Making Peace with the Mess


Some first food fears are stickier than others. Teeny tiny foodie founder Jory Lieber tells us how she loosened up about, we mean, overcame hers

At Eliana’s 6-month check up with the pediatrician, the doctor filled my head with tips and suggestions about starting Eliana on solid foods. I was excited about this new adventure in introducing Eliana to all sorts of tastes and also excited to make her homemade purées made out of local, seasonal ingredients.

But as excited as I was, I was worried too. I was worried because she could have an allergic reaction. I was worried because she might not like the food I made for her. I was worried because she could choke. I was worried because she could get messy. What? She could get messy!!!?? “Messy” was up there on my list of fears? Um, yes.

I couldn’t help it. I freaked out about all the potential food mess that would cover her hands, face, body and clothes while she was eating, tasting, exploring and learning about food. I’d like to blame my mess-related fears on the fact that Eliana was an especially teeny tiny newborn who spent a little bit of time in the NICU after she was born. After this tough beginning, I was even more wary about what she was exposed to when it came to mess and germs.

But really, I should just be honest with myself and admit that regardless of her size or where she lived the first two weeks of her “outside” life, I would have shrieked at my husband if he didn’t use a bib every time he gave her a bottle, no matter what.

The “normal person” fears and worries over introducing Eliana to solid foods were the easy ones. I knew that I could at least try to manage them by being prepared:

-To manage worrying about her possible allergic reactions, I introduced her to all different types of foods, but not two known allergens together, just in case she had a reaction.

-To manage her enjoyment of food, I let her be explorative with different tastes, textures and food experiences by giving sticks of watermelon, banana and cooked veggies as well as purées.

-To manage my fear of a choking incident, I repeated the steps of how to administer CPR to a baby continuously at every meal until she was around 1, just in case something happened. I even flipped her over my leg at least once when I was afraid she was choking. The little bugger just cracked up because my major over-reaction to her making a funny noise was hi-lar-ious.

But managing and preparing for the mess-related fears? How could I? Who knew what was going to happen once food entered the scene? The child of this Helicopter Mommy was likely doomed.

I tried really hard to combat my ridiculous OCD by containing the mess in obsessive ways, such as hovering over Eliana while I fed her and swabbing at her face after just about every bite. I bought great accessories like bibs that would catch the mess and spoons that wouldn’t hold so much food at a time, lest she grab it away from me and try to fling food everywhere. (Oh! The horror!) I’m totally aware that these behaviors were a bit extreme. I even had a caste system for her bibs based on how dirty they were allowed to become. Yes. I had have issues.

So what happened? That ridiculous behavior went on for a couple of months, though I did loosen up a bit a few times and even took a few walks on the wild side by letting her experience bib-free eating! Woohoo! Of course, that was only for meals that weren’t going to stain her clothes like egg whites or toast, but I was testing my comfort zone for sure.

All of the worrying about Eliana’s clothes getting stained and everything getting messy was becoming exhausting for me physically and emotionally. I wasn’t having as much fun introducing my teeny tiny foodie to solid foods as I wanted to and knew I should be having. I was having a blast in the kitchen channeling my inner chef and creating all sorts of fun foods for Eliana (and my husband and myself) so I wanted that fun to transfer over into the eating part.

Eliana was fine with my obsessive behaviors — poor thing didn’t know any differently. But, I needed to chill out a bit and let the mess happen. No, not the kind of mess that likely occurs in the home of a normal human, but “mess” for me nonetheless. I began easing up and letting her finger paint her feeding tray with whatever purees she was being served for longer amounts of time, and I stopped wiping up whatever had fallen on the floor every two seconds like a crazy person. It would be there after she was done eating, so it could wait.

So now, almost 2 years later, I won’t say I’m cured of my crazy mess-related fears, but I’m certainly on the road to recovery. Eliana still uses a bib during most meals to keep her clothes clean, but I have survived un-planned meals out of the house when I didn’t have a bib, with only minimal heart palpitations. Further evidence of my road to recovery? I’ve given her her very own box of dirt in our garden in which I encourage her to dig and play and get messy. And, no, I don’t dress her in a hazmat suit for that experience… but that’s only because I haven’t found one yet in a size 2T.

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