Before baby, I had many visions of my how maternity leave would be. One of which involved long and relaxed afternoons in the park with my baby, sharing a lovingly made picnic and the two of us staring at the clouds together as the world moved around us.
I can confirm that we do a lot of cloud staring. One of our favourite games during that awkward hour-before-bed is laying in our back garden and watching the planes to go over our house. We live on the Heathrow flight path and can basically see the faces of the people on board, so this game is always met with squeals of delight. However, back to the former, the idea of sharing food with my baby al fresco presents a LOT of difficulties that I was not anticipating.
I am not sure whether I have made a rod for my own back here. Mealtimes in our house have always been a big event (I have consciously made them like that!) – so A knows that when he is put into his high chair something very exciting is going to happen. He cannot wait for his dinner to be put in front of him. This seems to have had the side effect, however that he is now completely unable to comprehend that food would be consumed anywhere other than in his chair.
This means that whenever I try to picnic with him, one or more of the following things will happen:
- He will stare in complete puzzlement as to why he is sitting in front of a quiche and an over-expectant face from his mother
- He will trample over the quiche in order to reach the bird poo/fag end on the grass thirty feet away
- He will pick up the quiche, study it with slight disdain then fling it away to the delight of a passing Labrador
- In the case that I also have an ice cream in my hand, he will mount me like a hungry Labrador trying to get the whole thing in his mouth in one go
Complete first world problem I accept, but it is kind of frustrating. I love picnics. Living in London, we are not all blessed with huge gardens where we can accommodate lots of friends plus their high chairs too. We live near some beautiful parks which have been an invaluable asset for me and my mummy pals over the last year so it seemed natural that we would desire to eat together come the summer.
Some of the babies in our group do an excellent job of picnicking. They realise that it is lunchtime and take food gratefully, and also sit quietly expectant as their Systema clip boxes are released of their delicious wares. They do not try to crawl away or refuse food like A. It is all the more funny as I obviously blog about how well my baby eats…if you saw us in the park you would honestly think I was lying through my teeth. I find myself excusing A’s behaviour to others…’he must be tired!’…..’he liked this yesterday..’! When the actual truth is, he is clearly just a complete picnic diva.
So why does he act like this?
Well, obviously he is at a rather marvellous age where EVERYTHING is interesting. I forget that he is not just in a park, he is in a new world with sights to see everywhere. So when I sit him down to focus on eating, there are far more exciting things to be looking at. On this note, I have realised that weaning is sometimes a very one-dimensional process – you consciously (and correctly) work hard to create the environment that the baby wants to eat in. You get a lovely high chair, you present food nicely, you give your baby complete unadulterated attention and make amazing choo choo noises while shovelling in their meals. This is inevitably going to mean that baby is going to associate mealtimes with this kind of environment.
I am one of those unfortunate kinds of people who aren’t very good at focussing on more than one thing. I cannot talk to my mum on the phone where there is background noise. I was also rubbish at the classic NCT move of breastfeeding while maintaining a conversation in a coffee shop. Which means that I am also really bad at focussing attention on my baby while also trying to unpack food, talk to my friends and keep said baby in the same place while having a group picnic. He is just not seeing the best of me at this point and he is making that point very clear by not being very interested in me or our food either.
So I have been wondering what can be done to try and encourage babies to enjoy eating picnics.
Firstly, I have come to realise that there should be no expectation that babies SHOULD know what to do. Why should they? We have taught them what an eating environment is like, and picnics are not on that checklist. I have made an agreement with myself that while the weather is fine, we will do mini picnics in the garden to try and ‘practice’ how it works. On this note, I also think that it can help things along by providing some familiar eating tools – like the usual plate or cup, just to remind baby of what occasion this is.
I probably need to think a little more carefully about what food I give my baby al fresco. I am not sure this is the time to be channelling my inner Nigella and bringing out brand new recipes. Some old classics that I know he likes (in our case whole apples are always a winner) might make him sit down for a few minutes so I can at least eat my sandwich.
But mainly I probably just need to chill out about it. I am pretty relaxed about most things, so I was surprised that I got so flustered when A didn’t want to eat in the park. Just because he doesn’t want to eat a picnic does not mean that weaning has gone off track. And I really do believe that the odd ice cream will not hurt him so let him have mine if he wants it (lord knows I do not need those extra calories anyway!)
If anyone else has any advice to give, please do let me know. Or come and see me in the park. I will be the one pulling back a human Tonka truck from the ears of a passing friendly Labrador while brandishing a homemade salmon and watercress quiche….