Thursday, 15 May 2014

The truth about Baby-Led Weaning

If you have children, you're probably accustomed to the constantly shifting rules of acceptable parenting... Your baby should sleep on her stomach, NO WAIT HER BACK. Breast milk is all your baby needs, NO WAIT VITAMIN D SUPPLEMENTS. Your baby should sleep in a crib, NO WAIT YOUR BED, NO WAIT HER CRIB, NO WAIT HER CRIB BUT YOUR ROOM.

I think most of us eventually figure out that we just gotta do what works - short of, say, leaving our babies at home alone while we go out for beers.  (I would never do that.  Probably.)

Regarding solid food, Hubby and I adopted a baby-led weaning approach.  Essentially, we skipped the cereal and purees and jumped straight to finger food, for a two reasons:

1) we hate cooking, so preparing separate baby food was a traumatic thought; and,

2) we liked the idea of her feeding herself alongside us, rather than us shovelling food into her face.

This approach has to do with our general laziness, but also to do with acknowledging that Fraggle is a person with independence and free will.  But mostly the laziness thing.

And so I bring you: the truth about baby-led weaning.

("Truth" is a relative term, as in: it's my truth, and I'm no expert.  But I assure you it isn't false.  Or at least I wouldn't lie.  About this.  Although, there is a distinct possibility that the absence of adult interaction has skewed my view of reality.)

Tip #1 - Read the book
But maybe buy it used. If you're already on board with the whole my baby should just feed herself philosophy, then you don't need the propaganda.  The book spends a lot of time convincing you how crazy you are if you don't choose baby-led weaning, with very little time teaching you how to actually implement this genius idea.

Tip #2 - It's messy, get over it
Hubby dislikes Fraggle's grubby food fingers and the pile of sloppy mess spread across her highchair and caked onto the floor.  I could care less.  I just hand-bomb that goop like it's my job (because it kind of is).  I take one cloth, wipe her face and hands, then her chair, then the floor.  One cloth, moving on.

Tip #3 - She didn't choke
Each parent has a certain level of comfort with certain things.  I'm (irrationally?) afraid of jolly jumpers, but choking doesn't worry me.  I might be unfit, but I trust her gag reflex to push out any food that isn't quite right.  If it worries you, stick with purees.  But keep in mind that by six months, rugrats are far more capable of eating and digesting solid food (rather than at four months, when babies used to start cereal).  Also, I actually think learning to chew before swallowing is helpful. I suspect switching from puree to solids is challenging.

Tip #4 - Don't expect too much too fast
As with all of my parenting decisions, I second-guessed myself hourly.  For six weeks, I watched Fraggle chew a ton of food but swallow very little, while her cohorts inhaled giant spoonfuls of mashed goodness.  HOWEVER, by the time she grew two teeth (around eight months) and figured out what we were trying to accomplish (um, eating) she was feeding herself large volumes of hamburgers, avocados, and sweet potatoes and LOVING IT - while my friends were trying to sneak peas into their babies' yogurt.  Also, be patient for the pincer grip, which may actually develop quickly with lots of practise.  Like all aspects of baby-raising, it gets better precisely when you think it never will.

Tip #5 - Roll with it
Some people prefer a hybrid approach - some finger food, some sauce.  The book will tell you that makes little sense, and I think I agree.  Jumping back and forth seems like an unnecessary and confusing endeavour.  The bottom line is that after a few weeks, Fraggle was eating more than she would have been otherwise, and we were all happier.  Just do what your baby seems to want.  For example, Fraggle likes those store-bought puree packets.  This works for me because it tops her up after dinner and I don't have to make it.  It works for her because she can just suck the mush out herself, as much as she wants, and then throw it on the floor to spray across the room.  Win-win?

Tip #6 - What to make and how to make it
The book claims you can give your baby whatever you're eating.  I'm here to tell you that isn't exactly true, at least for the first few months.  Just don't get discouraged.  The little turd will be eating you out of house and home before you know it.  For some more detailed observations, read onward.  Otherwise, however you decide to feed your offspring, good luck and have fun.  Or get a nanny.  Whichever.

