I’m starting to hate mealtimes around our house. I used to love food. I used to love to sit down at dinner, relax in my chair at a meal that Michael cooked (he’s an excellent cook, he learned from his father) and enjoy spending some quality time with the man I love. Those days are gone. In fact, they stopped right after we had kids.
The problem began with Cassie, our oldest. She would never let us sit through mealtimes. You see, she had colic so she screamed from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. every night for the first three months of her life. We tried our best to keep her calm during those horrible witching hours. At first, one of us would sit with Cassie and rock her, pat her on the back, coo to her, sing to her and do whatever we could to make that child happy while the other parent ate. Then we would switch off. Of course neither parent could eat fast enough for the other parent’s satisfaction, which meant one of us was usually starving by the time the other one was ready to take baby. In fact, not only starving but probably crazy because she had just spent twenty minutes with a tiny hysterical person screaming in her ear. Note that I said SHE, not HE. I usually let Michael eat first. That’s because I love him, but I started to resent him after a few meals so we stopped doing the baby swap before I got too angry with him and tried to chew his head off.
Michael came up with a brilliant idea after that. He believed that if Cassie was going to scream no matter what we did, then we should just let her scream. So he would put her out in the living room where we could see her, lay her on her tummy on the floor (yes, this was her “tummy time”) and let her howl until all the dogs in the neighborhood went running for cover. “That’s so cruel,” I’d cry. “We can’t just leave her there on the floor screaming like that!” “Waaaaaaaaah!” Cassie screamed in the background. “What if she can’t breathe?” I demanded. “Her poor little face is buried in the carpet!”
“Helen,” Michael told me, “if she can scream, she can breathe.” Yeah, it was a ‘duh’ moment but remember, three months of colic makes parents stupid.
After Cassie got over her colic, she decided to change her nursing schedule. Suddenly she wanted to nurse at dinner time. This meant I would hold nurse her in one arm while trying to eat with the other. God help me if she was nursing on the right breast, because that meant I had to eat left-handed and I suck at doing anything left handed, unless it’s nursing. So I spent another two months trying to get through that and eat a meal. Any meal, because once Cassie realized I could nurse her at dinner, she also had to nurse at breakfast and lunch too. So my meals became catch as catch can.
Then Cassie grew big enough to eat in a high chair. I remember the day we got the high chair. It was like mana from heaven. I could not put that sucker together fast enough. Cassie had been waking up to nurse several times a night for the previous three weeks. She was, quite frankly going through a growth spurt and couldn’t get enough breast milk to keep her satisfied. With a high chair, however, she could now sit at the table and eat solid food… if you consider runny rice cereal solid. I remember that first meal. I spooned some rice cereal into her mouth. She spit it back out. I spooned in some more cereal. She spit it back out again. I kept spooning and she kept spitting out until after twenty minutes of feeding, I had what looked like a small sculpture of a child covered in pigeon poop. It took a few meals before Cassie caught on that she was supposed to EAT the cereal. So we progressed slowly, going from rice cereal to oatmeal, then barley to mixed cereal, and then the veggies (the orange ones first of course, because they stain so badly). And from veggies we went to fruits and from fruits to meats and by that point I was sick of spoon feeding my child. You see, I would have to feed her first and then hope that she would be quiet enough for me to get a meal myself. This very rarely ever happened, and to this day I can’t fathom why it took me so long to lose all the pregnancy weight, because I never got to eat. Well, actually I did, but it was more like grab something out of the pantry and gobble it down whenever Cassie gave me a free moment. Half the time I never even saw what I was stuffing in my face, and I’m pretty sure a few times I grabbed cat food instead of people food. Hmmmm. Maybe that’s why I didn’t lose the weight…
In any event, it was high time, for Cassie to feed herself. Thus began the days of finger foods. I thought this would make life easier. I was wrong. Cassie’s typical meal consisted of things like Cheerios, shredded cheese, cut up and served with little bits of bread, maybe some diced up lunch meat. And milk. She always had milk. In fact, she’d usually ignore the rest of the food and just drink milk. The kid lived on a diet of milk and air, I swear to you. I remember when I gave her spaghetti, the meal that went everywhere – in her hair, on her face, all over her body, all over the dining room, down her diaper… Some of it must have made it into her mouth because it also came out of her diaper again later on.
