Before Oldest Progeny was born, I had quite a bit of trepidation on how to feed her. We had determined that breastfeeding was worth trying, and were going to make a go of it, but I was nervous. And though there were tears and difficulty, we ultimately did alright. I wish I’d known how comparatively easy feeding an infant is. Fast forward to now, seven years later, and I have no idea how to feed that child. Well, I know exactly what she wants me to feed her, but that ain’t happening. It is well past time for things to be changed. The MRB is about to get a workout.
I have created a monster. I own that. This is my fault. I would like very much to spread the blame out, to say that I don’t raise her in a vacuum and that it’s as much everyone else’s fault, too – but I can’t really do that. I have no doubt that the babysitters ALWAYS stopping to pick up her favorite pizza – even going out of their way to do so – was a contributing factor; that her daddy truly not understanding that it is NOT okay to stop whatever he was doing to make her a jam sandwich was fuel to the fire – but I have been responsible for most of her meals since she was born. This is my monster. Whether or not the other things hurt or helped, this is my fault.
I started badly. And I have guilt over that every day, at every meal. DH (Dear Husband, for those who don’t troll the mommy message boards) and I tend to like food a bit on the spicy side, so I got into the habit of serving non-spicy meals to our beginning eater. It was fun, at first. We would go to the deli, and sample whatever they were handing out. Sometimes she didn’t like it, but if she did, it was added to the rotation – I would have it sliced thick, and we would cube it to serve with grapes and crackers. There was a time when our fridge was full of plastic storage boxes containing cubes of salami, ham, pepperoni, turkey, roast beef, muenster, cheddar, or swiss. We would try things that looked interesting from the produce section, too – apples of different types, grapes in different colors, peaches, pears, watermelon, kiwi, star fruit, ugli fruit, broccoli, cauliflower, cucumbers. Whatever colors and textures caught our attention, we tried. I thought that was doing okay, but I feel like it led us down the wrong path. I should have relegated that to lunch, but I got into the habit of doing it for dinner, also. And I can’t help but think of that as being where I went wrong. It became an expectation, that she would get a unique dinner of her choice.
And then. A sudden refusal to eat roast beef cubes. Then turkey. Then ham. Then chicken nuggets. And my biggest error was that I went with it! We are down to shredded mozzarella (not cubed, not sliced, just shredded). Grilled cheese sandwiches. Jam sandwiches. Red grapes. Pretzels. Goldfish crackers. Plain cheese pizza. I can count the foods she eats with consistency on less than two hands.
I will admit, part of my problem with this is that it’s embarrassing. When we had to leave a birthday party, because my then-four-year-old threw a screaming fit that the hostess served cheese pizza without a side of cheese sticks. And now? she comes and sings happy birthday, and then goes to play by herself. She would rather be alone than socialize with kids eating something she doesn’t like. Thank goodness, at least some of her friends understand that she isn’t intentionally being rude, she’s just picky. It’s odd to hear that kind of insight from a seven year old, but I am grateful for it.
And the defiance! She has admitted to me that part of this is a power trip. There are foods that she won’t eat at home, that she will eat at her grandmother’s house. I have bought the same brands. I have had her grandmother purchase them and bring them here. I have brought home the leftovers. Nope. I have tried to give her choices for a lot of things, but at home, this is where she’s decided to make her stand (I suspect she has chosen a different platform with Grandmom and Pop). Unfortunately, I can’t let it go on anymore. I suspect it’s going to get uglier than it already has, but I’m done. The irony has not escaped me, that we were very conscientious – even strict, at times – about creating good tooth brushing and bedtime habits – but messed up royally here.
No small part of my frustration is that I am flat exhausted. I used to like to cook. I like trying new things. But I simply don’t have the energy to make four meals every night – who does? One for me, with the veggies I like. One for DH – same main course, but no veggies. One for the Eldest – since the only protein she will now accept is cheese, I feel like we’ll be one of those families who has to hospitalize a malnourished child if I don’t give it to her (if there is a bottom to be hit in the picky eating battles – that’s it – and one I intend to avoid). One for youngest – as slight a variation on the main meal as possible (I am so afraid of screwing up with this one, too) – who points out that it’s not fair for eldest to get something special but not her. Given all that, guess whose food preferences are often put by the wayside, to make accommodating every one else easier? There are a lot of dishes that I really miss cooking and eating, but you know what? It’s a lot easier to ignore my preferences than it is to listen to everyone else’s complaints sometimes. It’s not fair, but Hey! I’m only preparing three meals instead of four! Bonus points if no variations are needed for either of the kids!
But my biggest problem with this, where I really feel like I am failing her, is that a great deal of social life circles around food. Even the simple act of preparing a meal together as a family is a miserable proposition, since she not only refuses to taste many foods – she doesn’t want to smell or touch them, either. She will never enjoy dinner parties. That first Girl Scout campout, when the kids have the pride of having made the dinner all by themselves, won’t mean anything to her. What about hitting IHOP after the school dance? Appetizers with the co-workers after work on Friday? Impromptu lunch dates with a girlfriend. Already, I dropped her off late and picked her up early for a sleepover because she would eat neither the dinner nor the breakfast the hostess had planned to serve. Her capacity to enjoy enjoy any given birthday party is hit-or-miss. I feel like she is and will be missing so much. How many social occasions can she/we refuse or obviously not enjoy before friendships suffer for it? And that worry, more than the defiance or exhaustion or embarrassment, just makes me cry.
I’m sorry, baby. I want – we need – to fix this. I’ll try – and I’m sorry for that, too, because it’s going to be rough on all of us.