29 September 2011

Adventures in food

Gabriel ate his first peanut butter and jelly sandwich today. He loved it. It's my fault for withholding this principal childhood pleasure from him, because I'm not really a fan of peanut butter and jelly, and I tend to give him food that I'm eating or would at least care to eat if he doesn't finish.

I showed him the inside of the sandwich to get him interested in eating it, and he went "Ooooh!" then snarfed the thing down. He managed to get gobs of jelly inside the bib of his overalls (how?), and his face and hands were covered with schmutz, but boy it was worth it to watch him enjoy that sandwich.


We thought he had an allergic reaction to a kiwi the other night. We've been relieved that no allergies seemed to appear so far, and had sort of relaxed about it. When he started crying and wiping his tongue, and then we imagined we saw a red rash around his mouth. I thought, hadn't he eaten kiwi before? Is kiwi a known allergen? We got concerned and kept him awake a little extra to observe and we got on doctor google. But then we saw that his lip was a little swollen in just one place, and it turns out he had bit the inside of his lip pretty hard, and he was fine, and the red was just because we wipe his mouth so much. [Update: seems that he really did have a reaction to kiwi. It, um, came through the pipeline (we could tell because of the kiwi seeds), and he had a terrible red diaper area, and was waddling around in pain. So what we thought was a bite...wasn't? Or he must have bitten his mouth because of the pain? Or broken skin from the rash? Or the mouth was swollen so he couldn't help but bite it? An hour or so later, the red had died down so we were convinced it was just regular chapped skin.]

The pediatrician we saw in Spain were shocked about American laxity in terms of infant food introduction. "In America, they allow children under two to have red fruits!," she declared, shocked. I told them I heard that the new research seemed to indicate that unless allergies run in the family, exposure sooner or later won't affect the severity of the allergy and there's no greater risk introducing the food after a year. The doctor looked at me grimly: "I know." And apart from allergies, it's interesting to see what "baby" foods are different: in Barcelona, soft fish is one of the first and most basic foods for babies and toddlers. In America, it's like, "your kid eats fish!?" I'm not even sure what differences there are here in Belgium, but I'm sure we'll find out.


Most of the time Gabriel eats what we eat for dinner, but when I second guess him, he always triple guesses me. To wit: last night I made soba noodles and green beans in a dashi/soy sauce broth for us. I didn't think Gabriel would like it (plus thought it might be too salty for him) so I made him regular letter-shaped pasta with green beans. Once he saw what we were eating, he unceremoniously dumped his bowl out and begged for the soba. Which he slurped with such abandon that in Japan he would have been the picture of politeness. He ate the soba green beans but not the letter pasta green beans, although he did abandon (after trying, at least) the cabbage and scallions we used to top off our bowls.

To be sure, if I served him the same thing tonight he just as well might turn up his nose at it. One day he is a passionate fan of, say, clementines, and the next day, he will throw every piece on the floor. The moment I'm convinced he loves something is the same moment he decides that it's repugnant and that he would rather not eat it, thank you very much. (This expressed with a swift toss to the floor or by thrusting the offending, usually smushed food into my hand.)

He ate a plum for dessert last night and did so with such relish that we laughed. "Mmmmm!!" he said, after every bite. Today I gave him a plum for a snack and he took one bite then, you guessed it, threw it on the floor.


Currently one of Gabriel's most consistent favorites is hummus. When I bring it out he beams and wiggles with glee. He dips a pretzel in it and licks that pretzel off, then dips again, until the pretzel is soggy and he asks me for a new one. The other day, while I was making him some eggs and my back was turned, he decided to dip his whole hand in the hummus. But he doesn't like the feeling of goopy hands, so he whipped the hand back and forth, coating every surface in the room with tiny splatters of hummus. The same thing happened the next day with his oatmeal. Aaargh. There is oatmeal and hummus in the cracks of the floorboards, and I'm not sure how to get it out, short of letting it dry and hoping that it will vacuum up someday. If you come to my house pretend you don't know that.


I think I've cleaned up more food messes lately than in his first year and half together: he's now much better at making much bigger messes. Part of the problem is that our kitchen storage is entirely located under the cabinet, in big drawers that he can easily open (the stupid little Ikea tab handles prevent us from putting in child safety locks, but there must be some system out there? I hope?). He likes to peruse the contents of the drawer, and beg for a snack but then reject it because he sees OTHER even better snacks right before his eyes. He also likes to get into the non-snack pantry drawer, the one that holds all the dry goods and bottles and pastas etc.

Most of the time he brings me these items, or I'm with him and can put them back immediately, but occasionally I think he's doing something else or my back is turned and... boy, he's fast. So, messes I've cleaned up recently include: a kilo of sesame seeds (a kilo of sesame seeds covers the entire surface of the kitchen floor in a blanket of tiny white skittery bits, if you're wondering), a shattered bottle of sesame oil that spread glass and oil everywhere (that one happened while he was trying to carry three glass bottles at once by their necks and I was saying "NOooo!" as he dropped it, which necessitated a quick evacuation to his high chair), entire boxes of spaghetti, shaken-out oatmeal, crushed packets of crackers, and I'm probably blocking out more. Yes. Must get drawer locks ASAP.


