A Painted House

Dear James: Month Eighteen

Posted on: January 6, 2011

Note:  Readers from my former blog will be familiar with the monthly letters I write to my babies for the first two years of their lives.   As each new letter will be posted here I will be moving over all previous letters to my archives for continuity.  Thanks for your patience as I work on all this administrative stuff!

Original post date: October 16, 2009

Dear James,

Today you turn eighteen months old.  And it’s cold outside.  It seems we’re not getting a Fall this year, the weather skipped straight from Summer to Winter faster than you can hide the remote.  I’m afraid that the change in seasons might soon reduce your monthly letters to, “This month we stared at the same four walls and counted the individual strands in the living room shag rug.  There are exactly four million, six hundred thousand, and twenty-eight.”  I fear our days of playing outside are nearing an end for this year and oh, how you’re going to hate losing the only space in which you can really run.  But never fear, even when we’re caged birds in the dead of Winter, we’ll still have the bumps on the textured ceiling to count.  Doesn’t that make you feel better?

One nice thing about the cooler weather is the reappearance of footie pajamas.  There’s something about a tiny person wearing head-to-toe fleece that just makes your insides go all squishy and sparks the urge to smother said person in kisses.  Notice I said a tiny person, lest your Dad read this and then peal out of the driveway on his way to the fabric store for some discount fleece, probably in Hunter Orange.  And James, I don’t know if it’s just your age or the coziness given off by the footies, but suddenly you’ve become a cuddler!  My independent, put-me-down, wriggler has suddenly decided you know what?  It’s not so bad being settled in next to Mama on the couch.  In fact you often INITIATE THE CUDDLING.  You love to sit on our laps and read books or snuggle in with Blankie to watch cartoons together; in short, it’s parental bliss. It’s almost enough to make me forget about the Chronic Mealtime Pandemonium.

(Side note:  you’re eating Big People Food now!  You have a very limited palate mostly consisting of carbs and protein, but YOU’RE DOING IT!  Putting actual food in your own mouth!  And chewing it!  Then swallowing!  James, you have no idea how this thrills me; I wasn’t sure this day would ever come and oh, how I’ve prayed.  If it was in the budget I’d hire the Goodyear Blimp to circle the city with a banner proclaiming, “MY SON EATS SCRAMBLED EGGS!”)

So, Chronic Mealtime Pandemonium.  What’s that, you ask?  Oh, that’s where you take every mealtime but breakfast, for some reason you looooove breakfast, and turn it into a game of Can I Have That?  Here’s how it goes: we all sit down to eat. You eat three to four bites of whatever food we’ve put in front of you and then begin pointing at everything on the table, asking that it be handed to you.  Condiments, drinking glasses, silverware, lit candles, the contents of our plates, you want them all.  And man, do you get upset when you can only have half of those things.  Steak knives and fire, ok fine, but I draw the line at my chicken nuggets; a mother can only give so much.  And with all that pointing and insisting, who has time for actual eating?  It seems most days you’re perfectly content to exist on just that one meal a day plus seven-ish additional bites of sustenance throughout your waking hours.  You’d prefer not to eat at all thankyouverymuch.  Apparently food is for sissies.

Another mealtime conundrum: you’ve put yourself on the Atkins Diet. Carbs, cheese, protein?  Check.  Fruits and vegetables that don’t come in cereal bar form?  I think not.  And even when we DO give you that much-loved ham and cheese sandwich or mac n cheese, you only want them every now and then.  Today?  YES PLEASE!  Two days from now?  Ick, blech, I’d rather starve.  Pizza is the exception to this rule – pizza will be consumed with gusto at any time.  That’s my boy. 

James, parenting is more humbling that you know.  And like all parents preceding me since the dawn of time, I hope someday you will know.  Healthy eating habits and mealtime behavior has always been my Worth the Battle issue for my children. And I’m sure God giggled to Himself when he planted a picky eater in my womb.  See, the terrifying thing about parenting is this nagging fear that what you allow today will ruin your lives forever. Letting you get down after eating just three bites of sandwich today just might, down the road, result in our being The Ones No One Invites Over for Dinner, Not Ever.  Or being banned from Steak n Shake for life. Tragedy!  But equally nagging is the wondering if it’s worth the struggle today when the phase will pass on its own, tomorrow?  I do promise you that if necessary, when a little older and better able to understand, we will sort through all these issues so that you’re a compliant eater with well-rounded tastes and little-to-no complaining.  Can’t you just SENSE my joy and eager anticipation of that day?  But for now, in this time of trying new tastes and learning what it is to finally eat real food, I’m learning lessons in humility and flexibility and just rejoicing in what successes we do have.  If you eat, you eat.  If you don’t, we’ll try again later.  If I have to apologize because your eighteen-month-old self spits out someone’s delicious casserole, I will. And someday, if we’re very lucky you might consider putting a piece of fruit NOT ensconced in a cereal bar, in your own mouth.

Love, Mama

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