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Finding The Happy

Looking for joy in all the right places

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baby-led weaning

Yelled I to Atticus this morning:

STOP SNORTING YOUR PEAR CHIPS!

Let me explain.

Which isn’t too far off from what Arddun’s done before.

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Breaking the habit

The unfortunate thing about this world
is that good habits are so much easier to give up
than bad ones.

The whole point of getting out of the house and going away somewhere is the change of scenery. But as parents, we secretly loathe change. We loathe change, because as much as we want to boast about how adaptable our little tykes are, the truth is that children are fanatical creatures of habit.

This means that the majority of parents who need their sanity will, upon reaching their new far-flung destination, turn around and try desperately to replicate what happens at home as much as possible.

Unbeknownst to ourselves, Tony and I had already started instilling a long list of habits and routines in our girl’s short life thus far. This includes the habit of feeding herself at least 30% of the time each meal, the habit of sitting quietly while being read to, the habit of sleeping through the night, and of playing on her own (i.e. without demanding to be entertained) for about an hour a day, in total.

Yes. All that went com-plete-ly out the window during our time in Singapore.

Creativity is very much a skillset all parents need – and I’m not talking about knitting sock puppets and decorating a nursery. It takes quite a bit of brain power to improvise and re-create a semblance of what you’re used to back home. We achieved semi-success with the feeding amidst many raised eyebrows for doing BLW (I hear of Chinese mothers who still cut up their son’s meat for them when their sons are 22.) Minimal book-reading – mostly because I kept forgetting and it’s only my lonely bee in my bonnet. Terrible sleep record – she only started sleeping through the night, 4 days before we left Singapore. Which meant we had broken sleep for a month.

But the play-on-your-own time was the biggest failure – Arddun had no shortage of willing playmates throughout her stay and by the end of our trip, I’m convinced she thought the world was filled with friendly, playful grown-ups. (This illusion was partially shattered on our flight back to Sydney but my daughter remains an optimist.) I loved that she got so much cuddle time with friends and family, but I knew that we were going to pay for it when we got back.

And we’re paying for it.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m convinced we did what we absolutely had to do. I know that was how the cookie had to crumble, given other more pressing needs. But now that we’re back home and winding down to our version of normal… well… The adjustment is tough on us all.

For weeks, even before we got back to Canberra, we’ve noticed how clingy Arddun had become. At first we’d put it down to her reaction to a foreign place, and then we thought it was teething (she left Canberra with 3 teeth and came back with 6!), and then I wondered if it was age-related and she was going through a cling-to-mommy-like-a-limpet phase.

Whatever. We’re back home now, and my daughter has surgically fixed herself to my leg.

It’s cute for about 5 seconds, and then it gets very old, very quick. Because guess what – you can’t bathe, you can’t cook, you can’t eat in peace. She views her playpen as a dungeon now – where once she’d happily play by herself for at least 15 minutes, she now clings to the bars and sobs like a waif, cruelly abandoned by a heartless stepmother. I leave her there to do said sobbing as far as I can, and pray and hope that she remembers what playing by herself is all about. Stern words only exacerbate the situation. In the end, Tony caved this afternoon and took her out for a second walk so I could at least tackle my 50 things.

I am not looking forward to Tuesday, when Tony goes back to work.

I know I needed to do the trip. I wanted to do the trip. Spending time with both our families was great, even if one trip had been cut very short and the other was under very stressful circumstances. But it just feels like all the good habits we’ve built up with Arddun have been too easily unravelled, and it’s hard not to think about it and feel a bit sick.

Gah.

MNG

Arddun eating mango
I love mango. Sometimes, I even get some in my mouth.

Sisterhood of the Parenting Angst

Sometimes, we women are our worst enemies.

A while ago, I was reading this forum thread a distraught woman had started, because she had been ostracised by the rest of the women in her mother’s group. Her apparent crime? Feeding her baby purees, because the rest of the mothers were avid believers of Baby-Led Weaning.

And I’m thinking, seriously? You’d shun another woman over mashed veggies?

Now, this post isn’t about bashing people who practise BLW. It just happens to be the research topic of choice lately, since I’m still in that stage of life with Arddun. But after reading about that poor woman and what she had to go through, I asked Tony if he thought that pockets of the online parenting community were – you know – a leeeetle too passionate. That this was yet another example of Parenting By Belief that we’ve encountered in the short 7 + 8 months we’ve known Arddun.

