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Taming a Food-Thrower

Speak of the Devil

Speak of the Devil

In keeping with the theme of this blog about experimentation I offer up my personal test of “the pop.”  You know, a pop on the hand or tail, meant to get your child’s attention and establish a negative association between their action and your response with the hopes they won’t repeat said bad behavior?  Gemma is now 20 months-old, but when she was even younger I began experimenting with a pop on the hand or tail, but questioned myself afterwards, especially when the only reaction I got was a giggle and smile.  She thought it was funny and a game, and I was teaching her to hit.  I abandoned this entry-level form of corporal punishment and began barking at Marco to do the same if he headed towards Gemma’s highchair when she began hurling food across the room.  ”No,” I said, “we’re teaching her to hit and it doesn’t do any good.”  At a loss, we became more stern, raised our voices and wagged our pointer fingers in her face when she threw her food (at every meal).  She continued to giggle, smile, smirk or just ignore us.

At a doctor’s appointment we mentioned our toddler’s rogue behavior, to which the doctor suggested we flick her on the cheek.  ”Really?  Flick her?  On the face?”  I asked.  ”Yep.”  Replied the doctor.  ”But I don’t think she will understand.  She seems to think being reprimanded is a game.” The doctor responded, “She is old enough to know the difference between right and wrong.”  The doctor, who has four children of her own went on to explain that some children are quite compliant (this comment led to an impromptu daydream where I imagined Gemma not trying to climb out of her stroller and shopping carts, not climbing up on the window sills and standing in chairs, not repeatedly trying to get into every cabinet, drawer or the toilets, and what seemed like a miracle too impossible to imagine … Gemma not throwing her food across the room).  I snapped back to reality to hear the doctor say that had one of their more unruly daughters been born first, she and her husband would have been thrown off thinking that’s just how toddlers are, but since their first-born was one of these so-called seemingly common as a unicorn, “compliant children”, they knew better.  Flicking the cheek would get their attention and thwart their renegade behavior.  I was a little disturbed by the idea, but mostly intrigued.

That night at dinner Gemma picked at her dinner and of course began hurling her food across the room.  Marco marched over to her highchair, scolded her with a strong “no!” and flicked her on the cheek.  Cue the waterworks.  She cried like a … well … a baby.  We both began explaining to her she needed to eat her food not throw it while trying to soothe her.  We felt terrible.  After dinner Marco unexpectedly flicked my cheek.  ”Ow!”   Cheek flicking has shock value for sure.  It hurts.  But it hasn’t kept our headstrong toddler from throwing her food.  Instead, she continued to throw her food and when we scolded her she would sort of  slap herself in the face like “this is what they do when I throw food.”  Seeing her make that association for the first time was a cringe-worthy parenting moment for sure.  Like she’s thinking “When I throw food, Mommy and Daddy hit me in the face.”  And she demonstrated this new association she’d made many times … well, as many times as she would throw her food, which was a lot.

Marco’s mom was visiting us from Italy and the first time she saw Gemma hit herself in the face she was understandably alarmed.  ”Who is doing that to her?”  ”Is that happening at school?”  she asked.  Marco and I looked at each other … “umm … no … she learned that from … us.”  I’ve never been so anxious to explain something in all my life.  I let Marco do the honors to be sure nothing was lost in translation.  To-date at nearly 22 months-old she’s still throwing her food, altough thankfully not hitting herself in the face afterwards, which Marco and I appreciate.  But alas … the name of this blog entry is a bit misleading because our food-thrower has not been tamed.

Dare Alla Luce

Gemma Valentina

Nine days old

A friend recently posted an Italian phrase for birth she thought was so beautiful, and I agree … dare alla luce … “to give to the light.”  I thought about my own fumbled Italian I’ve used with my mother-in-law when referring to Gemma’s birth which was more like “quando Gemma nato …”  or if you speak like a three-year old or a cave person, translates as “when Gemma born.”  The word “nato” graciously gives a clue being the Latin root of the English word “natal” (def: of, relating to or present at birth) so that at least enabled me to get my point across, but when I learned of this Italian phrase “dare alla luce” referring to birth I was reminded of how poetic and beautifully descriptive the Italian language is, how the Italian mind and culture work to use their language in such a way, and … how my Italian is truly terrible (shaking head).

Gemma’s birth was … like all births I suppose, in which you start off down a winding path with no idea where it will take you.  I have to admit I was really scared to give birth.  The bigger I got the more curious I became about how exactly this being was going to get out of my body.  I armed myself with every birthing book known to man, most of which I was too nervous to actually read, but did flip through them every now and then before bed.  Marco and I also attended 12 or so baby-prep classes (yes, 12 – and I created a spreadsheet with all the related logistics – who knew my OCD would take a quantum leap during pregnancy).  The main class entitled something like “Birth 101″ was surprisingly heavily based in natural childbirth.  I say surprisingly because we were at a large hospital so that wasn’t what I expected.  We were coached on how to perceive pain as “pressure” and encouraged to use all kinds of birth paraphernalia like balance balls, foam rollers, therapeutic oils, relaxing music, back massages and of course, breathing techniques.  It was information overload, which only increased my anxiety.  I tried to remind myself of the body’s innate wisdom and how I would need to go with my instincts when it happened, but the only real thought in my head was “I don’t know nothin’ ’bout birthin’ no babies!”

