Self-feeding is the time in a baby’s life when they get a tantalising glimpse of control. Up until now, B has been a willing but passive participant in meal times. He knows a loaded spoon when he sees it, opens his mouth wide and I shovel it in. Repeat until the bowl is empty or he gives a solemn shake of the head. Easy.
But, as with all things baby, new skills must be learned, and I find the mastery of the spoon one of the more taxing. Don’t get me wrong, as anyone who knows me will testify, I am not one of those parents who laments each passing stage of my off-springs’ lives with the lament: ‘oh, they are growing up so quickly, I miss them sucking the life blood from my breast / wanting to be picked up every three minutes / wiping their shitty arse’ [Delete as appropriate]. Oh no, I cannot wait for B to be competent driving a spoon. I am no fan of eating my lunch one-handed, whilst I feed B with the other. It’s a feat of coordination that can get quite problematic. More than once I have forgotten which hand is holding whose cutlery, resulting in me eating a spoonful of mushed up pasta whilst B eyes up a whole meatball balanced on the huge fork in front of him whilst wondering how the hell he is going to get something the size of his fist in his gob. It’s simply the process of getting to that stage of spoon mastery that I hate.
I give B a spoon to hold whilst I get down to feeding him. But now, there is invariably an empty spoon jammed in his cake-hole that I have to somehow remove before I can insert the food-laden one. And as anyone who has ever tried to take anything from a one year old that they have no wish to relinquish, only pepper spray or concerted tickling does the job. Once I do manage to remove said spoon, it is then a race to see who can get their spoon in first. Luckily, I strategically bring the full size fork in my other hand into play at this juncture to parry his away. It’s like toddler fencing. I might even start wearing a sieve over my face to make the whole thing feel a bit more authentic.
Now I appreciate that inserting a spoon into a bowl of food, bringing it up to your mouth, inserting into the mouth and then removing it is a feat for a one year old akin to me trying to juggle five flaming batons whilst riding a unicycle, but it doesn’t make it any more pleasant to witness. I help him grasp the spoon the correct way up, but by the time it is in the food, it is upside down. I turn it round. He turns it back. I turn it round again. He squawks with displeasure so I back off. He looks inordinately pleased with himself, but we will see who laughs longest, Mr Upside-Down Spoon. He’ll be too busy chewing on nothing to even raise a chuckle. Somehow, he manages to balance a piece of onion and a chunk of chicken on the back of the spoon, which plop to the floor as he carries the spoon in a rather ostentatious arc to his mouth. If I were him, I would really leave the artistic flourishes until he has had a bit more practise. Whilst he is staring intently at his mid-air spoon, wondering who the fuck just nicked his food, I manage to get a spoonful in. This could take some time.
Meal after meal, he refuses to turn the spoon up the right way, my dexterous, gifted son. But lucky for him, there are some foods that work with an inverted spoon. Yogurt, for instance. It scores just about high enough on the Gloop Scale for a reasonable amount of it to stick to the back of the spoon. However, by the time he has jabbed the spoon in the general direction of his face a couple of times, smearing yogurt across his cheeks in long tracks like some kind of dairy warrior, then managing to apply a thin coating to his eyelid, there is precious little left to eat by the time it actually does docks in his mouth. It is a painful process to watch. But not as bad as baked beans. Those slippery little blighters have no intention of clinging on to the back of a plastic spoon on its wobbly journey upwards. They plop onto the table, down his front, or onto the floor quicker than I can scoop them up. And there is always one bean that hides from me as I wipe the floor after dinner, turning up hard and slightly grimy three days later in B’s mouth as he explores the floor for a mid-afternoon snack.
Each mealtime I fight the urge to grab his wrist to help get the spoon where it should be, and to sellotape the spoon the right bloody way up in his fist. I admit, I am a control freak. His ham-fisted attempts at self feeding are all very noble and part of the natural journey of a baby to independence, but in the same was as no one goes to see a play when the actors are just starting to rehearse, because it would be annoying, boring and utterly rubbish, I have no real desire to witness my son gouge his own eyeball out en route to getting to grips with cutlery. Quite frankly, I just cannot wait for B to get this spoon thing licked.