Tony’s usually my barometer for good sense. I am the soi-disant custodian of this family’s Absolute Highs and Super Lows. Tony centres me. He is the Master of the Calm and Common Sense. He removes the fluff and the tinsel. And he agreed with me. In fact, he went so far as to say that until we started reading up about parenting theories, he had never encountered so much zealotry online. (Zealotry: my description, not his.)

So you’ll understand why I think I’ve stumbled onto some kind of truth here. Parents are passionate. And some are zealots. Some are scary zealots. Some are so scary, they make the Mac vs PC vs Linux geek fights look like fat, lethargic dweebs swatting each other with warm lettuce leaves.

Because some parenting zealots are vicious. And unfortunately, it’s the women who mostly comment or blog about parenting theories. And pockets of them can be downright nasty.

Why do we DO that to each other? I’ve never been so simultaneously thrilled and bewildered in all my life, but the last thing any woman needs when seeking advice on raising a child is to be verbally slapped to the moon for not fully committing to the parenting theory of the age. And we get so darn SMUG. It’s not enough that the Smug Mother writes about how her parenting is awesome, but she has to go on about how other mothers who “do things by halves”, or who have blended seemingly diametrically opposing theories, are either “lazy” or “just don’t get it”.

You name any topic, and they’re there – sleep training, weaning, breastfeeding, potty-training, discipline… There are pockets of nasties. And if you’re on certain blogs or forums whose community is trying out the newest fandangled parenting method – while your parenting strategies are looking rather 1989 – then be prepared to find yourself scoffed at. Rudely. And accused of ruining your child’s life to a greater or lesser extent.

(BTW, why is it that the latest fandangled parenting method always professes to have a secret history dating back to Moses? I’m sorry. I’d REALLY like to look into the historical accuracy of some of these theories – and the particular peoples and cultures they were sampling. Because some of it sounds logical on the surface… until you start scratching around.)

Yes. I am on a rampage. Because motherhood is hard enough, without having your own team members call you a twit. Because we do ourselves a huge disservice in claiming to have all the answers. Because beating another woman up verbally just so your parenting theory sounds shinier (in your head) doesn’t make your parenting superior – it just makes you a bully. And we wonder why children bully one another.

The sisterhood still stands. The sisterhood should still stand. Whatever happened to the solidarity, and why are we making it a competition for some kind of Mommy Trophy that only exists in our heads? (The part not already taken up by next week’s household chores and work?) And don’t get me wrong – I struggle with this all the time. Some days, I’m the most chillaxed parent. Other days, I just want to get in some left-wing/right-wing forum and crow about how my middle-of-the-line Moderate Mommyhood is doing wonders for Arddun so far…I’m right, You’re both wrong, nyah nyah nyaaaaah.

Why do I feel the need to do that?

Because I’m sooooo insecure about my parenting skills.

So let’s try and ditch all that, shall we? And together, let’s form the Sisterhood of the Parenting Angst. Because if you’re the kind of mommy who changes her parenting theory every five seconds when her newborn is screaming blue murder… if you’re the kind of mommy who wants to be the Ultimate Homemaker one moment, then worries about her corporate career (or lack thereof) the next… if you’re the kind of mommy who claims you’ll never bribe your child, and then hands her your iPhone to suck on so she’ll finally shut up even though she was repeatedly told it’s off limits before…

… then you’re just like me. And I’m just like you. And if you’re in a parenting group or blog or community that makes you feel any lesser for the choices you’ve made for you and your child – part ways. Find other mothers. Because the world is a gloriously huge place, and we have freedoms. And the only mommy that matters to your child is you.

P.S.: I loooove my mother’s group. Have I mentioned this before? ;-)

Baby-led hoovering

Arddun’s been getting more dexterous with feeding herself, so I thought I’d test out her pincer grip by giving her two baby fistfuls of plain rice to see what she could do.

After a few attempts at scoffing (couldn’t work out how to open palm fully at the right time), mashing (rice stuck to each other, but became even harder to handle), and just putting it down on the tray table to look at it, I watched as she thought about her dilemma, and then bent down and vacuumed the grains within reach.

Arddun, pondering her rice dilemma
It's a little undignified...
Arddun, eating rice from tray table
... but clearly worth the effort.

Obviously, food is the way to go for baby bribery in our household.

Baby-led weaning: a 2.5 month review

This is going to be a slightly technical piece, because it assumes that you, kind reader, are already familiar with the concept of Baby-Led Weaning (BLW) and are interested in a testimonial from someone who is kinda sorta practising it.

For everyone else, it’s probably snoresville unless you’re seriously interested in how Arddun takes her food, in which case… read on!

