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My Key to Parenting: Don't Sweat the Small (or Medium) Stuff

Baby

Don't worry; she's much more interested in eating the bottle than drinking the beer

If you read enough articles about being a parent, you learn that when you become one you will have no choice but to give up at least one thing in order to survive the experience. My husband thought the first thing to go for me would be the incessant need for a tidy house. But order calms me, and a calm me is good for everyone.

So while I’ve given up exercise (as if there were an extra hour in the day for me to devote to myself — ha!), my personal appearance (my daughter doesn’t seem to care) and my sanity (although many would argue that took a hike decades ago), what I’ve consciously done without since becoming a mother is the need to control everything that my daughter ingests. And, like tidying the house, that seems to calm me.

For a while I was worried about how to best ensure she was getting the proper nutrients in her diet. However, I’ve come to realize that while I’m some 38 inches taller and many, many pounds heavier (not to mention much more adept at using my thumbs), I’m still mostly powerless over what goes into her mouth.

There were about five minutes when she graduated from baby food in a jar to real food that she was a picky eater. That time has long since passed. Now she eats just about anything, particularly if it’s not at a mealtime, it’s not being fed to her, it’s not food and it’s not hers. Chances are strong that some of what she consumes contains vitamins and minerals. And that all of the bacteria she’s inevitably ingesting are unlikely to be deadly. Or at least a mother can dream.

That she puts everything into her mouth and chews it is well beyond a teething phase; she’s simply realized early on that her lot in life is that of a garbage disposal. The fact that she doesn’t discriminate is good; my husband and I had just hoped that personality trait would have related more to people and relationships than items not fit for human consumption.

The other day we went to the playground and I was armed with what I thought was a respectable stash of snacks, including sippy cups, grapes, whole grain Goldfish crackers and MultiGrain Cheerios. She seemed perfectly happy noshing on all of it in between climbing up the slide and being pushed on the swing, until which time she spotted a puddle of dirty (is there any other kind?) water and a used Band-Aid, both of which were apparently more palatable.

We were at a friend’s house last week when she discovered a pacifier on the floor that had just been in the mouth of a sick infant. While she’s never used one herself, my little girl popped it right in her mouth as if it had just fallen out. When I went to grab it out, she wailed the equivalent of bloody murder. The same incident was repeated hours later except at a different friend’s house and instead of a pacifier it was a dog dish full of kibble.

She very clearly understands the word no; she just chooses to ignore it. In fact, there are few things as amusing to her as when I say it. Like when she goes over to the plants in our living room and starts picking off the leaves. I could even begrudgingly live with the leaf picking if only she would stop eating the dirt in the plants’ pots, although to be fair, sometimes she just picks out the fertilizer and munches on that. After she’s inevitably banished from the plants, she’ll occasioanlly settle for the shoes lined up by our front door, choosing the soles of the foulest, muddiest pair to lick. At least there’s probably a little protein in the fertilizer.

Before feeding her a banana, out of habit from when she first started solids we still carefully cut each piece into quarters to reduce the risk of her choking only to watch her cram five or six quarters into her mouth at a time as if she’s storing up for the winter or needs a potassium fix. A useful strategy, to be sure, if she were hypokalemic or a squirrel.

After most meals are over she’ll crawl around the floor under her chair and pop into her mouth whatever she missed the first time around. When getting changed, if she uncovers leftovers in the folds of her shirt or belly, that’ll do, too.

When she was a baby she would sometimes crawl into our friends’ house next door and eat off their floor indiscriminately. If her name were Spot and she wore a collar it might not have bothered me so much. But it’s not and she doesn’t so it kind of did.

I guess if nothing else I have convinced myself it’s a good thing that at such a tender age my daughter doesn’t sweat the small stuff. For better or worse, she eats it. It’s a lesson I’ve learned from her. For better or worse.

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Image: Meredith Carroll

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