Fork Over the Spoon

I believe that all friction between a mother and her daughter begins and ends with a spoon. Allow me to explain.

“Any day now, your baby will try feeding herself. She may let you know about her new goal by grabbing a spoon and, eventually, guiding it into her mouth. Let her experiment, and forgive the mess — it’s helping her learn a new skill.”

When my weekly parenting newsletter arrived by email on Wednesday morning, I read it diligently with excitement, always curious about what to anticipate on the road ahead with my daughter Rainey. Little did I know that that very same afternoon we would be on a crash course headed directly for our first official mother daughter spat.

Lunchtime started in its usual way. I put Rainey in her high chair while I microwaved her pureed apples and chicken and a side of mashed squash. After passing the finger-in-the-food-temperature-test, I grabbed a bib, the bowl, and a spoon, and walked into the sunroom where my soon-to-be eight-month-old sat, eagerly awaiting her entree.

I put a healthy scoop of the squash on the spoon and approached the target. I was intercepted three inches from the drop zone. Rainey’s assertive left hand reached out and grabbed the spoon.

“Well, looky here,” I thought. “What perfect timing. Certainly this is proof that my baby is a pure genius.”

I released the spoon into her curious care. At first she looked at the spoon as if to say, “haven’t we met somewhere before?” Then she proceeded to fumble it toward her tiny mouth. As expected, more of the serving went on her bib than in her mouth. But, like a good mother, I showered her with praise.

“Who’s mama’s big girl, feeding herself with the spoon? Rainey’s the big girl, yes she is. Mama’s so proud of you!”

When I tried retrieving it, Rainey wrapped her mitten grip around the spoon so tight that her little knuckles turned white. I tugged and cooed and tugged and cooed.

“Give mama the spoon, sweetie.” Yank, yank. “C’mon, Rainey, give mommy the spoon.”

When that didn’t work, I began using my finger to feed her – until she started biting it. Finally, frustrated with my fruitless attempts, I did what any other red-blooded American mother with a control problem would do. I ripped it out of her hand.

And that’s when the squash hit the proverbial fan.

Every living creature in a three block radius heard the scream. Ridden with guilt, I quickly tried to console Rainey’s protesting with, what else? Food. She successfully lunged for the spoon again. Peace had been restored. Of course, until I tried to take the spoon away again, and heaven forbid, feed her some lunch.

This jousting went on forever. At this rate I figured we’d be finished with lunch by next Thursday. And it’s a good thing I hadn’t showered since last Thursday because, yikes, the mess.

All over me. All over her. All over everywhere. To remedy the chaos swarming around me, I began concocting ideas: stop feeding Rainey solid foods and breastfeed her until she’s in junior high; remodel the sunroom with cement floors, a drain, and a hose; make her a straight jacket and force her to wear it at mealtime.

In the days following the spoon incident, I have come up with some more practical alternatives. Now there are two spoons present at every meal. One for Rainey, and, oh who am I kidding, another one for her too. When she inevitably drops the spoons on the floor, they immediately get dipped in a cup filled with warm, soapy water. I no longer schedule anything pressing after eating. If she wants to take all day to eat her pears and oatmeal, fine by me. I also give her lots of yogurt. For whatever reason, she manages to devour every last drop. No mess.

And with the simple advice of my very rational, very easy-going husband, I have learned to start letting go.

“Just give her the spoon.”

At some point in her life I will need to stop spoon-feeding her. I will need to treat her in such a way that encourages her independence. Even if that means sacrificing a clean floor. Even if that means refraining from telling her how to wear her hair and clothes. Even if that means allowing her to make her own life-changing decisions. I will eventually need to fork over the spoon.

I just hope she learns good table manners by then.


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