The Details

It was a bit of a pain at first, but still not as bad as blending food (in my opinion).  For example:

  • I had to prepare our food without salt and without bottled/jarred/canned sauces. A life without mustard is a travesty. 
  • I had to cut it into finger shapes. 
  • I had to cook it longer.
  • I had to take it out sooner so it would cool. (I still have to do that.  Obviously.)
  • Eating away from the house was a bit trickier, messier at least. 
  • At first there was a lot of food she simply couldn't manage. It was too small (like peas), or too awkward (like tortillas), or impossible without a spoon (like soup).  
  • Another annoying bit: she doesn't eat an entire anything, so a tupperware container stocked with half-eaten oranges and tomatoes lives in my fridge.  
However, there are ways to make food that works:

  • In the early days, leave the peal on fruit to make it easier to hold, like bananas, avocados, and oranges.  Just wash them well.  
  • The microwave is handy.  Zuccinni sticks cook quickly when they're wrapped in wet paper towel.
  • Meatballs are a godsend.  I make dozens, freeze them, and warm them before her meals.   
  • She learned to pull apart chicken and turkey breast early on.  I cook, cut and freeze.
  • Pork remains difficult to chew, but I suspect that has to do with my terrible chef skills. 
  • I found one brand of frozen burgers with minimal junk added.  Thanks to George Forman this was an awesome quickie meal.  If you make your own, make them very loose so they're edible. 
  • Eggs!  (Read the latest on eggs, but basically, they're safe).  Mix them with lentils for iron (but beware of gas) and cook them omelette-style, then slice.  
  • Carrots and apples are a myth.  They never get soft enough to chew, even when cooked.  Bell peppers and non-ripe pears presented the same problem until she was old enough to pick them up in tiny pieces to swallow whole.  
  • When in doubt, spread cream cheese on it.  This is also good advice for life in general.
  • Soft cheese like Havarti is easier than Cheddar. 
  • For someone who doesn't like making food, I seem awfully willing to peel her grapes. They're easier to eat and the skin actually does worry me as a choking hazard.  I slice them in quarters and then the peel comes right off.
  • Roma tomatoes are good in early days, sliced in hand-held pieces.  
  • Asparagus is easy to hold and the tips are easy to eat if they're soft.  The stems are too stringy so get ready to eat the remnants yourself. Also, beware of smelly baby pee.  
  • I steam sweet potatoes, but in hand-held slices with the skin for easy gripping. 
  • Cauliflower is softer than broccoli but both are good because they have a built-in handle.
  • Rice was impossible until she got older, but now it works - especially the next day after it's been in the fridge because it sticks together.
  • She loves berries.  Strawberries (if they're mutant ones) are big enough to slice long for easy gripping. Smaller berries need to wait for pincer skills. 
  • Pineapple strips. Mmmm. 
  • Penne noodles aren't bad in early days.  
  • She learned to pull the little green beans out of the stalk.  She's a genius.  
  • She likes frittata (potatoes, veggies, eggs, cheese). Just chop everything to the necessary size.
  • Mushrooms were impossible until she could eat them in small pieces because they're too rubbery (but I used to chop them up tiny in her omelettes).  
  • I never found a good baby cereal in cookie form, they are all impossible for her to eat.  It doesn't matter anymore because now she eats oatmeal on a spoon mixed with fruit sauce, but for a while there I was super pissed.  
  • Some people claim to make healthy muffins mixed with baby cereal.  I don't know who these people are. 

Thursday, 13 March 2014

I'm on the #BanBossy bandwagon

For those who don't know what this whole "Ban Bossy" thing is, in a nutshell:

Ban Bossy is a campaign.  Its aim, according to its website, is to encourage girls to lead - without calling them "bossy."  It was launched by, a nonprofit founded by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg to "empower all women to achieve their ambitions."  Sandberg is building on her book's message with partners like the Girl Scouts and Beyoncé to, well, #BanBossy.

"I'm not bossy.  I'm the boss."


Now that we're all caught up, I want to be clear:  I LIKE this campaign.

True, no campaign is perfect.  No campaign reaches all the right people in all the right ways.  True, there are things to be said about the appropriateness of any role model/spokesperson (including Beyoncé, whose recent Grammy performance was incredibly impressive but also very sexual).

However, this is a message that makes sense.  It's a message about empowering women and girls, about strengthening our confidence and our leadership skills, and about making it ok for us to be assertive and successful.  At its core, this is a good message, and I'm on board.

Unfortunately, (and this is where I jump up on the #BanBossy bandwagon like a squirrel on peanut butter; or like me on peanut butter), there are those making arguments against this campaign that in my opinion are fundamentally flawed.

Primarily, there's an editorial by Margaret Wente in the Globe and Mail entitled "Ban 'bossy'? Suck it up, girls".  I've also had some thoughtful exchanges with friends and other twitterers on the subject.  None of these opinions are wrong - I just have a sincere and significant opposition to them.

Critique #1: The word "bossy" isn't a problem.

Wente writes that the word bossy destroys a girl's "fragile self-esteem."  Only, she writes it sarcastically, as if it is the stupidest thing she's ever heard.  Well newsflash Margaret: any term that insults a child's personality shouldn't be uttered in his or her direction.  And yes, SELF-ESTEEM IS FRAGILE.

