Baby’s First Food

boy-254185_960_720As I sit here, struggling with a massive cold given to me by my granddaughter (ever notice how rosy-cheeked toddlers can look kinda cute with a stuffy nose, but grandmothers not so much?) I find myself reflecting on baby’s first foods.  That may be because nothing appeals to my appetite at the moment, and I couldn’t taste much anyway.

Also, one of my BFF grandmother pals recently told me that her daughter was about to start her 6-month-old infant on solid food in addition to breast milk. We both immediately assumed that baby’s first food would be Cream of Rice cereal or something similar.

Well, we were wrong. This new mother was planning to start her infant daughter on mashed avocado, followed by cooked sweet potato in a week or so.

No cereal in sight.avocado-885272_960_720

Now, there’s nothing nutritionally wrong with that. In fact, vegetables may be a better way to go. But it did surprise my friend and me as veteran moms. For their first solid food, our babies got cereal, just like the “bowl full of mush” in Goodnight Moon. It wasn’t even a question.

And I couldn’t help thinking about the technicolor glory that mealtime was going to be for my friend’s daughter. After all, drool-infused cereal dribbling down a baby’s chin is one thing, but drool-infused green avocado is another.

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A nice dish of poi, ready for baby

But babies are pretty hardy little people, and their first foods reflect the culture of their parents. In Hawaii, a fermented paste made from taro root is a nutritious baby staple. In India, babies aren’t shielded from spices – a popular dish called khichdi combines lentils, rice, and ghee (clarified butter) with a dash of turmeric. And in Peru, babies slurp the seedless pulp of the vitamin-rich granadilla fruit, a variety of passion fruit.

Now, to paraphrase the poet Tennyson, as grandmothers ours is not to reason why, ours is but to do and die, or at least be careful not to criticize our kids’ parenting decisions.  So, if we want to keep on the good side of our daughters or daughters-in-law, we smile and puree the passion fruit.

I remember that when I was a breastfeeding young mother in the 80s my mother was constantly questioning whether my boys were getting enough food. They were. All she did was make me doubt my own instincts. So, I vowed to be more supportive when I was a grandmother.  And I swear, I do not give my granddaughter food that’s not mom-approved (well, maybe I did give her a raisin or two without checking first.)

There are a lot of good, nutritionally-sound options for baby’s first foods if you think outside the cereal box. Nowadays, parents have access to a lot of useful information on this topic, starting with their pediatricians and supplemented by books and websites like HealthyChildren.org, sponsored by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

So, bring on the avocado!

What’s the most surprising food you or one of your children has given an infant? More importantly, did the baby like it or did it need to be scraped off the wall?

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Toddler Fun and Games

 

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Setting up for a tea party at Nana’s house

You see them in the library, the grocery store and in the park – grandparents with a toddler in tow.

 

Though I have no factual basis for this, I believe that grandparents are stepping up in record numbers to help care for their grandchildren. I believe it because I’ve witnessed it firsthand: the grandfather sitting patiently with his grandson at a library computer; the grandmother in the supermarket, pushing her granddaughter in a cart; a grandmother and grandfather in the park strolling at a snail’s pace with their wobbly grandchild.

When we’re out with our grandkids we grandparents often exchange knowing smiles, aware of each other in public the same way kids and dogs are.

And then there all the grandparents at home with their grandkids, putting in long hours to help out their adult kids who’re holding down jobs.

When I first started taking care of my granddaughter she hadn’t even started walking yet. I wasn’t equipped, nor did I have clearance from my daughter-in-law yet, to take her anywhere.

I almost panicked at the prospect. She was too young to do some of the things I imagined doing with a granddaughter, like baking cookies, molding shapes with Play-Doh,  or even crayoning in a coloring book. When I started out, I had my grandbaby for the occasional full day while her mother drove to another town for a substitute teaching gig. In my mind, the hours loomed like an eternity. How was I going to fill them?

If you find yourself in a similar situation with a toddler, here are some activities that work for me, and they’re all low or no-cost. These ideas, which I’ve gathered from other parents and grandparents, keep me from relying too much on my TV and other electronic devices to entertain my grandchild. I save the Sesame Street video for when I’m utterly exhausted!