Gabriel's food words are fascinating to me, because he tends to use words for one item to mean a category of similar items. Apple ("app-uh") covers all fruit, cracker ("ca-kuh," sort of hard to distinguish from "caca," or poop, which as you imagine might lead to some misunderstandings) covers all cookies and crackers and other snacks, "wa-wa" (water, or aigua--we can't decide whether it sounds more like the English or the Catalan word, but it's kind of nice that it's right in between) covers all drinks. But then there's "ee-ya" (tortilla), and "chz" (cheese), "bl-luh-luh" (banana, which also means "I want breakfast" because it's usually the first thing we eat when we get downstairs, but oddly he still sometimes calls a banana an "app-uh" and his pronunciation of zebra sounds exactly like his pronunciation of banana), "ehs" (eggs) and a few more. Pointing, reaching, and "ah-ah-ah!" whining cover the rest. I can't wait for him to learn more words, to cut down on the whining, but also because it's awesome: new foods and new words, two of the best things in the world, and all brand spanking new. I bet you don't remember your first peanut butter and jelly sandwich, but I bet it was great.

23 September 2011


Although no one in our household is going to school this fall, properly speaking, we’re going through a number of beginnings and changes. I’ve met with a professor at the university here and am invited to take part, informally at first, in a major project/grant they are starting that just happens to fit with my field of research. I’m madly finishing up revisions on my dissertation chapters, but I also hope to be able to do some writing for the folks here, and I have a few other projects on the horizon, which feels great.

Gabriel is going through some big changes, too. Last week I weaned him even from that last bedtime feeding, and it’s been hard, for me and for him. I’m surprised at how tough it is both physically and emotionally. We knew, for a number of reasons, that it was time, really time, but knowing this doesn’t make it any easier.

19 months of nursing was such a great experience with Gabriel. It was like a superpower I never knew I had, a multipurpose cure. Is my child hungry? Nursing fills his belly. Is my child tired? Nursing will soothe him to sleep. Is my child stressed or in pain? Nursing will comfort and calm him. Especially when he was little, sometimes it was hard to tell the difference between these needs, so it was wonderful to know that one action could fill them all. Of course I have other tools that can serve the same functions (um, except maybe for soothing him to sleep…still working on that one), but breastfeeding was a perfect and always-available response.

I knew he was better protected against sickness, and I knew he was getting the perfect balance of nutrients, a tailor-made recipe. Of course it wasn’t always easy: there were many (many!) times it was painful, times it was boring or frustrating or exhausting. Times I didn’t WANT to wake up at 3 am, times I didn’t WANT to stop the car or find a bench or possibly be a bother to fellow passengers or diners or friends. But it was always worth it. Always.

And did I mention the milk was always available, never left behind? We nursed in malls, in church, at rest stops and in parks and on city benches, in changing rooms and restaurants and conferences and airplanes. I nursed him in a moving vehicle (both of us strapped in, of course!), on the beach, in the midst of parties. And of course, we nursed nestled in our bed, rocking in that yard sale rocking chair (the hardest thing for me to leave when we left Bloomington), perched on a stool or the floor or the sofa, and sunk into the gigantic recliner my parents rented for me when we first brought Gabriel home. (Boy was it ugly, but boy was it comfortable. My parents were relieved I burst into laughter instead of bursting into tears when, just back from the hospital, I saw it smack dab in the middle of the living room.) We nursed in the pitch dark and utter silence of midnight, in the noise and chaos of a Barcelona morning, in the quiet of midwestern sunshine, in the everydayness of a living room scattered with baby socks or toddler books.

I feel super lucky, so blessed that breastfeeding went as well as it did for us. Gabriel never took a bottle (or a pacifier for that matter), even though we tried very hard, so I imagine that a different work situation could have meant the end of breastfeeding. As a grad student I was able to be at home with him a lot of the time, and the Mister and I could work our schedules around feeding the baby. When Gabriel started daycare, at 11 months, it was only a few hours a day, and I could tell how much he looked forward to nursing and a nap when he got home. I never had to leave him overnight—even when I gave papers at conferences the Mister hovered in the hallways so that I could feed Gabriel during the breaks. It was a true team effort—the Mister supported me 100%, even in the midst of pain and crying and despair. I could never have fed Gabriel the way I did without him.

I’m in awe of my friends who pumped exclusively from day one to feed their babies breast milk, or who pumped when they went back to work, or who struggled mightily to continue nursing despite some major challenges. Breastfeeding does not go easily for everyone, and it makes me even more grateful for the experience we had.

There! Now I’ve gone and written a treatise on breastfeeding. I didn’t mean to. I was going to tell you about Gabriel’s other big change: starting Flemish daycare! He said his first word in Dutch today! I’ll have to write about that later. I guess I needed to reminisce in a wash of hormones about what the nursing relationship was like, and just how much it meant to me.