5 things I’ve learnt about how to eat from feeding children

20130902-135554.jpgFive Things I have learnt about how to eat from watching Squeak:

1. Finger foods make excellent projectiles – Cheerios are ideal for this and can be thrown the full length of our kitchen-diner, although carrot sticks make a pleasing ‘thwuck’ when they hit the ground and bananas have the added bonus of sliding across the laminate.
2. Forks and spoons just slow you down – scrambled eggs, baked beans and soggy shreddies are all quicker and tastier when scooped up with your hand – preferably with both hands.
3. A messy eater is a happy eater – food around the face and hands may suggest that a baby has eaten, but definitely proves that they have had fun playing (this may be related to the above points…).
4. Baby can survive on breadsticks alone – versatile for snacks and meals, handy to take out, can be handed back to a child in a car seat while driving and can be clutched two in each hand for at least an hour, should the future supply be doubtful.
5. The best form of bribery is snacks – total silence will cost a small pot of chocolate ice cream and happy child can be bought with a pot of raisins.

Five Things I have learnt about how to eat from watching Quibble:

1. It will always taste better from someone else’s plate – ideally chocolate from Mummy’s plate or anything from Daddy’s plate as these get the best reactions.100_4727
2. You can never have too much pasta – cheesy pasta, pasta with cheese, tomato pasta, tomato pasta with cheese, sausage and pasta…
3. Previous eating habits are no indicator of future eating habits – In less than four years the following have all gone from firm favourites to threaten-me-with-them-and-I’ll-cry: hummus, peas, broccoli, sliced tomatoes, rice, risotto, cake and any kind of soup.
4. Rejected food must not be allowed to remain on the plate – that lone pea may well contaminate the rest of the meal and should at the very least be thrown onto the table.
5. The best form of bribery is snacks – silence will cost a bag of fruity flakes, a happy child can be bought with slices of apple with raisins and chocolate drops and for a chocolate Rice Krispie cake Daddy will never find out what really happened to his car magazine…

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No worries

I was warned so many times about how once I became a parent I would spend my life weighed down by guilt. And a few people talked about the love that I would feel for my children. But I don’t remember a single person warning me about the fear.

So many things to do with a baby are potentially terrifying, it’s sometimes hard to know when to be genuinely scared. When Quibble was tiny, we used the phrase ‘danger of death!’ to refer to anything we weren’t supposed to do. It was a flippant phrase that we used to try and offset the unremitting anxiety.

Two weeks before Squeak was due to be born, I woke during the night to find I was bleeding. People later asked me if I was scared and I told them that I was mostly relieved to find I wasn’t incontinent. While this was partly true, there was a moment as I sat, having just been told by the hospital to come in immediately, by ambulance if necessary, when I allowed myself to think, ‘Please be okay,’. Just for a moment. I couldn’t articulate anything more than that, because to be really scared would have meant thinking about what the alternative might be.

Last weekend I found myself at the hospital again, this time at the Children’s Accident and Emergency department with Squeak. I had been referred by a nurse at the walk-in clinic because she had a temperature, had become lethargic and was having to put a lot of effort into breathing. The afternoon turned into evening; doctors mentioned sending us up to the ward; we were sent for an X-ray; she had a cannula for blood tests; still there were no answers. I found myself alone in the waiting area, the fresh aroma of sick on my jeans, holding a baby whose head leant pathetically against my shoulder. It was approaching ten o’clock at night and I hadn’t eaten or been to the toilet, or done anything at all since mid-afternoon except carry Squeak. I had been consoling myself that everyone was overreacting about what probably just another virus, but in a moment of weakness I began to glimpse the other possibility that she really was very ill. Exhausted as I was, I realised that if I was going to have to allow this possibility in, I wouldn’t be able to cope.

I called for Stanchion: I always feel stronger when we’re a team. He found an emergency babysitter for Quibble and drove to the hospital to bring me a bag of necessities and a hug. When the nurses came to carry out their obs on Squeak half an hour later, they found she had fallen asleep on me; her temperature, heart rate and breathing rate were all down. Happy that she was out of danger they let us finally go home.

When my friends ask about it, I will tell them about how I have now learnt how important it is to find the correct car park to avoid being sent on a ridiculously long route through the hospital. I will laugh with them about how I overheard that the boy in the next cubicle had a marble stuck up his nose. And I’ll complain that  being forced to watch so much CBeebies melted my brain. But I won’t mention how scared I got, because I’d rather not remember.

Maybe that’s why no one mentions it. If we knew how scary it was to be a parent, would anyone ever do it?

Pink for a Girl

Thirty-odd years ago, I was born into a world where a woman ran the country and that simple fact made me feel that one day I could do the same if I wanted. My daughter has been born into a world where there is now a pink version of Lego just for girls and Paris Hilton is somehow a role model.

I have a rule that Squeak is not allowed pink – not on clothes, not on toys, not on bags or plates or, well… anything. I have no problem with her having things which are feminine, but I do have a problem with the pinkification of being a girl. Some of my friends think it is ridiculous. They tell me that Squeak will rebel and want to be like her peers and have nothing but pink as soon as she is old enough to have an opinion and that may be true. They say that I’m the one being sexist because I let Quibble wear blue, but that is where difference lies.

Quibble has some blue clothes, but he also has orange, red, green, brown and yellow. His toys are a variety of bright primary shades. If you ask him his favourite colour, it changes every time. But it is almost impossible to buy anything for Squeak which doesn’t have at least some pink in it and there are pink versions of toys which aren’t even particularly gendered; tricycles, pianos, trampoline, shape sorter, art table, sandpit, ballpool… In many ways, the fact that I have to actively seek out non-pink items makes me even more determined, because it really shouldn’t be this difficult to want your child to know more than one colour.

I need Squeak to know that just because there is a pink version, doesn’t mean that if things aren’t pink they are only suitable for boys. And for me, taking pink out of the equation makes things much more gender neutral. Because yes, she’s a girl, but she’s also so much more than just a gender.

She will be a person in her own right. She will be the product of her upbringing. She will be influenced by her age, by the media and by her friends. She may become an engineer, like her father, or a teacher, like her mother. She might be very into crafts or cooking or reading or dolls and I would accept any of those (Quibble has tried all these). But I need her to know that if she wants to watch racing cars or kick a football or climb trees, she can. There’s more than one way to be a girl.

Most importantly, at the moment she’s a baby who has no concept of gender – hers or anyone else’s. She loves making things move; cars, balls, the pages of a book. She loves cuddles and tickles and being thrown up in the air by Stanchion. She just doesn’t wear pink.