She’d eat Cheerios, but only if they were properly prepared. Cassie liked to put them in her mouth, get them good and gummy, and then hide them under the lining of her high chair. The next day, she would crawl over to the chair, pull up, and dig out those stale, gooey Cheerios and stuff them in her mouth. The first time I caught her doing this, she just waved at me and smiled, soggy cereal spilling out the corners of her mouth.
But those days were easy compared to what came next. As Cassie got older, she also became pickier. Suddenly, I was spending 20 minutes trying to figure out what to feed her, only to have her reject the entire plate night after night. She got top of the line kids meals, while I only had five minutes to heat up leftovers for myself and Michael. It was miserable. I finally decided Cassie would have to eat what we were eating, because I just couldn’t keep catering to her. And if she refused the food? Well, she could go to be hungry. And that’s pretty much how meals went for the next couple of years. Then Sam came along and we went through the same routine all over again. At least Sam wasn’t colicky, but she did insist on nursing through every single meal I sat down to.
Now we’re back to finger foods again and once more I find myself trying to feed to picky eaters. We eat a lot of leftovers in our house, and Cassie hates leftovers so she walks away from a full plate a lot of times. Sam, on the other hand, will eat everything in sight. However, I can’t get the food on the table fast enough for her. So while Cassie sits there and whines, “I don’t like this!” Sam sits there and screams to be fed. Meanwhile I’m running around the kitchen like crazy trying to get somebody eat something.
Because Cass rejects so many meals, I’ve had to come up with a strategy to keep her from wasting away. When I put her meal on the table, I tell her how many bits of each item on her plate she has to eat in order to get a treat. For example, she must eat four bites of steak, five bits of yams, and six bites of green beans. This sort of works. At least the meal is no longer a battle. Cassie eats the prescribed number of bites and she can have a treat. If she doesn’t she can leave the table but no treat. Still, this plan has its flaws.
“Mommy how many numbers do I have to eat?” she asks.
“You have to have seven bites of green beans, five bites of yams and four bites of steak,” I tell her.
Cassie pokes around at her plate until everything is good and mixed up. “Mommy, I’m done. Can I have a treat?”
“Uh, no. All you did is mix things up. You have to put the food in your mouth, chew it and swallow.”
“How many bites?”
“Seven bites of green beans, five bites of yams and four bites of steak,” I repeat.
Cassie draws the meal out into a long torturous process. I have to watch every single bite as it goes into her mountain. Otherwise, I have no idea how much she actually ate or whether or not she deserves a treat. While I’m watching her, I’m also trying desperately to cut up food for Sam to eat. Even with my little “bites” strategy, Cassie will still often leave the table with her plate untouched. I have made a mistake a few times of taking the food off Cassie’s plate and sliding onto Sam’s tray instead of saving it for Cass to eat later. Sam is always happy to eat whatever Cassie rejected. Unfortunately, every time I do this, Cassie invariably comes back right before bedtime and says, “I’m still hungry,” and of course we have nothing to feed her so we have to put together another plate for her to reject yet again.
The strange thing about feeding two kids as opposed to one is that this time around, I’m actually losing weight. Remember, no matter how many meals I missed because of Cassie, I still couldn’t drop those last ten pounds. Now however, I’m turning into the amazing shrinking mommy. In fact, I weight ten pounds less than I did when I got pregnant with Sam. Some of you might think this is a good thing. It isn’t. I don’t want to lose this much weight. I am not trying to lose weight, and I am in fact eating as much as I can, and exercising less than normal, and yet I’m still slowly losing weight. The pounds are dropping away and I’m afraid if I stand in the shower one day I’ll slip down the drain. My clothes just hang on me. I know for a fact my pants are going to fall off one day and I’m going to moon everybody in public. And people keep telling me I look too thin, or else I look ill.
I went to a doctor, who drew six vials of blood, thus making me 3 pounds lighter. The test results came back negative for everything. No thyroid, problems, no diseases, no nothing. I go back on Monday to decide what to do next. Maybe I’ve somehow discovered how to live on air, like Cassie does. Who knows? I can tell you one thing though. Both kids are asleep right now. I think while no one is watching I’m going to grab myself a meal.