Dear Mama: Food Rules

Dear Mama, thanks for figuring out that I’m ready to eat now. I knew it wouldn’t take you long to notice, given you’ve been trying to feed me for half my life. But now that I’m ready, I think we need to lay down some ground rules – and of course – take it slow.

1. Crackers. I like these. Cruskits are good, and preferably the ones with only two ingredients: maize and salt. Rice cakes are good too, but only the little ones with apple juice added for flavour.

2. Bread. Let’s stick with white for now. Pita breads are good, but please make sure they don’t get too hard in the toaster. Ideally, they will be from a just-opened packet so they are fresh and soft.

3. Butter. This is fine in small quantities, and it must be INSIDE two slices of bread or crackers, so I can’t feel it on my hands. It feels yuk. Ditto vegemite.

4. Fruit. Possibly the one food I prefer pureed. Steamed fruit is just too slippery and slimy. Maybe I’ll change my mind next week, but for now, put the fancy steamer away. The same goes for carrots.

5. Meat and vegetables. Still not interested, sorry. Bread and crackers will do me just fine.

6. Mealtimes. I still think we have too many of these during the day when I could be crawling, cruising along furniture, and looking for drawers and cupboards to open.

7. Feeding me. I’ll do this myself, thanks. I’d rather you didn’t try and put food in my mouth. There will, however, be some occasions when I will eat pureed fruit. You’ll have to watch me  to judge when these are. Once I’ve had enough though, please put the spoon away promptly. Mostly, though, I’m figuring out how to handle food on my own – and I’ll stick to crackers and bread (see rules 1 and 2).

8. Handfuls. You’ve got the right idea with the perfectly-sized baby rice cakes. Excellent. And I think you’ve worked out that Cruskits need to be broken into longish strips so I can hold the bottom and eat the top. Watch they’re not too wide. Soldiers of bread are just fine.

9. Enough. Once I’ve sucked on my food for long enough, it gets soggy and it sticks to my hands. Please take it away. If you don’t I’ll throw it on the floor. That doesn’t mean I want you to pick it up, tell me about the three second rule, and offer it to me again. Throwing it away means I’m done.

Thanks Mama, I think we’re on the same page with this one.

Love and big open mouthed kisses, Milin Charlie xo

With each new second

THE COUNTDOWN is on. In two months today, we will leave Wellington. First stop, a week catching up with family in Thailand. Final stop, London.

It’s so hard to imagine what the Little Mister will be like when we get on that plane. Two months ago, he had just mastered crawling. Now, he shoots around the house so fast on his hands and knees that he wins every race. Two months ago, he was still bringing up even the tiniest lumps in food. Now, he will eat a bit of a Cruskit – and he seems to enjoy it. Two months ago, the thought of him standing up was so abstract I couldn’t picture it, let alone wonder when it would be. Now, he pulls himself up against walls, doors, the oven, the sofas, and, still holding on tight, takes a few testing steps sideways before deftly sitting back down.

Time changed when the Little Mister arrived. It started passing so incredibly quickly, and it keeps speeding up. At the end of each month, it’s amazing to look back at the progress he has made in just four, short weeks. But looking forward is harder. Will he be walking when we go? Saying some more words which sound more like real words? But, I don’t want to wish away the time between now and then, so will put those questions aside.

What the Little Mister has done has given me a new appreciation for time. It’s fine to look forward now, it’s exciting. But it’s also exciting to make the most of every second we spend together. He grows so much each day, so yes, the days pass quickly, but they are filled with discoveries too. Today, he laughed at the baboons at Wellington Zoo. They were playing at the front of their enclosure. He’s never noticed them before. Tonight, he put his big toe in his mouth. He’s never managed to reach it that far before. In the last few days, he has started tapping on the first page of his Mr Croc book. It’s because the book starts with a knock on the door and Tony always taps the book when he reads it. The Little Mister knows not to tap on any other page.

Yes, I wish time wouldn’t pass so fast. But while it speeds by, it is also filled with a richness that wasn’t there before. And as long as I’m watching for every new discovery, and treasuring the laughs or babbles or expressions that new seconds bring, it’s still a time I wouldn’t change for the world.

This time it really is progress

TONIGHT our little family ate dinner together for the first time. Let me explain.

We’ve tried it before. But the Little Mister is generally uninterested in food. By dinner time in particular. And it usually involves one of us distracting him while the other tries to trick him and get the spoon into his mouth. Sometimes we get two mouthfuls in, sometimes it’s five. Our food gets forgotten. He throws his toys on the floor. You see, we never eat together.

