Cereal Killer

Jack has started working on solid foods. It’s a big milestone, or so sentimentalists, our parents, and Babies R Us will tell you. In reality, it’s basically the same as before, but with a spoon.

Universally, the prescribed diet of a six-month old is breastmilk or formula, with what can only be described as the experimental and recreational introduction of “solid” foods. These foods are not really foods in the sense that you can eat them in their unprepared form and get any kind of anything out of them. That’s ok; there are plenty of similar foods — oats, baking ingredients, celery*. But by the time you add as much liquid as they suggest in order to make it consumable, about one tablespoon of cereal for every four or five tablespoons of liquid, you’re really stretching the binding of that dictionary to keep calling it “solid” food. It’s more like milk that has been influenced by cereal, like when your kid comes home talking about Pokeman — he’s still your kid, but there’s just something off about him.

So, we’ve been cycling our way through the varieties of cereal available to “Supported Sitters.” Seriously, there’s a name for it. Parents and the parenting industry name EVERYTHING. Baby’s first clothes? A layette. A smaller crib for the parents’ bedroom? A bassinet. That pillow that you use to support your baby so your wimpy, twiggy arms don’t fall off from holding him while you’re nursing? A boppy, nursing pillow, breastfeeding pillow, or (my favorite) baby support pillow. It’s a freaking pillow, people. Does it need its own name? Anyway, these cereals are all variations on a theme. There’s rice cereal, the gold standard in the I-Can’t-Believe-It’s-Not-Oatmeal line. It’s ethnic bestie, brown rice cereal, looks, tastes, and smells identical, yet comes in a differently colored container, so it must be different. There’s barley, AKA, You Mean It’s Not Just for Beer? And, of course, dropping all pretense, there’s actual oatmeal. Except this stuff has Vitamins, so you should totally buy this 6-ounce package for $12 instead of the Quaker Oats stuff which they almost give away.

Jack took to the cereals pretty quickly, though he still has no idea what to do with his tongue. Each spoonful offers even money as to whether the food will stay in his mouth or be ejected. This doesn’t reduce his appetite for it; it only increases the time it takes to get a bowl of the stuff past the tongue sentinel and into his gullet. After he seemed to be tolerating the 57 varieties of rice, I introduced his first taste of actual food — some pumpkin I roasted, pureed, and froze in anticipation of this very moment. He eagerly (who could blame him) devoured half the bowl of it before he experienced what they call in the Competitive Eating business, a Reversal of Fortune. No, seriously. Following this, he, understandably, lost his appetite for more pumpkin. Watching it, I kind of did, too.

Near as I can tell, there are two schools of thought on what to do next. One side says to keep trying the new food for several days. The other says to leave it alone for a week and try again later. That there are two diametrically opposed, mutually exclusive, equally supported tactics tells me that, just like everything else about babies, we have absolutely no idea what’s going on with them. We have a thousand drugs for erectile dysfunction, and still no clue why a baby will eat one thing and not another. Science! As for us, we’re going to keep trying the pumpkin for a few more days, if only because I already defrosted it and springtime is not my favorite time of year for pumpkin bread.

I have to wonder what our primitive ancestors did about this. Our hunter-gatherer grandpas and grandmas certainly didn’t have the time, inclination, or knowledge of agriculture to go around cutting and rolling oats, so what exactly did our Flintstone family feed their babes? I’m willing to bet they just ground up whatever they found that day — berries or some mushy fruit or something. As for administering it, they almost certainly used the tools nature gave them and shoveled it in with their hands. Given Jack’s poor spoon performance, I’m giving very serious thought to trying this. Nursing would still have been the primary, but even Cro Magnon Carl could figure out that his infant was trying to swipe his half of a pear that he stole from Cro Magnon Marge while she wasn’t looking. Those names are probably not right. She probably went by Margaret. Anyway, it wouldn’t exactly take a Homo sapiens brain to deduce that his baby might want to try something that doesn’t come out of another person. Er, hominid. Whatever.

Infants are weird creatures. It’s tempting to try to draw a parallel to the animal kingdom in search for other species whose offspring are born so completely helpless and totally dependent, and who then stay that way for more than a decade (I have some friends who are currently stretching that dependency to three decades). But our brains are unique in the world, and like aging a good steak, it takes time to get that right. Still, that we survived as a species is nothing short of miraculous, given our tendency as infants to wear more food than we eat.

*Celery’s only real selling point is that it requires slightly more calories to digest it than it provides, so, theoretically, if given enough celery to eat… you’d still only eat it with wings.

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