MY grandson liam is perfect in almost every way—sweet-natured, happy, enjoys attention (but doesn't demand it), and is much sharper than your average fifteen-month-old. (I'm completely objective about this, of course.) He is very well behaved and creates only a minimum of frustration for his parents—with one exception.
Liam's mom (my daughter) is a recipe editor for a cookbook publisher, and it gives her great pleasure to cook for her little darling. He's an eager eater and has developed rather sophisticated taste, with preferences that seem to shift almost daily. Mom goes all out—especially at dinner—to keep the menu interesting and flexible. If, for example, chicken-apple-cranberry sausage with potato croquettes and broccoli doesn't
tickle his palate that evening, there's always spinach ravioli and roasted veggies as an alternative. So in addition to her new role as a mother, my daughter has also become a short-order cook.
But that's not the problem.
No, whatever tension exists between my daughter and grandson stems from how Liam indicates his (often fleeting) displeasure, i.e., by hurling his dinner to the tile floor of their Brooklyn apartment. Granted, this is hardly uncommon among toddlers, but Liam seems to take particular delight in flinging his food. Now, it's not such a big deal if he's having, say, penne with a brown-butter sauce. But yogurt with kiwi, on the other hand, is less fun to clean up (especially when it lands in Mom's hair). And the more frustrated she gets, the more fun Liam appears to have.
It's not that Mom hasn't tried to find a solution. First she tried some "age-appropriate reasoning" described in one of her parenting books. Yeah, right! A fifteen-month-old—even a future Nobel Peace Prize winner like my grandson—is just not to be reasoned with, no matter what tone of voice you use. Then she tried to ignore his behavior, hoping he'd stop when he realized no one was paying attention. Strike two. Next she began to hover next to his high chair and attempt to catch the flying food before it actually hit the floor. That worked, kind of, but it wasn't really a practical solution. Finally, out of sheer frustration, Mom decided that removing Liam's food from his high chair until he calmed down was her only option. This, of course, made no one happy, least of all Liam, who often was still hungry.
It pained me to see my daughter so upset at these times, and my adorable grandson so confused and unhappy. What could I do to help? While mulling this over one afternoon, I recalled that, on a recent visit to a pond in the Connecticut countryside, Liam enjoyed playing at the water's edge, placing stones in his little plastic bucket, then carefully removing them— refilling and emptying, again and again. Hmmm, I wondered. Would strapping two shallow buckets, one on each side of the high chair, be a solution?
The next time I paid my daughter and Liam a visit, I decided to give it a try. The laundry detergent I use comes in shallow white plastic buckets with short white handles. One bucket was nearly empty, and its replacement was waiting to be opened. So the morning before my visit, I transferred all the powder to a new, larger container and sterilized the now-empty buckets in the dishwasher. Next I rummaged around my catch-all drawer and found two plastic self-stick hooks (left over from another project) to hold the buckets in place. As my daughter and Liam played with Thomas the Tank Engine in the living room, I adhered the hooks to each side of the high chair, hung the buckets from the hooks, and voila! Time to see if it worked.
"Lunchtime!" said Mom, and Liam, in typical fashion, ran into the kitchen and asked me to put him into his seat. As he sat waiting for his meal, he was aware that something was different and began examining the buckets. Before anyone had a chance to explain why they were there, he dropped his toy train into one of the buckets to free his hands for lunch. Mom then showed him how he could use the other bucket for the food he didn't want to eat. After a little experimenting—put the sandwich in, take the sandwich out, repeat—Liam seemed more than pleased with himself. He got it!
There'll be plenty of time to explain to Liam why we don't play with our food, or waste it, but until then, mealtime in my grandson's house has become happier for all.
Rachel Snyder is an extremely resourceful grandmother living in Brooklyn. Her grandson calls her "Nanny."
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