Saturday, February 28, 2009

Food Fight

The nurse was a formidable opponent, but Sophia, naked and crying, was swiftly winning the battle to seat her on the scale. She flipped and wriggled like a fish, kicking the instrument with feet of rage, until the nurse, unperturbed, turned to me and said, “Mom, follow me.” Kevin scooped her up and held her at arms length as I sang, “don’t pee on me…don’t pee on me… you can pee on daddy…but don’t pee on me.” Down the hallway, I stood on the scale first. The nurse zeroed it out, and Kevin handed me Sophia.

19.8 The nurse clucked her tongue. After our last visit, I didn’t write her weight down in the little book where I initially, diligently kept track of such things. But I knew 19.8 pounds at 15 months was not good.

Back in the examining room, the pediatrician joined us with a smile and glanced at Sophia’s chart. She cheerfully reviewed the data, “75th percentile for height…she’s gained there, 50th percentile for head circumference…that’s the same it’s been, but…hmmm… it looks like her weight has dropped off. She’s in the 5th percentile.” She tapped the chart and turned to me, “How’s she eating?”

What I heard was, “Are you feeding her?”

When Sophia was first born, my nightmares had one recurrent theme. Someone would walk in: the doctor, my mother, Kevin…and announce that while I was sleeping, my baby starved to death. I, selfishly, had been taking care of my own needs while my baby wasted away from hunger. A common fear among breastfeeding moms, I’m sure, but I’ve never been able to shake it. Even once I started feeding her solids, the recommended daily servings seemed impossibly large. Sophie ate a fraction of what she was “supposed” to be eating, and I worried about it.

Then, there was the omnipresent conflicting advice. Don’t force your baby to eat. Don’t turn mealtimes into a battle. Let her explore her food…because if you don’t, you are well on your way to fostering an eating disorder and life-long struggle with food. What mother wants that on her conscience?

And then I did the thing I thought I would never do…I became a short order cook. She wouldn’t eat the turkey, then I’d give her the mac n’ cheese. No to that too? How about pizza? Not feeling the pizza today? Let’s try edammame…until the floor was strewn with rejected foods and the refrigerator littered with tiny Tupperware containers.

I was on my third offering at lunch one day when Lauren, our babysitter, suggested, “maybe she’s not eating it because she knows she’ll get something different.” I blushed. Of course, she was right. This is the very thing I told parents NOT to do, and here I was (desperate for her to eat), breaking all the rules.

So I’ve tried:

  • Giving her a bite of something she loves (and then slipping in something she doesn’t
  • Waiting her out (the girl’s got staying power)
  • Ending mealtime and offering her something later (only to have her reject it again)
  • Feeding her what she will eat. Often. (Crackers. Lots of crackers.)

And yet, her weight hasn’t budged.

I explained to the pediatrician that Sophia eats healthy foods, just not much of them and I don’t want to force it. I gave her a sample daily menu: …oatmeal with bananas and milk at breakfast…a protein, a vegetable, a milk product and a starch at lunch…crackers and cheese or an apple in the afternoon…whole milk yogurt, wheat germ, and fruit… She cut me off. “Perhaps Sophia is eating too healthy.”

“Too healthy?” I was fairly certain, in all of my internet research, that I had never heard of such a thing.

“She needs more calorie-dense food in her diet. More fats. Give her cream in her cereal; top her vegetables with butter; try some fried food.”

She said ‘fried food’ so casually, I was pretty sure I hadn’t heard her right. I made her repeat what she said, and listened, incredulous. I’d sooner give Sophia a Big Gulp of coke and sit her in front of MTV for five hours.


But as I lay in bed that night, plagued with images of Sophia gaunt and hungry, I reconsidered.

The next day I served Sophia peas drenched in butter, which she gleefully squished in her hands and smeared across her face. The morning after that she had half n’ half in her cereal, which she ate begrudgingly as she always does. And at lunch, I offered her a sweet potato fry. She took a bite, but when I placed another on her tray, she threw it on the ground.

That’s my girl. Looks like the feather-weight food fight champion of Hawthorne Ave and I are going to be going at it at least a few more rounds.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Growing a Grrrrrrrrrl

Before Sophia was born, I tried to conjure images of what it would be like to have a baby. The best I could do was a brief fantasy of taking a pre-school aged boy to the Museum of Natural Sciences. I imagined showing him the dinosaur bones and then having lunch, just the two of us, in the cafĂ©. I couldn’t see his face, just his legs gleefully swinging back and forth, not touching the ground.

