My career as a stay-at-home dad was brief. Some may even dispute my claim to be a stay-at-home at all because I was still teaching a class. I know for sure that for about nine months of my oldest’s life, from about September of 1998 until May of 1999, I was the primary caretaker.
That said, childcare was very much a shared enterprise in our little campus apartment. My wife was working full time, but both of our jobs were at the boarding school where we lived. She was back in the house on free periods, never missing a feeding. After Wilson left the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit — he was a preemie and spent 3+ weeks in the NICU — I never gave him a bottle. My wife was fierce. The birth may not have gone to plan, but that kids was going to be by-god breast fed for at least a year.
So while I was a stay-at-home, in a sense, and the primary caretaker, in a sense, I felt provisional, not fully inhabiting the role. Why? Because while I changed diapers, and managed naps and swaddled and strolled, I never fed the baby.
Until it came time to introduce solid food.
Which is why my fondest memories of the earliest days of my parenting are of spoon feeding.
More than anything that came before this felt like nurturing, like really challenging stereotypes. The gesture of carefully dipping each perfect spoonful, half mush, half applesauce, and guiding it into his tiny mouth, gave me a visceral, melting sensation. Every tiny plastic bowlful transfigured me. A divine meal with my Wilson.
And absolutely nothing for me characterizes the plight of today’s parents than the dread I experienced reading this article. If the doctors quoted therein are right, I might as well have been shoveling broken glass into my son’s mouth. It makes perfect sense, in hindsight. What could be more processed that white rice instant cereal? Empty calories. Big Mac starter food. I get it. White bread for babies. Of course it was. I now see myself shaking out those perfect little flakes into the bowl. Adding formula. So convenient! Even a dad can do it!
That we were instructed to give the stuff to our kid by our pediatrician is some comfort. Like a lot of docs at the time, she was primarily worried about food allergies and reactions, and recommended the stuff on that basis. And if my kids are representative, the anti-cereal docs don’t have that strong of a case. My kids probably haven’t had a dozen McDonald’s meals between them, love fresh fruit and veggies, and have a taste for some downright quirky things (Israeli Couscous, prosciutto and garlic pizza, asparagus).
The solution is pretty simple, and if I had it to do over, I would have fed brown rice cereal or one of the other alternatives suggested in the article. But no harm done, no big deal.
Even so, and I hate admit it, my memories of those early feedings, as sweet as they still are, will be accompanied by the tiny thunk of a mental forehead slap and a “doh!” That’s being a parent in the digital age.