I Stopped Feeding My Toddler Dinner

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They should really stop calling it dinner, which sounds innocent, pleasant even, and rhymes with “winner.” A more fitting, if less mellifluous phrase, might be Apocalyptic Hell Hour or Lucifer’s Food Time.

My daughter, Lucy, thinks the effort I put into preparing food for her is quite funny. Regardless of what she is served, it will be smooshed, flung, dropped onto the dog, or rubbed vigorously into her eyes. She will apply yogurt to her face like an all-over beauty mask. She will get ketchup on the ceiling. She will not eat.

I went out to lunch with two mom friends last week, one of whom has a son Lucy’s age. He sat in his high chair without complaint, smiling, and lapped up a quinoa, shiitake, and broccoli frittata. He devoured a savory beet yogurt by the heaping spoonful. What that actual fuck? I balked at my mom friend’s parenting wizardry. I studied her child like a buried treasure map as he nibbled his way through a mushroom, the floor beneath him pristine, not a swipe of pink across his cheek.

One evening a few weeks ago, I made Lucy a very innocuous bowl of boxed Annie’s mac and cheese. Yes, I threw a few very offensive green peas in there to appease the part of me that doesn’t want my daughter to become a carbohydrate. She wouldn’t try a single bite. She alternated between screaming like a goat and barking like an injured seal. She communicated to me via our complex system of pointing, yelling, and grunting that she wanted a Brocolli Little, which is, despite its name, a small potato cake in the shape of a triceratops. I stuck the dinocarb on a plate in the microwave. She shattered all the windows and mirrors in the house with a high-pitched scream, apparently because she wanted to push the buttons. She pulled the microwave down off its shelf and it nearly fell on top of her. Then there were tears. Then she wanted a veggie burger instead, with cheese and ketchup. I’ll let you guess how much of that made it into her mouth.

Like every other mother I know, I decided when my baby was a baby that she would “eat what I eat”, and that I “wouldn’t be one of those mothers who cooks fifteen separate dinners a night.” I realize now that this is the language of a presumptuous asshole who has never experienced Chobani as a hair mask.

After I gave up trying to feed my pig-tailed tasmanian devil and combed the cheese out of her hair that night, I called my MIL, who is the gatekeeper to the land of parenting Oz. “Maybe she’s not hungry,” she said. “What is she eating during the day?”

During the week, my 18-month-old goes to daycare so I can work. Behold, a sample menu from a single weekday:

Breakfast: half banana, cheese omelette, milk

AM Snack: Ritz crackers, water

Lunch: Veggie burger, peas and carrots, mashed potatoes, pasta with mixed vegetables, milk

PM Snack: Pouch, banana, water

She is being fed like an animal about to hibernate for 6 months, like a competitive eater training to take away that little Coney Island hot dog guy’s untouchable title, like me 3 days before my period. No wonder she’s not hungry for dinner; she’s already eating enough calories a day to sustain a family of elephants.

So, I stopped fighting with her about dinner. Now on the weeknights, she lets me know when she wants a snack. I’ll give her whole grain crackers with almond butter, a veggie pouch, popcorn, or yogurt, and she’ll eat happily while she plays. Instead of spending our evenings screaming, crying, and cleaning condiments off the ceiling, we now stack blocks, read books, and lick crayons.

Her disinterest in sitting down with me at 5pm to eat curry and talk politics doesn’t mean she’ll only eat white foods forever or never appreciate global flavors. She’s one and a half; dog hair is the height of culinary sophistication to her right now. Also, she’s full, and I don’t want to teach her that eating is required method of torture. This whole idea of eating three meals a day plus two snacks is just another thing someone somewhere made up, and now is law. It’s not actually important.

Over and over again, my daughter teaches me this: let go of your expectations. Trying to bend her spirit to fit into my idea of what kind of schedule she should be on doesn’t work. What does work is listening to her, letting her guide me to be the mother that she needs. It also results in less airborne applesauce.

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Linky Link Round Up

I’ve been writing less here and more on other sites that, you know, pay me. Here’s a round up of some of my recent stuff:

I updated my piece on being an alcoholic mother for Buzzfeed, adding in more of what it’s like now to be a sober mom.

I’m super excited to be writing a weekly column for Ramshackle Glam about motherhood, anxiety, and those pesky things I sometimes have called “feelings.” I wrote about being the wrong kind of mother a few weeks ago and was pretty floored by the response; apparently I’m not the only one who feels like she has no idea what she’s doing. I also imagined what it’d look like if my 1.5 year old pitched her game concepts to the CEO of Hasbro, and what happened when we took her to the amusement park and lost Monk Monk.

Here are some tips on cool Amazon features you might like if you’re pregnant.

My first and only ever (I’m sure) magazine centerfold for Kiplinger’s is about the gender pay gap (of course).

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My Cesarean

I did not want a C-section.

I wanted to give birth the “normal” way, which is to say via a nickel-sized slit that had previously only been used for sexy purposes.

I also didn’t want an induction, but I got one of those, too. I was 43 weeks pregnant when “I don’t want an induction” turned into “induce me right now or I’ll slay you.”

I labored for 50 hours before they wheeled me into surgery. I was 5 cm dilated and decided I couldn’t labor for another 2 days before starting to push, if that’s what it came down to. My husband sat by my side and held my shaking arms down as they sliced me open and pulled out my daughter. That was birth.

