Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Food is on my mind...

Food. I have been talking to so many people about food lately, that really I just have to write about it. I don't know where to start, so I'm thinking back to the table I left at home going to work the other day. A little table with a finished breakfast. Well, finished in our definition of what it means - there was still some food on the plate when Antek took his bib off, handed it to me, looked me in the eye, smiled and walked away. A few mouthfulls of scrambled eggs. A couple of bites of bread. Some tea on the bottom of the glass. Breakfast is finished. We don't go for 'One more spoon? For Mummy?'

My husband and I have been struggling with this ourselves for months now. We love eating, we love food, and we love spending time in the kitchen. And there is nothing wrong with that. Except that, quite a while ago we realised that our eating habits are not what we want them to be, and that Pawel's portion of pasta would really shock you (and the fact that you can't see him from behind all this food). How can we know that enough is enough? How can we know if we're eating because we're still hungry, or because we simply don't know when to stop. Neither of us has a problem with obesity, but healthy eating habits are about more than that, you'll agree. So we mindfully worked through our eating habits, we slowed down and started listening to our bodies more. And we let our son do the same. Just so he maybe doesn't have to go through the same thinking we are doing right now, in the future. Fingers crossed.

Respect.  When the subject is mentioned, pediatrician Emmi Pikler sticks out her tongue.  It is not a sign of displeasure from the distinguished 79-year-old infant specialist, but an imitation of a baby’s first rejecting movement, an early signal from the child of having had enough to eat. (from an interview with Emmi Pikler, reproduced on Little River School blog)

As always, we have found that it's all about trust and respect. Trusting your child to know how much he needs, and respecting his decision to stop. Trusting your child that he knows his body better than anyone else, and respecting this body enough not to want to impose your will. All of this, if practices early, can lead to life-long benefits.  But recently I have been talking to so many people about food so many times, that it has led me to believe it's not only these kinds of benefits we are talking about here...

Know when to stop

The first years of life are all about learning. It's all one big experience (not that it changes much after that) and also learning how to learn. Learning what we like and what we don't like. Learning what we are comfortable with. Learning what is and what is not acceptable to us. But, as ever, this kind of learning needs to be done by the child himself.

In letting Antek eat  as much or as little as he wants, we hope to let him learn how his body feels about certain things. When he has enough, he gets up, takes his bib of and sometimes says thank you ( 'degyeeee') and hands me the plate. Or just smiles and walks away. Letting him stop when he wants to stop we are letting him walk away when he's had enough. And this does not only apply to food.

We want our children to know when to stop. To know when to say 'no' and walk away. I can imagine that when our son is a teenager, we will want him to know all of this even more. But for them to be able to do that comfortably, we also need to respect when they say 'no' to us. Especially, when it is about things they know better than we do - when it is about themselves.

Emotional experience

Just like anything else that goes on between our children and us, eating and feeding is an emotional time. For all those involved. I remember how hard it was for Pawel when he prepared a meal and Antek would not eat it. And of course 'I've made all this for you and you are walking away' is definitely something that was on his mind. But he never once let Antek know that he thought that, and learnt to trust Antek, and let go of the expectations. And that always pays off :)

We have this thing in Poland, where parents will sit down with babies and feed them spoonfulls that are always for someone (now, I have no idea if this is a universal thing or not?). 'One for Mummy. One for Daddy. One for Granny....' The list goes on, the child gets fed, nobody knows how much or how little he really needed to eat. But this, again, is not just about food. It's a pretty heavy load, now that I think about it, for a child to stop even when he is full. After all, if he's had one spoon for Mummy, will he not have one for Daddy?

Pawel has recently told me an adult version of this, which really is just the same. When you go out and don't want to have a drink with someone (and by drink in this situation we usually mean a shot of vodka) the 'normal' response is: 'Come on. You won't drink with ME?' well.... (beautiful recent post by Nadine about being able to comfortably say 'no' is here).

Trust me, you'll like it

Antek had a couple of months when he would not touch a carrot. That was just it. We didn't worry about it, but unforunately we mentioned it to someone, who seemed to find it a bit problematic. The advice which followed included things as varied as giving him only carrots so he had no choice, through to giving him other things mashed with carrots, so he would not notice. Now, needles to say, we did neither.

First of all, we don't think it's abnormal not to like something. We usually don't see it as something unusual when it comes to adults (think about having all your friends over for dinner at once... I would probably have to serve water). The problem with children is that we tend to worry that they will not get what they need, or that they are becoming 'picky'. Since we tend to trust Antek that he will know what he needs, we didn't worry about the first one. And we kept offering him carrots once in a while, and then patiently ate them ourselves. Until, of  course, one day he grabbed one, ate it, and has loved carrots since.

There are several important things we wanted to remember with the carrot 'situation'. It's ok not to like something, so if he ended up just not liking carrots in the end, we would also not have a problem with that. But more than that, we disagree with cheating anyone into doing anything - and in our ears 'mashing everything so he doesn't know carrot is there' is cheating. We don't want our son to  lie to us. We will not lie to him. And that goes far beyond carrots.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Emotional rollercoaster...