Yes, Margaret, we could also ban the term tattletale.  Perhaps also B*tch, Sl*t, Wh*re, N*igger, Pr*ck, R*tard, Fagg*t, and P*ssy while we're at it.  Those other words, though, are known "curse" words and have their own debate raging about context and reclamation (see below).

Words like bossy (or even tattletale, although it's fair to say that is not a uniquely male or female word) slip into the vernacular and contribute to a broader socialization of our children. Even if more girls are entering law and medical schools, as Wente points out, does that excuse discouraging girls from the get-go?  I should hope not.

These are not just words, they mean something.  A campaign that raises awareness, encourages critical thinking, and challenges the social construction is not the wrong approach.

Critique #2: Teach girls to live with the word and "overcome adversity"

Wente writes that being called bossy didn't get in Beyoncé's way, so isn't that what we should be teaching our girls? To soldier on, "overcome adversity and suck it up."

I tell you what, Margaret.  When your peers are hurling insults at you, you can suck it up.  You can overcome adversity and be better... 20 years later.  I, on the other hand, when insulted as a child would have judged myself and tried to be more likable.  Even as an adult I'm among those who work damn hard not to judge themselves but often take it personally when other people do.

For my daughter, I will under no circumstances tell her to suck it up.  I will tell her lots of things, but to ignore her feelings or dismiss the power of words? I don't intend to do that. Likewise, as Margaret seems to argue, I won't ban bossy as an idea. Fraggle will be strong and assertive, I've no doubt.  But the term as an insult?  Banned.  It's a good place to start.

There is no harm in being aware of the words we use and the social idea beyond their dictionary definition.  Words are symbols - like the American Flag or the middle finger - each having an implied/emotional meaning in the background.

Critique #3: Reclaim the word

This argument is an interesting one, made by a friend this morning.  I adore this friend and her perspective, but...

A couple months ago I said something stupid like "I'm a candy sl*t."  I didn't mean anything by it, except to be funny.  I do eat whatever candy crosses my path, I don't discriminate, and it can't be good for me... but what about the word?  My initial reaction was "It's all context!" or "I don't mean it like that!" And then I called bullshit on myself.

If years ago I banned the C word from my vocabulary, and then banned "that's gay!" followed by "how retarded!", why should sl*t be any different? No. These words have a meaning and I have no place invoking it.

This morning my dear friend made a fair point: she may not use a word but she wants to give others the space to reclaim it if they so choose.  Ok, good.  Except I have yet to think of a word that has been "reclaimed."  Even people who ironically or critically use words have not managed to undo the damage caused under other circumstances.

Further, I have no idea where the line is drawn regarding who can use a word and who can't.  Your grandfather is black so you could use the N word. Her Aunt has Down's Syndrome, so she can use the R word.  I am Depressed and Anxious so I can say "Crazy."

Sure, I'm all about context.  When I call myself Crazy I do it in an ironic and self-deprecating (hopefully humourous) way, essentially aiming to bring mental illness into the socially-acceptable forefront.  But it's still self-deprecating.  If I constantly called myself fat (in front of my daughter?) an impact is undeniable.

It comes down to using one's judgement and tact, walking an informed and critical line.  So yeah, I'll give others space to "reclaim" their words, but I have no idea if they're reclaiming them right.

Critique #4: She's going to hear it anyway

"People aren't going to read the article, and they don't have the internet, and they won't stop saying it."

Oy vey.  That's the point of an awareness campaign, no? Can we remember my first point? I LIKE this campaign, for the exact reasons you're noting.  #BanBossy is just a slogan.  The root of the word's use and its potential impact is now entering the discourse BECAUSE of that slogan.

True.  My daughter will hear it anyway.  And very true, she'll hear and see lots of things that I will discuss with her (The Little Mermaid included) - but raising awareness about the potential harm behind bossy as an insult is not a fruitless effort.  

In the end, let's get personal...

As a kid, I directed the neighbourhood plays, I edited the yearbook, I went to leadership camp.  I grew up successful and relatively well-adjusted, despite (or perhaps in spite of) the fact that I was called bossy.  My confidence (or lack thereof) and Type-Aer style evolved from a world of influence, not one word or one personality trait.  I still ended up Depressed and Anxious (aka Crazy) due at least in part to that leader-ness and to my drive to "overcome adversity."

None of that changes the fact that when I was called "bossy" as a young girl, it fucking hurt.  It was an insult, a sting.  It was something I didn't want to be.

We have lots of things to teach our girls, but to "suck it up" is NOT one of them. Neither is to skip an attempt to make a change because it probably won't have an impact so who cares.  We need to foster leadership in those who are socially and systemically deterred from it, minus the judgement.  A campaign that jolts the conversation is a perfect place to start.