I’d just nursed the baby and given him the supplemental bottle he gets after every breastfeeding, and I was holding him up in a standing position on my desk. He surveyed the area and seemed so interested in all my things, the tools of my writing trade — particularly my computer — so I started telling him what everything was.
“This is mommy’s keyboard. Mommy’s keyboard,” I said, as he started to step on it.
I slid the keyboard away from him and moved him closer to the monitor.
“This is mommy’s monitor. Mommy’s monitor,” I said, and I could see him trying to move toward it.
I liked that he was interested in my life, my job. Maybe he’ll want to be a journalist, I thought. A chip off the old block. He started to reach out toward the monitor again when I noticed he wasn’t looking at the computer at all. Just beyond my monitor, between the stapler and the pencil sharpener, was his empty bottle. He’d spotted it immediately among all the items on my desk.
“It’s empty, pal,” I said, a little disappointed his interest wasn’t in me but in food. Food, food, food. That’s basically what it’s been about since he was born. The breastfeeding, the difficulty in breastfeeding, the waking up in the middle of the night because he was crying for food, the feedings every two-and-a-half hours. It’s all about food. And now we’re entering a new stage: solid food. We started two weeks ago with rice cereal and bananas. Last night, we added cantaloupe to his repertoire. Sweet potato is up next.
As the solid foods have ridden into town, I can feel my breast milk starting to ride out, like an understudy who no longer feels needed once the play’s lead returns. Even the baby has marginalized the breastfeeding. He’s so used to the rhythm of breastfeeding for 30 minutes and then getting his 2 oz. bottle that he now stops after about 15 minutes and starts to cry. When I stand him up to see what’s wrong, he stops crying and starts looking around the room for his bottle. You can see his mind working as his eyes scan the room: Where’s my bottle? Is that my bottle over there? That thing on the table over there really looks like a bottle. Is that my bottle? Has someone seen my bottle? Do you think maybe I can have a bottle now? The Dow Jones Industrial Average tumbled twice this week, there were riots on the streets of London, the European banking system is on shaky ground, and my child’s mind is fixated on one single thought: If the markets fall apart, maybe the apocalypse will come, and that means no one will stop me from walking into the kitchen and fixing myself a bottle.
But as voracious an appetite as the child has for his bottle, he’s equally fixated with his newfound food: rice cereal. He doesn’t seem to mind that it tastes like wallpaper paste. No matter how much I give him, he wants more. In fact he’s so fixated on getting his next bite, and the next, and the next that he fails to appreciate the food already in his mouth. He reminds me of my old dog, Sparky. I’d break up a piece of bacon so that Sparky could savor the experience longer, and he’d swallow each bit without even chewing. In the mouth and down the throat, never even meeting a taste bud.
The child is the same. He’s so preoccupied waiting for his next bite that he forgets there’s already food in his mouth. This morning he leaned toward me, his mouth filled to capacity with food, and bit the bowl.
And he now watches me when I eat. I feel uncomfortable having a meal in front of him. The way he looks at me, longingly, you’d think I was eating a big fat steak sandwich in front of one of those children with the bulbous bellies on the commercials for C.A.R.E. This morning, as I sat at my computer eating breakfast, he sat in his chair next to me and stared at my mouth with every bite I took. He began to cry because he wanted some, but I couldn’t give him any. It contained berries and honey, both of which are on the prohibited list right now, given his age. I finished up what was in my bowl and lifted him out of his chair and placed him on my lap. I turned my head for just a second, and his crustaceous little fingers were scratching at the sides of my yoghurt bowl trying to glean just a taste — of what, he had no idea.
It sounds like I starve my child. I don’t. The pediatrician reassures me of that every time we see her, and I tell her about the crocodile tears he cries sometimes after we’re done eating – at least for the first minute or two.
“He’s fine,” she said. “He looks great. Alert.”
It doesn’t help that he’s started teething and now puts everything in his mouth that will reasonably fit. He’ll peer into your eyes lovingly, and it’s intoxicating, and as you lean in to get closer and closer to his face, he’ll latch onto your index finger with his mouth and his jaw will snap shut, like a pit bull without teeth. Or he’ll be lying back on the diaper table, and when I’m done changing him, I’ll grab his little hands until they wrap around mine, like noodles, and I’ll lift him up into a standing position. He’ll follow me upward, loving to be standing up like an adult, and as soon as he’s erect, snap! His jaw is on my finger, and he’s gumming it like a pretzel log. I imagine him all grown up, as an investment banker wearing a pin striped suit and suspenders, sitting across the table from a corporate treasurer who has just given my son’s firm the mandate to do a $100 million bond deal. The treasurer slides a prospectus across the table to my son, who grabs it and quickly sticks it into his mouth and begins gnawing on the corner of it.
I’m actually grateful when he finds something satisfying on which to gnaw. There are times when he’s teething and it’s clear his gums ache, and yet he won’t put anything in his mouth to alleviate the pressure. These moments often occur after he’s been nursing for a couple of minutes, and the sucking action has made his gums hurt. I’ll try the set of gel keys he has, or a carrot I’ve left in the freezer because a book suggested that teething babies like the numbing effect of biting onto something frozen, and yet nothing seems to work – short of rubbing a little bourbon on the sore spot. These moments pain me because he’ll be lying there with his mouth half open, his little hand reaching toward his gums, drool oozing out of his mouth, and he’s clearly in pain and yet there’s nothing I can do except rock him and hold him as he wails.
A few days ago, I bumped into our local UPS man on the street, and he told me he had tried to deliver a package the day before but that I didn’t answer the door.
“I knocked but you must not have heard me,” he said. “The baby was really screaming.”
“When?” I asked.
“About 5.45 p.m.,” he said.
“Ahhh, yes” I said. An image of me trying to breastfeed the baby flashed in my head. “The baby just started teething. He was having a meltdown.”
“I know what that’s like. I have four kids of my own,” he said. “Well, you only have 20 more.”
“20 more?” I asked.
“Teeth,” he said, and laughed.