Things to do at home

  • elmo_from_sesame_streetRead read read! (My son used to chant that to me as he backed into my lap holding a book.) I love reading books to my granddaughter, as much as I loved reading to my boys when they were little. I’m glad that I kept a lot of books from that time. I also take advantage of the children’s section at the library. My toddler granddaughter loves books with flaps she can lift, as well as any book that features kittens or, God help me, Elmo. (It may just be me, but I’d rather read a book with Elmo in it than hear his squeaky voice on TV!)
  • Play ball. My granddaughter loves balls of all sizes. She holds them and chases after them like a puppy – she hasn’t figured out yet how to throw them. (My better sense tells me not to hurry that.) You can find big soft balls that are safe enough to play with inside the house, or even make a ball out of rubber bands – your grandkids will think you’re a wizard.
  • kid-1241833_960_720Bubbles! Kids love them. Bubbles do splatter, so I’ve found it best to play with them outside. You can use a commercial bubble wand and solution, or make your own bubble solution with dishwashing liquid (Joy works well). You can even craft an impressive bubble ring out of wire or a bent coat hanger. You’ll want to supervise this activity closely – a popped soap bubble near the eye can sting!
  • Tea parties. You can find a child’s tea set at a thrift store or assemble one yourself. You can set out toddler-friendly food like goldfish crackers or Cheerios, and we pour pretend tea out of an empty pot (you can use flavored water if you don’t mind the spills). And be sure to invite all the dolls and stuffed animals so no one feels left out. It’s extra fun if you can construct a canopy out of couch cushions, boxes, or blankets to give your tea party privacy.
  • Dance parties. Put on some music, grab your grandchild and dance. Bonus points for singing along. Carpool karaoke is fun, too, if you drive your grandkids around. Just watch the lyrics – remember how kids hear and repeat everything, usually at the most awkward times, too.
  • beans-2014062_960_720Scooping and sorting. My granddaughter loves it when I get a couple of buckets or tubs and fill one with dried beans or pasta. I give her my big spoons and measuring cups so she can transfer the contents of one tub to the other. You can use a variety of materials – rice, cornmeal, sand, and birdseed – or whatever you have on hand. A note of warning:  the smaller the material the bigger the mess it makes. I found this out the hard way when my granddaughter used her scoop to fling beans all over my kitchen.

Ideas for Inexpensive Outings

  • son-99746_960_720Go to your local library.  Libraries not only have shelves full of books you and your grandchild can browse and check out, but many libraries also have free group activities, and puzzles and toys for kids to play with, too. You and your toddler can easily enjoy an hour or more there.
  • Take a walk. If weather permits, go outside – bring the stroller but allow your grandkids to walk, too, to better experience their surroundings. Slow yourself down to toddler time and examine every leaf, bug, or rock you come across.
  • Find a park. Play equipment is a blast for kids, as good as Disneyland. You can hold them on a slide, or put them in a baby swing. Depending on the play equipment, you can even climb on it with them. Trust me, they’ll love it.boy-2013567_960_720
  • Explore the grocery store. A chore for you can be an amazing outing for your grandkids. Many of the markets where I live offer children under 12 a free piece of fruit. My granddaughter noshes on banana chunks while we go up and down the aisles, looking at the bins of colorful produce and rows of jars, cans, and boxes. Some stores even have fun carts for the kids to ride in. Thinking of these trips as outings, rather than a chance to get a lot of shopping done, helps me not get too frustrated when she’s had enough and it’s time to leave.
  • Tour a pet store. This is another fun destination, especially on a rainy day. Some of the big box pet stores are like mini-zoos, with birds, lizards, and hamsters in eye-level cages and walls of aquariums to wow your toddler. My friend’s granddaughters love to look through the windows of the grooming salon to watch dogs of all sizes get their fur trimmed.

Here’s a resource with more suggestions, some of which look curious, like squeezing wet sponges. But I’ll give it a go during some long afternoon – and my granddaughter will probably love it!

Another way to help keep grandkids entertained without busting your budget is to scour children’s resale shops and flea markets for games, toys, and books in good condition to keep at your house. Right now I’m collecting old hats, scarves, and purses for a dress-up box for my granddaughter when she’s a little older.

I can always use more ideas. What do you like to do with your grandchildren?

“Sick grandmothers” and other pinch-hitters

cold-1972619_960_720Are you the designated “Sick Grandmother” in your family?

Let me explain. While talking with a group of women the other day, many of whom happened to be grandmothers (funny how I’m constantly running into other grandparents these days) I mentioned that I care for my toddler granddaughter on a regular basis.

One of the women said, “I know how that goes. I’m the sick grandmother.”

At my look of surprise she went on to explain that in her family, whenever one of her grandkids gets sick at school, she gets the phone call from the school nurse to pick him or her up.