But tonight, the Little Mister held a piece of a corn wafer in his hand, and sucked and sucked and chewed and swallowed. He finished it. We ate our dill and lemon baked fish with vegetables and watched him. We finished ours too. He wasn’t sick.

I’ve been to the doctor twice about the projectile vomiting. Until now, anything not pureed into liquid form has come straight back up after a few scary moments of near-choking. At nearly 11 months, the Little Mister still has a very sensitive gag reflex. Apparently. Apparently it’s nothing to worry about. The doctor, who perhaps viewed me as a neurotic housewife with too much time on her hands, suggested we see a private specialist if we were really concerned.

I know that for under ones the most important food is milk – but that birthday has been rapidly approaching. And until now, there’s been no discernible progress. So, as much as I’ve tried not to be, of course I’ve been concerned. Recently though, it’s more that I’ve been sad for the Little Mister. He wants to eat. Sand, soil, bits of brick – he gives it a go (and then vomits over the kitchen floor again). I watch his friends with their lunchboxes. I’m jealous.

I have no idea why in the last few days things have changed but they have. Lumpy banana – he ate it. Buttered bread – he only gagged a bit. FORK MASHED CHICKEN AND PASTA – HE ATE IT (mixed in with creamy rice pudding, but that had lumps in it too.)

I’ve been optimistic before, but this really is progress. Maybe the Little Mister will be eating his first birthday cake with us after all.

Accidents do happen

INCHES from the Little Mister’s head, my not-quite-empty wine glass smashed into tiny pieces of shrapnel. It was the morning after, I wasn’t drinking at the time, I was carrying it to the dishwasher, I was balancing it on a plate so I wouldn’t have to make two trips, I was trying to save him from catching his fingers in the draw. There are so many excuses. He didn’t get hurt.

But I’ve not stopped thinking about it for three days. I nearly broke a glass over my Little Mister’s head. He could have got glass in his eyes, his mouth, his precious skin, he could have dug his hand, knees and feet into the floor where all around him tiny pieces had scattered. He didn’t, I know, but how did it so nearly happen?

I was carrying a pile of dishes gathered from the last evening into the kitchen. I should have done them the night before. There he was at my feet, while I balanced them – carefully – on the last metre of my journey. He looked at me and grinned. Two little bottom teeth on show. And I realised he was playing with his new favourite toy. The kitchen drawers.

His mini-sized chubby fingers were gripping the top of the bottom draw he had just pulled open. With his other hand, he had clasped the handle of the drawer above. He was teetering on his feet, balancing only on one closed drawer and on the handle of one open drawer. Which was about to slam shut.

I went to grab him with one hand. In my other hand, the plate shook, and the glass fell. Slowly. I watched it.

His fingers were safe. I’d got him. But the noise of a glass smashing all around him terrified his sensitive soul. He was safe.

It was a reminder that could have ended quite differently. We thought we had baby-proofed, but that was before the Little Mister started cruising round the furniture. Now, more than ever, I can’t take my eyes off him. And as for letting down my guard and balancing a glass on a plate over his head – I won’t be doing that again.

Look, a bird.

PROBABLY the best view in the house is from the Little Mister’s high chair. Both the window straight ahead and the one to his left look out onto our overgrown trees and creepers. He sees roses, jasmine, the karaka tree, the sky. He watches while the clouds race past, while our washing dances in the wind, and while the birds fly looking for food. I hadn’t realised how much he saw until our first morning back from Australia. We sat him down to have breakfast. Thoughtfully, he looked towards the window and pointed one finger in its direction. “Burrr”, he said in a pensive, high-pitched attempt at talking. There were birds outside.

For the last three days, there has been no end to the Little Mister practicing this new word. He looks for birds constantly through the windows and when we are out. His beady eyes search the sky and trees for movement, will he see one? In the buggy, he points repeatedly at pigeons. We chase sparrows together. “Burrr, burrr.”

I’m pretty sure he knows what he is saying. But I’m starting to wonder how discriminately  or not the Little Mister might be vocalising his new found syllable. We went to the park today, and again, some pointing and “burr”. Maybe I missed the bird, but when I looked, I could only see people walking past.

Do I already have my mummy blinkers on? I’m not sure. Perhaps he does know what birds are, and he is trying to name them when he sees them. Or maybe “burrr” is the sound of the week, and about to be used for everything and everyone he wants me to look at. With my mummy blinkers firmly fixed in place, I’m going to believe for now he knows what he’s saying.

