This is a guest post by Carolyn at Fumbling Toward Naptime. I hope you enjoy her writing as much as I do!
By Carolyn Rabin
My son, Jacob, can eat me under the table. Okay, maybe I’m not a huge eater. But I’m not that picky either. And the child is only four years old.
We got our first glimpse of Jacob’s voracious appetite the day we introduced solid foods. That was just the beginning. It seemed that as soon as Jacob got a taste of . . . well, anything, he was hooked. And wanted more. MUCH more. So, for the past four years, I have had the same conversation with Jacob’s (incredibly patient) pediatrician at each and every well visit. It has gone something like this.
Dr. F: Do you have any questions for me?
Me: Is it possible for a human being to be born without the ability to experience satiety?
Brief, slightly uncomfortable pause.
Dr. F: The important thing is to just keep offering Jacob healthy foods. No child ever became obese from eating too much broccoli. He can have as much broccoli or as many carrots as he wants.
I get it. But sometimes there is just no end to it. Even before Jacob mastered spoken language, he found a way to communicate his desire for more, and more, and more food. I don’t know if he was truly hungry. Or just enjoyed eating so much that he didn’t want to stop. “I think he’s just bored,” my husband Dan would say. Then Dan would try to distract Jacob with something really stimulating– like opera or Japanese literature or watching Dan program in Java on the computer. Oddly enough, Jacob was more interested in food. This never ended well. Jacob’s initial euphoria at being put in his high chair would inevitably turn to utter despair when (after his eighth helping) we finally cut him off. So, we began luring him away from the table with the promise of watching Sesame Street videos. I know, I know, AWESOME parenting. (We. Were. Desperate.)
On the positive side, even as a toddler, Jacob was as delighted with broccoli and string beans and tofu as he was with sweets. He would eat nearly any vegetable. And, of course, he just loved fruit. So, we started calling fruit “dessert”. Which, honestly, made me feel a little dirty. Because fruit is NOT dessert. I love fruit too. But it is not dessert. Full disclosure: I am addicted to ice cream. I must eat it. MUST. EAT. IT. Every day. (Don’t judge me, you latte addicts.) A nice, creamy vanilla with chunks of cookie dough? That’s dessert. A nice apple? NOT. DESSERT. But since we didn’t want Jacob to even know that ice cream existed, out came the apples at the end of each meal. (GAH.) We would have been able to maintain the charade much longer, if Jacob hadn’t been in the 90-bazillionth percentile for height (thanks entirely to Dan’s genes) and able to reach the freezer door before the age of three. If it hadn’t been for this, he might not have known about ice cream until, say, kindergarten . . . when he heard about it from some bad seed on the playground.
But I digress. Because we have never wanted to tempt Jacob with sugary foods, we never eat REAL desserts in front of him. Let me just say that nothing will make you feel more like a junkie than having to hide your ice cream habit. Usually, I just wait until Jacob is asleep to break out my stash. But sometimes, I just can’t wait. So Dan covers for me. And distracts Jacob. While I skulk off to the kitchen and rapid-fire-scoop a bowl of something. Ahhh, that’s the stuff.
Of course, there were times, even when Jacob was still a toddler, that he did have sweets. For instance, when my friend Joe came to visit a few days after my birthday and brought a box of cupcakes. I didn’t want to be rude, so I served them. To everyone. Including Jacob. The next thing I knew, crumbs were flying. Frosting was smeared all over Jacob’s face. And all that was left of Jacob’s cupcake was a crumpled wrapper. Suddenly, Jacob slid off of his seat, threw himself on the ground and started wailing. LOUDLY. Joe (who does not have children) looked panicked. “Did he hurt himself? Is he okay? What’s WRONG!?!” Joe asked. WHAT’S WRONG IS THAT I NOW HAVE TO EXPLAIN TO YOU THAT MY CHILD IS HAVING A CUPCAKE-IS-GONE MELTDOWN. Joe got a terribly pained look on his face. And tried desperately not to laugh.
Around this time, I had another well visit with Jacob’s pediatrician.
Dr. F: At this age, children’s appetites can vary quite a bit day to day. Don’t be concerned if there are days when he seems to eat and eat and then other days when he hardly eats anything.
Me: Okay, I’m following your first point. But could you explain the “hardly eats anything” part again . . .?
Jacob had a stomach flu once and didn’t miss a meal. Seriously.
Of course, as Jacob has gotten older– and taller– he has become more aware of things. As I mentioned, he can now reach the freezer door. (Curses.) So, he now knows that we (ALWAYS) have ice cream in the freezer. But, we call it a “sometimes” food. (Lies, lies, damn lies.) Occasionally he will say, “Mommy, can I have some ice cream? It is sometimes NOW.” I hear you kid. Mommy could use a fix too. We’re not as restrictive with Jacob as we used to be. Sometimes we give in. It’s hard not to. Jacob has become quite the negotiator.
Jacob: For dessert tonight, I think I’ll have ice cream with animal crackers on top.
Me: That’s not a choice tonight, Jacob. You can have an apple or a pear or a banana . . .
Jacob: I WANT ICE CREAM WITH ANIMAL CRACKERS.
Me: I’m sorry, Jacob. That’s not a choice.
Jacob: FINE. (Eyeroll.) Then I’ll just have ICE CREAM.
Wait a minute . . .
At Jacob’s four-year-old visit with Dr. F, the good doctor again reassured me that Jacob might be finicky about food at times.
Dr. F: Don’t worry if there are days when he hardly eats anything, he–
I cut him off.
Me: Dr. F, you’ve said this a number of times. The child is now four years old. There hasn’t been a day- NOT. A. DAY- when he hasn’t wanted to eat as much as possible. Some days when I ask him what he wants for lunch he says, “I want A LOT of food”. I’m not making this up. I know there are four-year-olds who barely eat anything. Jacob is not one of them. Is this normal??
Dr. F looked at me, stunned.
A few months after that conversation, the tide suddenly turned. I’m not sure why. Maybe it was something internal, like a shift in his metabolism. Or maybe something more intentional. Perhaps Jacob just realized that he prefers the food at preschool (pizza, chicken nuggets, waffles . . .) to what we offer at home (veggie burgers, baked chicken, quinoa . . . ). Whatever the reason, suddenly we were seeing more and more left on Jacob’s plate at the end of a meal. And Jacob turning his nose up even at some old favorites.
The day before Thanksgiving, my sister was visiting. Jacob was so thrilled to have his auntie at the table that he could barely sit still. Or eat. As Jacob danced around the dining room, I pleaded with him.
Me: Jacob, can you please try to eat a bit more.
Did I just utter those words?
Jacob: No, thanks.
Me: Jacob, if you don’t eat any more you’re going to be hungry later.
Jacob: That’s okay, Mommy. I have a plan.
Me: What is it?
Jacob: I’m going to have a big dessert.
Wait a second . . .
Carolyn Rabin is the mother of two lovable but exhausting children (Jacob, age 4, and Emma, age 1). Despite having a degree in clinical psychology, she is clearly no match for their antics. You can follow her blog here or find her on Facebook here.