Just in case you missed it, here are the key points in the previous paragraph:

  • Preschooler, not baby (not our topic for today)
  • Boy, not girl

I feared having a girl. Partly because I had bought into cultural stereotypes (girls are whiny and moody) and partly because I blame some of the misery of my childhood on girlhood (the snarkiness, the underground competition, the rapidly shifting allegiances). Then, of course, there are Bratz dolls, eating disorders, teen pregnancy, cutting, thongs, roofies, HPV, Cosmo Girl get the picture.

The fact of the matter is, I think of myself as a pretty male-identified female. I don’t like to be touched when I’m upset. I can build a kick-ass fort. I enjoy hunting for earthworms and have no qualms about picking them up with my bare hands. Dolls, on the other hand, have always spooked me. And I never did get the hang of applying makeup. Which is why I knew, in my heart of hearts, that my he would be a she.

Of course, there was the possibility that like me, she would move more fluidly between established gender roles. And so, I’ve done what I can to foster it. Before she inherited a Little Tykes Country Kitchen from my friend Pam’s boys, she had a trash-picked Tool Bench. I avoid buying pink clothes. I’ve banished the word “princess” from my vocabulary.

But given a mountain of stuffed animals, Sophia selected a plush doll for her transitional object, who she named “baby” and carries everywhere. And recently, when I furnished her with an old purse of mine, filled with the accoutrements of womanhood (wallet, sunglasses, chapstick) she slung it over her arm, gave me a backwards glance and said, bye bye, as if now she was armed with all she needed to move forward in the world.

I really am sick of nature vs. nurture arguments. Certainly, our behavior results from a synthesis of the two. But as Sophie’s childhood looms before me, I wonder, how much influence can I exact? How do I do it without having her run screaming from me in the opposite direction, towards Spike, the pierced and tattooed, verbally abusive spermdonor of her learning-disabled crack baby?

Okay, maybe that is extreme. But, you get the picture.

I want so badly to do it right. Balance the love and boundaries. Hold her tight and let her go. And it means fighting impulses and influences and Sophie herself at times. And I’m always questioning whether I have the wherewithal to do it.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Case Against...

Is it possible to overthink the question, “Should I have another child?”

I mean, making a person is a huge responsibility. It’s a gift. It’s a blessing.

It’s irreversible.

And it’s not just about me. It’s about Kevin, Sophia, and this other human being who I don’t want to find staring into a mirror when he’s fifteen saying, “I wish I never was born.”

Here are my fears:

Sophia is healthy, sweet-tempered, somnolent, engaging, book-obsessed, wide-eyed, attention-mongering child. In other words, she is the trickster-baby. The perfect first child who cons parents into having another. I’ve watched what happens: Lulled into a sense of safety, parents bear a second and are horrified to learn that the combination of their genes can also result in a sleepless, colicky, inconsolable human being who only eats chicken nuggets.

Having another child is fucking with fate. It’s getting greedy. It’s pushing the bounds of what I’m allowed to have in this lifetime. It’s asking for more when I already have everything I’ve ever wanted.

I could never give a second child the quality of attention that I’ve given Sophia: the hours I’ve spent talking, singing, and reading to her, the close scrutiny of every day of her development, the readiness with which I abandoned all other things to tend to her needs. Isn’t it always the first child whose every move is captured on film, every word recorded, every gift treasured? The second is a blurry image, an uncertain history.

I could never love another child as I do Sophia. A second child would always feel like second best. I would be forced to pretend to love this second child as much as I love my first, my attempts at equity painfully transparent, psychologically noxious.

Having a second child would create a rupture in my relationship with Sophia that can never be repaired. She will always resent her sibling, always harbor anger towards me, and always long for a time when she, and she alone, was mine.

I’m trying to maintain a fragile balance of work, couple-hood, self, and motherhood, which, on any given day appears tipped towards one of these poles, to the distress of another. One more would throw my life into chaos, forcing me to constantly decide, “Who am I going to disappoint today?”

I’ve asked parents of two to give me a reason why I should do it. They all told me they loved the second just as much as the first. No one admitted to regretting the decision. Many shared touching moments when one child empathically embraced the other.

But they’ve all said it is exponentially harder than having just one.