“B” seems to be the consonant of the moment anyway. We also hear attempts at ball and boo and book and blue when we say them first. And what is certain, is that the Little Mister wants to communicate. He loves pointing now that he’s cracked it. Everything he sees that interests him gets the finger. His babble is now taking on the sound of conversations, with intonation and different consonants and vowels all being strung together. One day, Little Mister, you’ll be able to tell me all about what you see, and I have a feeling we’ll be having some very long conversations.

Adventures in Oz

FOR what felt like an hour, and probably longer for the strangers around us, the Little Mister screamed. Our first family holiday had been a success, but now it was home time. He wasn’t happy. He was tired out, cooped up, over-awed by all that was going on around him, his ears probably hurt, and he just wouldn’t stop screaming. It was everything I’d been afraid of. The flightmare was underway.

Tony and I kept looking at each other with the same hopeful look in our eyes, desperate for the air to swallow us all up. I kept telling him we’d never see any of these people again. The Little Mister kept screaming. Once we realised he wasn’t going to stop, we acted fast. And, thanks to the wonders of modern medicine, he slept all the way through to border control. Success, again.

It was the only blip, and really it was a small, short one, on an otherwise wonderful practice run for our big journey next year. The Little Mister was a super traveller. Everything was new and exciting and the six days were one very big adventure.

He loved meeting his aunties, uncles and cousins. He impressed me with his easy-going attitude. As long as Tony and I were close and he wasn’t too tired, he was happy to be passed around, held, cuddled, spoiled, treated, and generally made a fuss of. He played ball. He charmed, grinned, babbled, and generally made everyone fall in love with him.

The fancy apartment was perfect – sparse and therefore very baby proof. The airport was a big, empty space ideal for crawling around and exploring. But the highlight without question was the beach. He ate bucketloads of sand. He picked it up and watched it fall back down as he opened his fists. He spied seagulls and crawled after them, making a beeline for the shoreline. He splashed his toes while we dipped him in the waves. He sucked the salt off his fingers all the way home. He crawled so far on his beach adventures he got sandburn on his little baby-soft knees. That evening, our tired Little Mister was too sore to crawl anymore.

Sadly for us, he woke at 4am each morning, still on Wellington time. But though he lacked sleep, he didn’t moan or grizzle. Everything was too much fun.

In six days, I feel like he grew up so much. He spent so much time pulling himself up, now home, he is standing up against whatever he can. Buckets that move, the back of the sofa that has no grip, the foot rest on the bar stool. And he wants to be outside all the time to keep the adventure going.

We didn’t only learn what a great explorer he was on the trip though, we learnt lessons too. We learnt that he loves other people, so why not hand him over and take a rest. Eating a meal is so much easier without the Little Mister on my lap. We learnt to take it in turns to get up with a jetlagged baby. We learnt how much the beach and the pool will tire him out. We learnt to keep the buggy with us to the gate. And, perhaps most importantly, we learnt that Calpol is magic.

Election Night Hopes

SITTING on my lap, rubbing his eyes and clasping his beloved bunny, the Little Mister stayed up late to watch tv. He watched as thousands of people waved little flags in jubilation. He watched them singing, chanting, smiling, crying, and clapping. When the just-elected president walked on that big stage, he watched.

The thousands of people clapped their hands in celebration. The Little Mister, somehow aware this was the moment we had waited for, clapped his hands too. (Well, it was his version of clapping.)

It was his first election. He knew something was up because me and Tony had the tv on during the day. He sees the news occasionally, but this was different. It wasn’t just on for the headlines. And we were quiet, waiting, watching, transfixed by the screen in the corner. He crawled to sit beneath it. He looked up, eyes wide, and waved his hands towards it but couldn’t reach the newsreaders and experts and statisticians.

Hours after we had sighed with relief, he wasn’t quite ready for bed so he sat up and waited. A little superstar, up an hour past bedtime, he listened to the entire breath-taking speech. He knew we were listening, and he wanted in on it too. What did he hear? Perhaps he heard a brave man whose voice was filled with hope. A man whose voice was in those moments inspiring millions of people in every country in the world.

What did you hear Little Mister? Did you hear the desire for something better? For a world less divided and more stable? Did you also hear your Mama and Dada hoping for some of those very same things?

It wasn’t our election, but it didn’t stop us wanting so very much the better world we heard about. We want it for you, Little Mister. Because you, with your wide open eyes and whole-face smile, and grasping hands and precious cuddles and delighted squeals deserve the very best world we can make for you. We hope it is one which sees less of the destructive wrath of mother nature – one which is stable and calm. We hope it is one where you can have whatever you wish and work for – one which is open with opportunity. We hope it is everything your innocent heart hopes it will be. We hope it is filled with love and peace and joy. We hope it is safe.