic shift at the dinner table, gazing round expectantly at his audience as he throws his banana down in a squelchy mess onto the floor and refuses every mouthful of food with the tenacity of a prisoner on a starvation crusade, I remind myself that it is not me, it will end, and that it seems, from past (admittedly anecdotal) experience, that small people thrive when they appear to eat almost nothing.
Just for the record, for any one out there with a baby or toddler with similar mealtime aversions to wee Angus; my eldest child now eats with a ravenous intensity that would put a teenage boy to shame. She loves her food, will eat pretty much anything put in front of her and no longer spits. Much. ✿