I’ve been encouraging Abby to use sign language since she was 6 months old -- and yesterday, halfway through her 10th month, she signed back at me! Clearly and angrily, she waved her hands to say “all done.” I rejoiced for exactly 10 seconds before I suddenly worried that this meant I was trying to feed her too much.
On the one hand, I know this is just one more “sign” that I overthink things. But! On the other hand ...
I really, really like to see my kids eat. I have loads of anxiety around food and getting enough of it that goes back through generations: my grandpa Mike famously couldn’t stand anyone getting too near his plate and ate at hyperspeed because he grew up in a poor family with 13 kids where you never knew if you were going to have enough.
My mom, on the other hand, was put on diet pills when she was a tween and spent her life fighting her hypothyroidism -- with the result that she has always been a perfect size 4, but is completely insane and obsessed with not just her food but mine as well, and is perfectly comfortable taking food off my plate and commenting on my size. She’s a wonderful mom in many ways, but this is something we are never going to see eye to eye on.
So now I have my own kids and every single bite I put in their mouths leads to anguish and despair. Of course I get a picky toddler who eats mac and cheese several nights a week, and I worry that she’s not getting enough iron or protein and that she’s eating processed crap. And then she says she wants yogurt another several times a week, and I agonize over the sugar content because that New York Times article scared the crap out of me and upended the even-keel “everything in moderation” serenity I had achieved.
And then I just want her to enjoy food, but I want her to enjoy good, high-quality food, and I encourage her to eat everything, and she’s so unpredictable: one day she’s asking for my amazing meatballs, the next day she’s terrified of them.
Abby’s in that great early phase of eating where just about everything is fun and interesting to her, because her taste buds haven’t really developed yet -- so says our pediatrician, anyway. Before 12 months, he told me, it’s more about how food feels in their mouths than what it tastes like, which is why it used to be so easy to get Penny to eat kale. Anyway, so Abby loves, loves, loves sitting in her high chair and mashing her hands into pancakes, tofu, pasta, bananas, and oh, my goodness, she had almost an entire avocado the other day!
Which makes me so happy! But then if she doesn’t eat like that, I worry that she’ll be hungry in the middle of the night. Which, I mean, she’s hungry in the middle of the night anyway, she nurses I-dunno-how-many-times because I just roll over and feed her whenever, maybe twice? I know the 5 a.m. feed is what gets us enough sleep to make it through the day. Many’s the morning I’ve convinced her she’s not really awake yet through the power of the boob.
Which brings us back to yesterday’s dinner. I was anxiously spooning Chicken with Stars into her mouth (I didn’t make it myself ... but it’s organic!), and worrying because I had thought she’d be hungry as hell after a no-snacks afternoon. And she’s a slow eater, so I was prepared to hang out while she paused and decided she was hungry at the end of everyone else’s meal (as often happens). She, on the other hand, was really tired, because she also hadn’t napped.
So she waved her hands and hollered at me, perfectly imitating my version of the “all done” sign. I saw it. My husband saw it. Even Penny saw it, and told me, “She all done.” We rejoiced!
And then the worry commenced.
Would I be a better mother if Abby’s first sign had been "more"? Am I just worrying too much?