The point in my life where I knew the most about rearing children was shortly before I actually had any of my own. I used to believe there are no differences between boys and girls besides the stance they adopt when they pee. How kids are raised has far more impact on them than a silly chromosome, right? It was all nurture trumps nature over here. And then the kids arrived.
Now I’m not saying that there are genetically defined gender roles that children will inevitably fall into. But they are different. Different but equally strange. One big difference between my daughter and her brothers is how much they eat.
My daughter was our first, and we made a few mistakes with her. She was unbelievably tiny, and we experienced a few dramatic incidents at the doctor’s office regarding her size, or lack thereof, including a mad rush to the local children’s hospital because it appeared that my three year old had actually lost five pounds. It took us a $100 co-pay to learn that the doctor’s scales were incorrectly calibrated. But there was no denying she was scrawny.
She ate, of course. But never enough to satisfy us. Meal times were a barely tolerated interlude between far more interesting activities. Food became less sustenance and more opportunity for artistic expression. Yogurt and sweet potatoes were for painting a high-chair tray. Cheerios were for creating designs. And she was picky. At the age of 10, she asked to go vegetarian. At the time I wondered if her decision had less to do with personal conviction and more to do with eliminating an entire food group, but I let her.
When the second baby entered the picture, I figured mealtimes would be the same desperate uphill battle against eminent starvation. Boy, was I in for a surprise. I’ve definitely been in a power-struggle or two with the boys over trying a taste of the green bean, and we’ve experienced some strange aversions (french fries and biscuits come to mind). But the biggest stress with my toddler boys is knowing when to say when.
Growth spurts are something of an event in our house these days. With my daughter, a growth spurt meant she took a bite out of everything on her plate and maybe finished most of an entree. With the boys, we have taken to tossing the food in their general direction so we don’t lose a hand. Safety first, you know.
My second child is a “grazer.” He takes in small amounts of food all day long. All day long. We are blessed with a school that allows students to bring a snack in the morning, otherwise he might actually consume his pencils, erasers, and possibly his seatmate. From the time he was two, babysitters have had the same parting comment. “He didn’t stop eating.” But even he can’t hold a candle to Squish.
You think I’m kidding. Squish is coming to the final phase of a growth spurt as we speak. This one has lasted over a week. For breakfast, he can eat two bowls of cereal with milk, a bowl of oatmeal, and a banana. As soon as he has polished that off, it’s snack time. A peanut butter sandwich and some bunny crackers should hold him over until lunch time, which may consist of string cheese, grapes, milk, and some peanut butter crackers. At one memorable meal, Squish consumed a bread stick, some carrots and dressing, and four servings of lasagna. Four. As in, as much as the rest of his entire family put together. And he didn’t just ask for more. He begged. With real tears. As we watched him consume that final serving in some alarm, our bank statement flashed before our eyes, and we had to ask ourselves the obvious question. If he continues to eat like this, can we even afford to keep him?
And here’s the fun part. That particular meal may have been solely responsible for launching him into the 6th percentile. Yes, the sixth. For the unenlightened, children are weighed and measured at each well-visit, and the results are compared those of other kids the same age (the percentiles are actually based on 1000 male bottle-fed babies in the 1950’s, but that’s neither here nor there).The bigger they are, the higher their “percentile.” Squish the smallest critter I have spawned. As tiny as my daughter was, she operated somewhere around the 15th until she was in middle school.
Fast-forward a few years on my daughter. She is 14 and an incredibly adventurous eater. She actually likes food now, and her new favorite is barbecue tofu. But she still doesn’t eat much. On occasion, she can put away four slices of pizza, but her brothers can do that now! Both of them. I am a little scared for what our teen years hold, and I think feeding these boys will involve some creativity on our part if we’re not going to go broke doing it. I wonder if a family has ever been black-listed from an all-you-can-eat buffet.