The Art of Self-Feeding
By Sarah L. Hunter
June 30, 2021
Watching my toddler son Andy feed himself is an exercise in hilarious frustration. Every move is economised to smear as much food as possible around his mouth, chest, and highchair. Forget about actually consuming the food; I’d estimate that only 40% of any meal actually ends up in his stomach. Instead, he spends his time creating abstract compositions that wouldn’t look out of place at the Tate Modern. He’s in what I call his “experimental” phase, wherein he experiments with how long it will take before Mommy loses her patience.
At lunchtime, for example, I’ll start him off with some soup. He now refuses to let me put a single spoonful in his mouth; he’s a big boy, and he wants to practice. Unfortunately, he insists on holding the spoon by the head and thumping his entire fist into the bowl, then cramming said fist into his mouth. Any attempt to get him to hold the spoon more efficiently results in a furious scowl and a refusal to finish his meal. Do I want him to eat his soup like a drunk baboon, or not at all? I’ve given up the fight on this one.
Next, I move on to finger foods, which he’s generally more successful with – successful in the sense that the food ends up in his mouth, but usually all at once. Cheese cubes will be stuffed into his mouth until his cheeks bulge. Peas will dribble out in a waterfall of drool, soaking the front of his bib. But I refuse to complain! He’s actually ingesting nourishment!
Foods that he’s never tried before will be eyed with hostile suspicion. Last week I gave him a mini-Oreo cookie, and he acted like a grizzled detective eyeing the scene of a crime. First, he placed a single finger on the cookie, causing it to flip over. This allowed him to inspect it from another angle. Next, he delicately picked up the cookie and held it between his thumb and forefinger, intermittently waving it around. Despite my encouragement to eat it, he held the cookie for the next seven minutes. Eventually, while I watched in quiet desperation, he slowly placed the cookie on his tongue and began chewing. He broke into a wide smile and blurted out: “yaaGAAAHHH!!!”, spraying cookie chunks across the table. Thankfully, the process was sped up with the next cookie (the first one having passed the test).
Meals are over when Andy stops eating and starts shoving food into his pockets. At this point, the tray on his highchair is a minefield of scrambled eggs, Cheerios, and blueberries. His face and hands are sticky and mysteriously wet. I can usually wipe down his flailing hands and glowering face during the day, but nighttime is another story. Without fail, the dinner meal always ends up splashed all over him, streaking his hair and pooling in his ears. There’s no chance a quick wipe-down will clean him, so every night he ends up in the bath. I wrestle him into the tub while my husband cleans the highchair, floor, walls, and dinner table. I could make soup from the bath water.
Bath time is the ONLY time that Andy lets me cuddle him. As I hold him to my chest and look into his beautiful, mischievous face, the mess in the dining room fades away, and my only thought is: “it’s worth it!”
1) Other One finally has a name.
2) aprilp_katje and howtheduck will tell us what she's doing wrong and why. (Hint: Biting off more than she can chew is part of Mom Martyrdom; so is blaming the victim of her idiocy.)