That makes sense. Working parents can find it nearly impossible to get time off on the spur of the moment when a kid gets sick at school. Families that have a grandmother or grandfather nearby who’s able and willing to perform that service are lucky indeed.

It got me to thinking that there must be other grandparents who pinch-hit for their working-parent children in other ways as well.

I’ll bet there are Snow Day Grandmas, Field Trip Chaperone Grandmas, and Soccer Practice Grandmas, just to name a few.

valentines-day-1947567_960_720So this Valentine’s Day, how about a shout-out to all the grandmothers and grandfathers that step up and step in for their adult kids when help is needed with the grandchildren? There’s no glamour in picking a kid up at school who’s just barfed all over the Quiet Rug (and yes, that child was me, once upon a time) but grandparents, like parents, do whatever needs to be done for the children in their lives.

Hillary Clinton once quoted an African proverb that says it takes a village to raise a child. Well, if you don’t have a village, an extended family, especially one with grandparents, can make a pretty good substitute.

What about you? Are you a sick grandmother? Or if you’re a parent, do you have a grandmother or grandfather who’s on call for emergencies, and how does that work out for you?

Taking Advantage of Grandma?

grandma-1421329_960_720Why is it that sometimes the people closest to you – friends and relatives – feel entitled to give you a hard time over your life choices, even when it doesn’t affect them at all?

Someone I know recently told me that by caring for my 21-month-old granddaughter I’m letting my son and his wife “take advantage of me.” After all, she argued, we raised our kids without any help from an on-call babysitter. Why should our grown-up children get a break from us with their families, when we had to soldier on by ourselves?

I know some of this talk comes from envy. This person has a grandchild who lives far away. I suspect she’d be singing a different tune if she had better access to her grandkid.

But even if that wasn’t the case, the “we raised our kids now it’s your turn” argument wouldn’t cut any ice with me. Sure, I’m happy to give my daughter-in-law a break from childcare two afternoons a week by caring for my granddaughter. But that’s not the only reason I do it.  

I take care of my granddaughter because I want to. And I benefit from the time she and I spend together as much as I hope she does.

It’s important to me to have a close personal relationship with my granddaughter and any other grandchildren I may have in the future. And a close relationship is not something you can turn on at Christmas, or some day when it’s convenient for you and your grandkids are more grown up, or potty-trained.

As you do with anyone, you earn a good relationship with your grandkids by simply putting in the time to be with them. You change diapers, get some baby furniture, buy raspberries because it’s their favorite food (which you know because you help out at mealtimes) soothe them when they’re fussy and play with them whenever you get a chance, even if playing with them just means stacking blocks for them to knock down. You take the grandkids to the park or the library when you can and their parents can’t because they’re too busy taking care of their children in other important ways.

My own parents were the epitome of “we raised our kids so don’t bother us with yours.” My parents had eight beautiful grandchildren, two of whom died young. My parents scarcely knew any of them. Once their four children left home at age 18, my parents proceeded with their lives as though they never had any kids, much less grandkids. They never offered to babysit any of their grandchildren, and expressed scorn for grandparents who did.

My parents had their own reasons for their actions, which I’ve tried to understand, but mostly I’m baffled. I felt abandoned by their lack of interest in my family, and it was especially rough when I was a young mother with two children.

My folks are gone now, and as near as I could tell from what they said and did they never regretted missing out on the experience of being grandparents. Well, that’s not me or my husband. We welcome the opportunity to support our children as much as we can in their roles as parents, and we’re grateful we do so.

Maybe, at times, we do overcompensate a bit for what we didn’t get. We know we need to set reasonable boundaries, for everybody’s sake. But those will be our boundaries, not the boundaries friends or relatives pressure us to impose.

We’re acutely aware that, God willing, our lives will overlap only a portion of our grandkids’ lives. That’s just the circle of life. We plan to enjoy being grandparents and watching our grandkids grow for as long as we can.

So, do I allow my son to take advantage of me? Should I say no when I get the chance to spend the afternoon one-on-one with my granddaughter?

No way. I feel lucky that my flexibility as a freelancer permits me to carve out time to be with my granddaughter.

If that’s being taken advantage of, then I guess I’m a fool.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a tea party to attend. It’s taking place on the living room floor at the foot of the sofa, and it’s by invitation only – me, my granddaughter, Dolly, Big Dog, Puppy Dog, Soft Kitty and Brown Bear are today’s lucky guests. We’ll be feasting on Cheerios and pretend tea.

And there’s nowhere else I’d rather be.

How about you other grandparents out there, reading this? Has anyone ever accused you of being taken advantage of? If so, how’d you respond?