Background

Tony and I had decided for a long time that we’d try some semblance of BLW. We’d seen our friends do it, we’d heard testimonials from Tony’s colleague whose child self-feeds, and I’d read the book and thought it made good sense.

But I was also eager to get Arddun eating Chinese food. And because her pincer grip isn’t developed yet, rice was going to be an issue. Gloppy things that fall apart easily, such as steamed fish, was going to be an issue. So there was a compromise – self-feeding with spoon-feeding. Which meant a mixture of solid foods and mushy purees or congee.

Now, the purists from either camps are probably up in arms and imagining the worst because of our blended approach but in truth, it’s working really well for us. Arddun’s eating very well, her energy levels are higher than ever, she’s had a growth spurt, and she’s used to getting fed by spoon AND feeding herself effectively.

So yes, this review compares both schools of thought – traditional spoon-fed purees and BLW. It also leaves out the milk feeds, which I do before every solid meal anyway.

What did you start with?

A few slices of pear and banana. Mostly pear, really. The idea with BLW is that you give them a variety of foods to choose from. They’re supposed to take the food from your plate, apparently, but I wasn’t eating pear and I wasn’t feeding her during my meal time.

She picked up a slice of pear and it went straight in her mouth almost immediately. She bit it. And then chewed for a full five minutes, while pulling a face. And I think the effort of having to chew for that long before she had room in her mouth to try anything else was what put her off, because she wasn’t interested after that in self-feeding – until she had a taste of apple and pear puree. And then suddenly, she realised that fruits taste yummy.

Then she could not get enough.

So really, the purees sparked her interest in self-feeding. Gave her the impetus to try harder.


What does she eat on her own?

Fruit and bread, mostly. The occasional chunk of chicken. She usually eats a couple slices of fruit while I prepare her cereal, then has her cereal, then sometimes finishes off with more fruit while I have my breakfast – so we get to eat together, and read together. Breakfast is our book-reading time, because her hands have something important to do, and she’s alert and engaged and happy. I’ve given her a whole chicken piece to eat before, as well as avocado – which was a mess, and not either of our favourite. Lately, she’s started to feed herself sandwiches (sanctioned by me or otherwise!) as well as french toast, so that allows me to add more things for her to feed herself.

Does she pick from your plate? Eat what you eat?

Usually, no. And it’s purely my choice for two reasons: my lunches and dinners do not easily allow the picking and choosing of suitable ingredients for Arddun to graze upon, and I don’t trust the sugar and salt levels of cooked foods – including mine. Plus, we’re almost certain now that she has an intolerance to certain foods with salicylates (such as tomatoes and carrots), which makes it hard if we’re eating out.

Sometimes, I have a picnic lunch and she can have every ingredient that will constitute a sandwich. But most times, Chinese cooking requires cutlery.

Is it easier to do BLW or purees?

They’re both slightly fiddly in their own ways. Both require some creativity and preparation in advance – especially if you want to expose your child to as many different foods as possible. I tried for a while to give her what I ate when we were out, and she ended up just eating the same ingredients from my plate over and over, because everything else was a choking hazard. So unless I was planning to eat lots of sandwiches and salads, it actually limited the variety of foods Arddun was exposed to.

On the flip side, because I make my own chicken stock and soups (without added salt) for home cooked meals, it actually takes very little time for me to whip something up for Arddun’s meal. I also use a slow cooker, so rice porridge is bubbling away in the mornings and then voila, lunch and dinner is ready. I’m so used to Chinese cooking and the acrobatic multi-tasking it requires, that adapting it for Arddun’s meals on the fly has become, ironically, the easier option. She’s actually eating (some of) what I’m eating this way… just that it has to be spoon-fed, which BLW believers are loathe to do.

Does she overeat when you spoon-feed her?

This is one of the benefits purported by BLW, in that babies who self-feed know when they’ve had enough, and babies who are spoon-fed usually just eat when the spoon is offered to them. In other words, BLW allegedly prevents overeating and in the long run, reduces the likelihood of obesity.

Except, there hasn’t been studies to prove that explicit claim yet, because Gill Rapley only wrote her book in 2008.

My answer: I don’t know. I think this claim is over-inflated, but that’s my gut feel. In my limited experience thus far, Arddun is perfectly capable of indicating when she’s had enough when either self-feeding or when spoon-fed. And she’s also perfectly capable of scoffing every last bit of bread she can lay her little chubby hands on, until she throws up.