I wished I were more goddess-like, more Mother Nature-like, more grounded in my feminine power … but instead, I was overwhelmingly apprehensive about this impending birth and if I’d been able to think past the birth, the responsibility of caring for a newborn and raising a happy, kind, honest, resilient, educated, free-thinking, creative, self-sufficient human being was already beginning to weigh on my shoulders.  I preferred to stay in denial, which is were I spent those last few weeks of my pregnancy – on the couch watching every Housewives of New Jersey episode possible.  I had mentally affixed myself to a care-free, happy place where I did not need to worry about how this baby was coming out and what it would be like afterwards.  And then the episode would end.  And I would schlep to bed where I was duly reminded of the alien in my belly who would surely need to get out at some point … somehow.

Closer to my due date the emails, texts, phone calls and Facebook messages were rolling in … any baby news yet?  All the inquiries about something I had absolutely no control over did increase my anxiety, but I appreciated the concern and support.  I’ll always remember going to see Aimee Mann perform three days before my due date and the look on people’s faces as I waddled to our seats and out to the lobby during intermission.  There’s a continuum of reactions you receive from people when you’re pregnant.  At first of course you just look like you’re putting on weight as your middle thickens, then there’s the bump that begins to appear, but could still be mistaken for a serious beer gut.  Finally you literally seem to pop one day and you officially look pregnant.  For a first-time mom the kind curiosity of people makes pregnancy even more special. New life is universally positive and acknowledged.

I joked about giving Gemma an eviction notice once we passed her due date, but one week after her due date Miss Thing was finally ready to make her debut.


Gemma’s Beginning

Gemma - 16 weeks along

Gemma – 16 weeks along

The irony of pregnancy is that it is so common and mundane … you see pregnant women every day, yet when you are pregnant yourself, you realize it is one of – if not THE – most incredible experience of your life.  I mean you are making another human being in your belly for God’s sake.  When else are you more connected to your biology, physiology, animal instincts and most likely your spirituality? (Although admittedly swelling and indigestion rarely lead to thoughts of your divinity.)  You are bringing a new soul to Earth through a body that you are making in your own body.  Pretty rad, indeed.

For me, pregnancy was amazing, magical, sometimes uncomfortable and basically like witnessing a live science experiment underway in my body.  I knew I was pregnant practically from the minute it happened. We were so lucky with Gemma … or as I truly believe, we witnessed divine intervention.  We’d been talking about when we would start our family – ideally after we married, but Marco was still working on his PhD.  I stressed to him that Mother Nature was not concerned that he would be finished with his dissertation soon. She had her own agenda.  I’d just turned 37 and hoped for two children since Marco and I are both only children (no aunts, uncles or cousins) – so we needed to get busy … literally!  Having no idea how to get pregnant, only know-how about how not to get pregnant, I turned to my trusty go-to friend, Google.  Up came a website offering a downloadable .pdf entitled “How To Get Pregnant.”  Check!  I paid my five bucks and downloaded the instruction booklet which detailed all the signs to look for to determine when you are fertile.  Low and behold it was describing what was happening with me at that moment.  A few days later on a Tuesday evening in July (July 20, 2010 to be exact) we … cue the Al Green music … and thanks to perfect timing I ovulated the next morning around 8am.  Gemma was on her way.

Six-months pregnant

My body began changing immediately.  Most resources say the first sign of pregnancy is a missed period, or even that it’s impossible to know if you’re pregnant before a missed period.  But there may be many tell-tell signs before then.  Because I specifically felt ovulation (in my right ovary) I knew there was a good chance something could happen.  I stayed tuned to a play-by-play of bodily clues over the next several weeks. Here are some of the symptoms I experienced: change in my digestion, heartburn, fuller and sore breasts with nipples that were … a dead give-away, stuffy nose, dry mouth/watery mouth, dizzy, hot, low energy, occasional highs of feeling elated from hormones, waking very early in the morning for no reason, loss of appetite, lower abdominal cramps and bloated belly which I could not suck in to save my life, and just a sense of knowing I was pregnant.  Sounds like a blast, huh?  Although I was uncomfortable at times I didn’t mind and was grateful for the signs my body was giving me.  Even though I felt sure I was pregnant I was still scared to take a pregnancy test.  After reading pregnancy tests could be wrong I decided I would wait it out and go to the doctor to be tested.  I assumed they would give me a blood test which would be certain confirmation.  Two and half weeks after I ovulated I went to the doctor.  They were pretty puzzled that I was sure I was pregnant but had not taken a pregnancy test yet.  And I was puzzled when they came in with a stick to pee on … not exactly the high-tech method I’d hoped for, but if it was good enough for them it would be good enough for me.  It was positive.  (smile)

Field shot