Before I had my third child, I used to think that moms who whipped up homemade baby food were a whole other species of mom. As a parent with a full-time job that often involved overtime, some weeks just getting to the grocery store to buy the baby food was a miraculous feat.
Last Sunday night, however, I spent two hours slicing, dicing, steaming, and puréeing food for our baby. And it’s all because working mom guilt caught up with me.
After having Ben, for the first time in my career, I’m working from home, part-time. As I’ve hung out with him, I’ve been realizing the stuff I missed out on when I went back to work after my other kids turned 3 months old. I’ve witnessed firsts not in the baby books, like watching Ben discover that he has the power to move his own fingers. I go to the Music Together class on Friday mornings with him and make silly sounds as we twirl around. I sit with him on the activity mat and watch him inch his body forward to get a toy, the first step toward crawling. I sing “Rainbow Connection” to him when it comes on the Pandora baby station and hold him tight.
I did not feel much guilt about working during my older children’s early childhood. We are a two-income household — I had to bring in a salary. I also enjoyed my work as a magazine editor, even if the late nights were tough. We had a sitter we fully trusted. We had the organized chaos under control.
Then it came time for Ben to go on solids, and I felt a rush of MUST. MAKE. THE. BABY. FOOD. How could I not do that for him? How could I have not done that for my other kids? How could I have missed all that singing to them and snuggling with them? How could I have been absent for so much of their early lives?
The force of the guilt took me by surprise.
I’ve experienced other stabs of guilt here and there in recent months. After exclusively nursing Ben, a doctor recommended that I switch primarily to pumping (mainly because he was taking in too much air when he breastfed and was spitting up as a result). And then when I couldn’t pump enough milk to keep up with the baby’s demand, I had to supplement with formula. Both of my older children went on formula when I returned to work, but somehow, I felt badly about giving it to Ben.
I was haunted by the ghosts of my working mom life. All the guilt I’d never felt was bubbling up now, goading me into being the mom I felt I hadn’t been.
And so, I decided to make baby food. One day, I spent an hour — an hour! — in the produce department at a local supermarket, surveying the organic offerings, feeling up apples and pears, querying staffers about when stuff would ripen and doing quick Google searches to see if, for instance, babies could eat oranges (that’s a big n-o).
That night, after all the kids were asleep, I scrubbed, cored, peeled, and sliced six apples. Then I discovered the secondhand baby food steamer I’d gotten didn’t work, so I dumped the pieces into a pot of boiling water. Ten minutes later, I pulverized them in a blender. I let the purée cool for an hour before pouring it into mini storage containers. I refrigerated a few and froze the others.
There was something beautifully Zen about the whole process. Usually at night, I’m dashing around picking up or cleaning up after everyone, my brain awhirl with all the things I have to do before I can finally fall into bed. But I felt truly immersed in the activity, and I felt so good to be making the baby food.
The next morning, my husband, my older son, my daughter, and I stood eagerly in front of Ben at breakfast time: We were all excited to see him take his first slurp of food. Sabrina wanted to be the one to feed him. Ben looked dubious, although by his second applesauce encounter later that day, he was into it.
“Did you make baby food for me?” Max wanted to know.
[Insert dagger into heart.]
“No,” I responded truthfully.
Then Max wanted to try some, so he did and loved it, and I’ve been making extra applesauce for him ever since. Meanwhile, Sabrina is really into puréed peas. “It’s like soup when you add salt and pepper!” she says. So I’ve been making extra for her.
I’m serving them homemade baby food! So what if it’s a good decade after they were both babies!
I continue to raid the produce department and cook up baby food at night. (Squash: Win! Apricots: Fail!) Next week, however, Ben is going to start on poultry and meat, and I’m realizing it may be too much to handle right now on top of pureéd fruits and veggies — I’m still getting used to this whole third kid thing.
As I started thinking that I might just buy chicken and beef in jars and that little guilt devil started nagging me not to, I got ahold of myself. Both my older kids subsisted on jarred, non-organic baby food, and they are perfectly healthy children. Heck, who knows what was in the store-bought baby food my mom fed me, and I turned out OK, if I do say so myself.
One big truth of parenthood is that you have to make peace with doing and giving your best, pushing past those not-good-enough concerns. Parenthood is challenging enough without living in fear of failing your children, or yourself. When guilt rears its head, it’s important to beat its bad ass to the ground and do whatever makes life work for you and your family.
I’m happy I’ve been able to give Ben homemade food, and I take pleasure in seeing his food repertoire expand. And when I go to the store and buy jars of mushed chicken, it will all be good.
I’m just wondering if my older two kids might start raiding that, too.