Last weekend we dropped by a friend’s house. A gracious hostess, she led Anna to the kitchen for a treat. Anna emerged with a quizzical expression on her face and something in her hand. It was a yellow jelly bean. She had no idea what to do with it.
How could I possibly be raising a child who at the age of five has never eaten a jelly bean? Does this make me a bad mother? Or does it make me a good mother because I’ve been keeping her away from colored, jellied, sugar? More importantly, why do I even bother thinking about this?
Lately it has been hard to write or think of anything else but food. Ironically babycenter.com emailed me this little tidbit about eating behavior in toddlers Gia’s age recently:
Many 21-month-olds are hearty and adventuresome diners, but plenty of others are quite picky…Try to avoid making a big deal about her eating habits. Continue to serve the family meal to your child, letting her pick what she wants from it. She won’t starve, nor are these fussy behaviors likely to follow her into adulthood.
To which I say, ARE YOU KIDDING ME?! It was obviously not written about a child diagnosed with failure to thrive and a gastrostomy tube! (of course most parenting articles aren’t) Almost every waking hour revolves around thinking about, preparing food, or making a big deal about Gia eating. I know the calories of everything that touches her lips. In my dreams I am haunted by ounces dropping and growth charts. I can’t help but be preoccupied by weight.
Anna was never one of those typical babies with lots of chubby rolls. She still is pretty thin and I happen to know that she is currently only in the 8th percentile for her age on the growth chart. Somehow she managed to grow and be pretty darn happy despite the fact that she is skinny, picky, and eats like a carbohydrate-loving bird. I used to be worried about her and her lack of food interest, but her pediatrician has never been concerned and since I’m small too, it didn’t seem to be a big deal. I was feeding her and she was surviving. She didn’t starve.
Enter Gia and we have a totally different story. Since her birth, feeding decisions were taken away from me and medicinized. Sure it was with her best interests in mind and the truth is, without medical intervention Gia may have starved. From birth she had time limits on oral feeding, her diet was micro-analyzed, we recorded when and how much food was given, and she was fed continuously with a feeding pump at night or fed so much that she was literally stuffed to the point of vomiting several times daily. All in the name of weight gain. Needless to say this can make a mother a little nutty.
Since learning to eat only two months ago, there has been quite a bit of pressure to make sure she can gain weight on her own. It seems counter-intuitive to push high-calorie foods or offer her milkshakes for breakfast. How about we douse those peas with oil? Or maybe some butter with a side of pasta? My grocery cart is filled with items that would make any dieter faint.
Then there are the weekly weigh-ins. Did she gain a few ounces? Did she lose five? Can we finally put a data point on the growth chart? Unfortunately, she is not there yet, but I’m not quite sure it really matters. She is active, happy, progressing and, well, she looks good. Growth charts are based on average growth rates of typical kids. Because Gia is the only reported case of her genetic abnormality, we don’t really know what her growth should be. She is, very slowly, plotting her own curve.
This sounds crazy, but I am so thankful Anna is/was a poor and sporadic eater because I learned that it is OK to eat that way; some kids just do. Anna’s pickiness really helped prepare, and perhaps mellow me for Gia’s different eating experience. Unfortunately the ups and downs of this weight gain ride are just part of our life now. We have our good and bad days and I don’t see that changing soon. However, I do like that Gia is plotting her own curve because that means she is also following her own path. A path that one day might be lined with jelly beans.