Does your toddler eat enough?

‘Whoosh! There’s an aeroplane!’

And the last spoonful of super mashed food would go into my toddler’s mouth. After that we’d wait. With abated breath and zero motion. The food had to be kept down. A stray movement could excite him; get him to burp and then barf – the parent’s ultimate nightmare. All food wasted. Soon the food preferences took over and life took the shape of an even more dreadful nightmare. I was forever measuring his weight down to the third decimal place, and obsessing about nutritional value of the food gone in, versus whatever had landed on the floor, in the dog’s mouth, the curtain, and of course his pockets.

To add to the woes were these perfect kids. They had unstained clothes, wore a sparkling white bib and ate spoonful after spoonful of food packed with all sorts of vegetables. My child, on the other hand, displayed extreme motor and sensory prowess by picking out peas or any other hated vegetable of the day, bit by bit, till it was all nutrient free. I am an Indian mum and the baby’s body weight is a measure of my mothering capability.

‘Oh! He is so thin. Don’t you feed him anything?’ Women of the world chorused. I think I heard a few voices from parallel worlds as well. Hence, on my next visit to the paediatrician I confessed that I was miserably failing at the task of turning my child into a chubby-cheeked, loved kid. He looked fairly neglected and I felt an F- burning through my mommy report card.

She smiled and asked, ‘Is he active?’

Active? I wanted to scream, ‘Active? He defies gravity, is a world record holder in turning the house upside down in shortest time humanly possible, curiosity is his middle name, life is an adventure for him, and I am his playground.!’ I nodded instead and added, ‘But he doesn’t eat anything.’

Her face got clouded. ‘Have you tried not eating anything?’ She didn’t wait for my reply and added, ‘If he weren’t eating, he wouldn’t be creating the havoc that he does.’ By then he had overturned the pen stand, and was trying to figure out if stethoscope could work as a car.

‘Stop obsessing over his food. When he is hungry, he’ll let the world know that he needs food. Let him know hunger to be able to appreciate food. ‘I got up to leave in fairly uncertain steps, after she had let him check her head with the stethoscope.

‘You are doing fine. Don’t be so harsh on yourself. He is fine.’ She called out.

I paused and let the thought sink in. I was doing fine, she had said. ‘I AM doing fine,’ I thought. That day I decided to let go of the report card. I looked down at my scrawny little boy who was now holding my finger and jumping from square to square, expecting me to follow suit. And I did. We were going to jump squares together from now on.

Mealtime changed. We maintained an overall balance, but the peas that were thrown out were not counted. I let him demand food. I let the other mum’s stare slide past when he’d declare, ‘Mumma, I am hungry.’ Recipes that disguise broccoli well were trashed, for when he was hungry, broccoli didn’t need a veil. He is thirteen now, is taller than me and is doing fine. We still jump squares sometimes. He still picks the peas out and feeds them to the dogs. Ah well! I still try to disguise peas. Sometimes.

Originally posted at Let the child go hungry!

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