The opposite is also true of self-feeding – Arddun would sometimes get frustrated with self-feeding, because she isn’t efficient yet but she is still hungry for food. Milk doesn’t always satisfy her – she would want to eat food, and she’d want it in her mouth NOW. Enough with the experimentation and the exploration, lady. Crack open the thermos flask. There’d better be chicken and cous cous in there.

Does Arddun instinctively choose foods that are better for her?

No. At the beginning, she ONLY wanted fruits because they’re sugary. I think letting any child be her own dietitian is the most laughable proposition of (the narrowest interpretation of) BLW theory because given the choice, any kid would eat sweet stuff every day EVERY DAY. What we do with Arddun is to give her a limited selection. Spinach or fork-mashed peas? Bread with avocado, or bread with egg yolk? That sort of thing.

Has she choked when self-feeding?

Not exactly. There was an incident with watermelon – she literally bit off more than she could chew, and I think there was a stringy bit because it all came out in a hurry – along with lunch.

And that brings me to another point about self-feeding: sure, the gag reflexes are great in babies. And Arddun came out alright – it was a non-event, really. But did I really want her to lose her lunch? No.

Has spoon-feeding impeded her psycho-motor skills?

Because we’ve used a blended approach, I’d say not. She’s getting more effective at finishing what she has in her hands. (And *accidentally* flinging the stuff she’s had enough of outside the splash zone.) But then again, maybe she’s getting better at it because she’s playing with different toys and just growing. I mean, how does one benchmark these things?

Ultimately, Arddun is an individual. She loves her food, and she’s not a fussy eater. But I can’t bring myself to attribute these traits solely to BLW, because she enjoys feeding herself, and she enjoys being spoon fed. She isn’t too fussed about not having control, and she likes experimenting with food in her hands. Whatever. She’s a sponge at this stage – everything is new and an opportunity for learning. I’d like to think that she enjoys my mushy baby food dishes just as much as she enjoys scoffing food off my plate.

The most important thing is that she’s eating. And she’s thriving. And she’s happy.

Welcome to Planet Yum Yum

Last Saturday, we started Arddun on real food.

Introduction to Solids. Otherwise known as the fine art of balancing nutrition with baby constipation. Goodbye 3-hourly feeds, hello sticky fingers and Wet Ones.

Suddenly, those weeks of hanging out on the high chair during meal times make sense. The high chair, it seems, has magical properties now. Sit in one, and absolutely fabulous non-milk things get placed in our mouths and then it’s party time for Tonguesville!

Arddun sat in an IKEA high chair, very much like her own, at the Coffee Club this afternoon while my mother and I enjoyed a quick respite. And she was almost indignant that she didn’t get offered a piece of bread or a spoonful of something mushy and divine. In just 10 short days, she’s learnt the joys of gastronomy and she cannot. get. enough.

I’ve always had every intention of doing both Baby-Led Weaning (for the psychomotor skills and self-feeding independence) and the traditional spoon-feeding (for the less-mess version when eating out.) And yes, Baby-Led Weaning purists do not condone purees and mixing it up with spoon-feeding. They also completely frown upon starting before six months. But after four straight weeks of staring longingly at us at the dinner table; after a few attempts at swotting at our spoons and the occasional sympathy-chew, we decided to end her misery and give her a pear on Saturday – just 2 weeks shy of her 6th Monthversary.

The faces she pulled made the cleaning up after worthwhile.

Immediate grab-and-bite resulted in much unexpected chewing and pulling of faces.
Arddun putting a strawberry half in her mouth.
Oookay... let's give this strawberry a go.
Arddun pulling a face while holding her strawberry half.
*Sour-cringe*

I know some books say we’re supposed to try a food item for four days before moving on to the next. But that all went out the window very quickly. Flexing Arddun’s tastebuds has become the new family joy and entertainment. And man, does she pack an appetite in that lithe little body. We’ve given her pears, bananas, strawberries, apples, sweet potato, carrots… she’s warmed to ground cinnamon and oregano, and she relishes chicken apricot and rice porridge with spinach and steamed snapper. But she ab-so-lute-ly inhaled the steak and veggie puree. Just lunged for it. I could not feed her fast enough.

But that grin – that sparkle in the eyes, that gummy, toothless smile and that angelic sigh of contentment was plenty thanks, I have to say. Plus, she’s also taken to voicing her enjoyment through a continuous commentary of “mum-mum”s and “yum-yum”s. I kid you not.

Needless to say, our daughter is NOT a vegetarian.

Best part? Bread. Will sit quietly and self-feed very happily for at least half an hour, which makes lunch time at nearby cafe possible and very enjoyable. Observe:

Arddun’s verdict: Bread good.

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