Last week I found a note on 8th Avenue. It was scrawled on an index card and it caught my eye.
1. What brand formula????
2. How to introduce? I have 8 frozen bags, pumping approx. 10 – 12 oz/day (2 – 3 bottles). How much? (She gets 4 oz bottles 3x at daycare.)
3. Ok to mix with cereal to make breastmilk last longer?
There was something about the urgency, the abbreviations, all the question marks. Once, I too knew and anguished over exactly what was going in and out of my daughter. I have the logs to prove it. Logs that record which breast she nursed on and for how long. Logs that describe the frequency, consistency, and color of her poop… Logs that detail which foods were introduced and when: December 8, Cheerios!!!
Like a romantic old movie, the pages of the calendar swirl gracefully off their binding until suddenly they fly off in a whirl of paper. Eight shockingly fast years later, my logs languish in a box, ink fading, paper curling at the corners, stained with Burt’s Bees, spotted with pear puree.
It’s early evening in the kitchen and I hear myself repeating myself. I know that endless parental repetition is a kiddie soporific and doesn’t actually penetrate their conscious minds. I get that my staccato exhortations go through the 7-year-old vocoder and emerge in her ears sounding like the hiss and whine of our old radiators. I also know my cat doesn’t understand me, but I keep talking to him anyway. It doesn’t stop me. I’m the Rainman of the kitchen counter.
Eat your peppers. One more pepper. Stop reading and eat your pepper. Just two more bites of pepper. Try the pepper. Time to eat the pepper. More pepper. Have you eaten your pepper? It’s almost bedtime, eat your pepper. The pepper is the most important part, eat it. Try the pepper. You need to eat the pepper…
I’d like to pretend that it’s conscientious – green and healthy – parenting that propels me into this red pepper recitation. It’s not. It’s food-obsessed, controlling, guilty parenting. I come from a long line of food-obsessed, controlling people. No matter where I am in the world, my father relies on the US mail to exert his remote nutritional control. Boxes with vitamin jars, bags of hulled barley, cans of tuna, and the occasional organic hangar steak have been arriving at my door since I left home at 18. So, it’s no mystery why I get itchy when I can’t remember the last vegetable my daughter ate. I have so much less control over what is going in her these days, but I am still responsible for her mental and physical wellbeing.
And also, well, I found a package of half-eaten skittles under her bed, and I really thought she did not know where I hid the bag of Halloween candy.
I once had a trusty vegetable and fruit abacus in my brain. With this system, I could easily calculate how much of the right stuff was going in each week. A RobinHood calculator of good vs bad food. If we went out to dinner on Saturday, and she chose her favorite pasta swimming in butter and cheese followed by a scoop of Häagen Dazs topped by gummy bears, at some point that weekend an equally large serving of veg and fruit would be consumed.
Times have changed. She is not the willing open-mouthed cub she once was. She has grown into a delightful but moody, snaggle-toothed chimp and I am her chittering monkey-mama… jumping around the edges of the forest, vainly trying to pop the nutritious little bugs into her mouth as she swings through the trees.
“Stop it, monkey mama,” she complains as she bats my comb-wielding hand away from her messy hair.
“Gross, monkey mama,” she yells as I try to shove one more bite of egg yolk into her mouth before she runs out the door to school.
“Get off, monkey mama, “ she sighs as I wrap a scarf around her cold cheeks.
She is swinging away from me – each day she gets higher and higher and the view from below is precarious. I don’t care how ridiculous I am. I will continue to pull the ants out of their holes with my stick and throw rocks at the coconuts to get them to fall onto the ground. In about 10 years I’ll be lining up at the post office with a box of multi-vitamins and brown rice.