I recently realized that I might just be a bit boring sometimes. I don't like when things happen all at once and my brain can't quite cope. I don't like when things get too much. I vowed years ago never to watch another horror movie - I do not like being scared. I'm uncomfortable in situations where I don't know what is going on and so I don't know how to respond. I know these are all learning experiences, but if I can, I choose an attitude that is a little bit Zen, I guess - or at least, I try. And I keep reminding myself that I can always (well, almost always) opt out. Not everyobody can.

We were at the nearby playground the other day. Antek is now just over 18 months old, and things that move have started to get exciting. And big vehicles. And also, running up and down. Somehow, not too many things in the playground itself are exciting for him, but lots of stuff around it is, so we go. He loves watching older kids play, and laughs out loud at lots of things they do. Like Leander, he's not too keen on slides - he climbs up, looks down, climbs back down and usually walks away. He doesn't cry anymore when too many kids run past him, but he just walks away and moves closer to us when he's uncomfortable. He doesn't seem to like when things get too much. When stuff is scary. When something is uncomfortable. He stretches his arm out and shakes his head. Like me, he prefers to opt out. I respect that. And I hope he too will respect other people's choices when he gets older.

We were looking at a little girl, maybe a bit younger than Antek, who was quietly playing with little stones. Her mum came over, picked her up and offered to carry her to the slide. The girl was trying to get back down and get back to her pebbles, but mum had decided that slide will be more fun. Once on top of the slide, the girl got scared and started crying. She was trying to get down. Her mum held her and showed her how much fun the slide really is. After about two or three times, the girl started enjoying it, and this time instead of protesting loudly, she laughed out loud and wante to go again, again and again. Until her mum got tired and took her back down to the pebbles. This time, there were tears and not wanting to leave the slide... There were a few times when the girl wanted to opt out, when the emotions were getting too much, when things were too scary to handle. Or too great to leave behind. It's all part of life, but it sure is easier when it's not imposed on you, and when you can at least have a little snippet of a possibility of opting out.

One of my most vivid memories from childhood is a water slide we were on ages ago in Hungary. It was huge. I didn't want to go, but everyone went and I was taken along. I remember standing on top of it, looking down and thinkng that I absolutely need to get down, get back to the stairs and leave. But everyone went, and everyone had fun, and so I did too in the end. I hated it. I remember landing in water convinced that I would drown. I remember being very scared and thinking that something surely must be wrong with me - everyone is having such a great time. This was the last time I have ever been on a water slide. I guess that's something Pawel will have to do with our kids. I don't feel comfortable in water either.

I might be a boring mum. But that day, walking home from the playground I decided (again) I prefer it that way. I prefer the quiet joys of playing in the pebbels, from the emotional rollercoaster of the tears of fear mixed with the tears of joy on the slide. I like peace. I like when things happen because they are naturally meant to happen, not because someone makes decisions for me. And I like my choice for not doing something to be respected. Sure, slides are fun. Water slides are probably fun too, but I never had a chance to have fun on one. Maybe we don't need an emotional rollercoaster to see how much fun something is. Maybe it's ok to wait until we are ready for the fun... after all, isn't that what makes it fun?

Wednesday, 2 November 2011


I have been a bit sick recently, and have been home more, but also sleeping more and doing less. I hate being sick (who doesn't?), but, as always, if you let yourself just be, there are surprises around the corner. I had very little energy these past few days, and this helped me do what I have most trouble doing - slowing down...

I *know* of the benefits of slowing down. I really do. And I try. I try more now with Antek around than before. But more often than not, I feel like I start at the top of the hill every morning, and from there all you can do is just keep picking up pace. Until the evening comes, you crash, and tell yourself that tomorrow will be different. And then you wake up at the top of that hill again...

I was sitting on the kitchen floor and Antek wanted to go outside. It was this time of day when his energy was too much to keep inside, but it was a bit chilly and he needed to put on a sweatshirt. I held the shirt out, explained that if he wants to go out he needs to put it on. He turned his back to me and went back to looking out and pointing out the door. I knew he wanted to go and play. I was really tired and had a huge headache. So I sat there and waited. And then I waited some more. And some more. And more... I closed my eyes for a moment and when I opened them again Antek was standing in front of me pointing to the shirt and stretching his arms up... we put the shirt on and he ran off. And I realized that I was feeling a bit embarrassed.

Had I felt better I would not have waited half the time. I probably would have found a way of explaining it again, or trying to convince him to put the shirt on. I would have come closer, and probably repeated what I had said. But was it really necessary? He needed to point at the window first, knock on the door, and then he was ready.

I have read and thought about what both Magda Gerber and Emmi Pikler say about slowing down. I have thought about it a lot since Antek was born. I let him develop naturally, 'in time, not on time' (Gerber). I do not rush him into things he is not ready to do physically. I take time during caring moments - nappy changes, baths, feeding... why is it so difficult to do the same when it comes to all those simple daily things? Why is it more difficult to slow down when it comes to sitting at the table or putting shirt on, than it is when it comes to sitting up, crawling, or walking? I don't know. All I know is that slowing down should really be my matra, not just during caring moments.

When I opened the door and let Antek out, I heard this song on the radio (things like this really make me stop and think, I have to say...):

Slow down, you're doing fine, you can't be everything you want to be before your time...