Physical recovery was difficult. How does one recover from major surgery while also not sleeping and worrying constantly and feeling emotions that had not previously existed? Very slowly.

Emotional recovery takes even longer. While I’m grateful my daughter was born safely, I didn’t want this. I didn’t execute my plan. I failed to give birth the way I should have been able to. These are the thoughts that creep in and strangle whatever ownership I’ve managed to take of my experience. This is the shit that gets to me.

One night, I was laying in bed with my husband and just happened to brush my hand across my scar. I broke down in tears.

Shouldn’t I be over this already?

Does any woman, ever, anywhere, get over the experience of giving birth? No. You’re not supposed to.

This 6 inch slice that cuts across my abdomen exists to remind me that I cooked up Lucy right inside of there. Thanks for the sperm, but I did this myself. I made dozens of small decisions every day for 10 months about what to put in my body, how much to move it, and how to take care of myself in order to grow her exactly how she is. During labor, I made the best decisions I could through excruciating pain, tremendous fear, and piercing self doubt. When they carted me into surgery, I was unbelievably fucking brave. I meditated, I counted, I breathed deeply as they slit me open from one hip bone to the other. “You’ll feel some pulling,” they said, as they lifted my 9 pound baby up into the air. I did that.

Birth is birth, and it made me stronger, softer, braver, and better. And I got this kid to prove it.

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You can read my full birth story here.

Bits and Pieces

I feel naturally unaccustomed to the phenomenon of things coming together in my life. I lived in chaos for so long; waking up every morning sick and groggy, doing the bare minimum at whatever job I hated, seeking refuge against myself and any feelings I had with socially sanctioned numbing agents. I both hated myself and wanted to control everything. No thing or body could help me, because of my devastating uniqueness. I was a very special piece of shit.

Unfortunately, I still feel. Fortunately, I get to feel things now like the sensation of being five and someone tells you a huge chocolate cake is right through that doorway and you can eat the whole thing by yourself, which is what it feels like every day at 4 o’clock that I pick my daughter up from daycare. Mostly, the feelings are good, and sometimes they are absolute magic.

But in allowing myself to be present for all of it, I’m learning to sit with the stuff that is more bitter lemon than rainbow sprinkle. Sometimes, there is the piercing shame of an old stunt remembered. Sometimes, it’s just a feeling in my body, a dark wave that rushes through me before my brain gets the heads up that we are now remembering what it felt like to give birth. I’m not having fantasy contractions, but there’s a peach pit in my uterus that says, “Remember when you felt the pain of everything that’s ever happened to you all at one time? Remember how you clawed your way through the dark? Remember how it felt to hold your baby for the first time and understand what light is?”

I still don’t understand it, because I can’t. I have to feel it.

I hardly recognize myself anymore. My skin is different, particularly where the belly used to be. My breasts hang low. I look more worried.

Lately, I’ve been so productive. I’ve been working almost all the time that I’m not taking care of Lu, or cooking or cleaning the house. It feels good.

But this is old behavior; this is me wrapping my fists around my tiny universe and saying, “I can control you, I just need to work harder at it.” Don’t rest. Keep all of the balls in the air, master juggler. You can do everything all at once, just keep holding your breath.

I can’t maintain it, because as soon as there is a hiccup (an unexpected event, a tragedy, bad weather), it’ll all come crashing down on me. I’m not taking care of myself, I’m working, taking care of other people. (Not because I’m a saint- because no one else will do things right. Because I need to do everything. Because I can’t ask for help. Because don’t you see how much I sacrifice? How much I do for you?)

Yesterday, I took the whole day off. I talked to friends on the phone, ate Pho in Connecticut, told my husband that I appreciated and loved him, and I made art, because it helps me ride the terror of an emotional wave.

Today, I’m committed to loosening the reigns. I will not check every box on the list today. Today I will admit that I am still fucked up from giving birth. Today, I will pick Lucy up at daycare at 4 o’clock and feel the Willy Wonka anticipation. I’ll see her face light up when she recognizes mine, and her crooked, stumbling run for my legs. I can feel it already.

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Nursery Decor: It’s All Lies

Back when I was still figuring out what kind of nursery I wanted to create for my first baby (you know, a perfect one that represents every aspiration I’ve ever held for my child in furniture form), I did a lot of Pinteresting. Pinterest is great, but also I hope you are a billionaire who is obsessed with baby grey, yellow, and chevron because that is what you will find there.

There is also a lot of word art. Kyle and I decided to go ahead and make our own art for her walls, because we (I) wanted her to stare at Carl Sagan quotes all night long and then grow up to be a badass woman scientist and win a Nobel prize.

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But mostly what you see on Pinterest are the same 5 quotes, which really are very cute, but also pretty saccharin and hopeful and so now I’m going to make fun of them. Because what if instead of putting our hopes and dreams onto their nursery walls, we actually told the truth?

little but fierce

Yes, my daughter is both little, and fierce. But little is relative. And fierce mostly when screaming for things all day long.

shit in pants

move bowels

Just once I would like to see the word “bowels” gold-leafed.

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My next kid is getting these. (Unless it works, and Lu becomes a tiny science scholar, in which case my next kid is getting a math room with chalkboard-theorem walls like that high-five montage scene in Good Will Hunting).