It’s going to be messy.
I can’t tell you how many times I have to remind myself of this.
I sit him in his high chair secure the bib around his neck, the bib whose role is not to guard the clothes from spills but rather to act as a catcher of the food with those brilliantly designed pockets.
The menu du jour is an assortment of random leftovers. A little handful of beets steamed over the weekend, a meatball from last night’s dinner, a bit of yogurt and applesauce that wasn’t finished at breakfast. I put a couple beet pieces on the tray along with the meatball. His hands grab at the food, an inefficient pushing of the fist, fighting the slippery food until his fingers fist it just so. He brings it to his mouth in victory. Some of the beet pieces make it in his mouth and he mashes it around. Others he pushes out with his tongue, reflexively. That’s what the bib pocket is for. He’ll reach into that before long, if I’m taking too long between bites, and help himself to whatever assortment awaits him. Periodically I’ll offer a little spoon of yogurt. That’s the messiest part though. He grabs the spoon and brings it to his mouth. Sometimes I’ll just put the spoon on the tray and he’ll fumble around to pick it up himself, losing half the purée down the spoon and into his sleeve or shirt. You see now why the bib isn’t doing a whole lot.
It’s all so messy.
But I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Because clearly from the look on his face he is having the time of his life.
All these flavors on his tongue, textures in his mouth and between his fingers, new dexterity mastered with each grasp of the spoon. It’s a delight to the infant who is experiencing this world of food for this first time. You can practically see the neurons buzzing in his brain mapping out the newness of it all.
I know this isn’t the only way to eat. I know I can steam vegetables, blend them up, feed it to him on a spoon, little by little letting him try each new fruit, vegetable, etc. Or better yet I can open up a perfectly prepared jar. I know this means we wouldn’t waste as much food in the splash zone of a meal. I know this would be a cleaner way. And I know that if I chose this way, it doesn’t mean he will eat this way forever. Later, when he is older and has better hand dexterity I can offer more self feeding meal times. He will learn. They always do. And when he does, it will be just as messy.
But I also know that this way, the messy way, makes more sense to me. I’m lazy. I don’t like to cook separate foods. I don’t like to sit and delicately spoon each bite into his waiting mouth. I don’t like to take the time to clean off his face in between spoonfuls. And I am far too impatient to wait until he is older to try self feeding techniques.
I like it messy.
I like to watch him learn through the mess of it all. I like to see him exploring new things, making mistakes, creating preferences, experiencing the joy of success.
Yes it does mean half the food ends up on the floor. Yes it means we go through many outfit changes. And yes, sometimes, it means watching and waiting as he struggles to pick up that meatball or turn the spoon around the right way to get to his mouth. Or holding my breath as he coughs when a bite was too big. This isn’t necessarily the easy way.
It is quite simply put very messy.
But isn’t that true for all new developments in childhood?
Potty training. Messy. Every step forward is another step back, and likely all over your new rug.
Learning to ride a bike. Messy. All those falls, all those tears, all those physical, and emotional, bandaids needed to get a hang of that balance.
Sleep training. MESSY. An emotional, guilt filled, sleep exhausted, always gets worse before it gets better mess.
Each and every new step a child takes in their new little life to developing growth is going to involve a whole lot of mess.
A mess that you are going to have to clean up. And then keep moving forward to the next mess because that’s what parents do.
So whatever mess you are in the middle of, let that be ok. Spread out the towels. Stock up on bandaids. Put in those ear plugs. Get a good mop.
And remember, it may look messy but they are probably having the time of their lives.