Thursday, July 31, 2008

Picky Eaters: Born or Made?

Those of you who read this column once or twice might have chanced upon me complaining over how picky my daughter is with her food. It has always been a constant source of friction between me and my pint-sized nemesis, who from day 1 – and I mean DAY ONE!!! – defied me over the subject of food! Can you imagine that? Me? Who worships every gastronomic delight I could lay my hands on … has a daughter who does not want to eat?

As I said, it started all the way back from Day One – when she absolutely refused to suckle from me! I still remember Abby (who was only a few days old then) turning as red as a tomato as she bawled and screamed and kicked and pushed at my face … just to free herself from my breast!

My husband and I figured at that time that if we could manage to make her open her mouth wide enough to take a nipple and then quickly hold her head to prevent her from turning away, that she’d somehow realize the futility of her refusal, cave in to our superior will, and start taking and liking my milk!

Oh well … she put up such a valiant struggle (you wouldn’t believe how strong a newly- born infant could be!) we quickly raised the white flag for fear that she’d dislocate something as she relentlessly twisted and turned her head to get free!! I still remember the raucous that attempted forced feeding caused! The neighbors must have thought we were trying to murder our new baby! And that red, red, RED face … unforgettable!

Down the drain went our superior will … will somebody get the bottle please?

And so the pattern for the next few years was set … feeding time became synonymous with battle of wills … where getting her to take a spoonful only signified the start of the next battle, which was to get her to chew … after which the next challenge awaited … how to make her swallow.

As she grew older, Abby became uncompromising in her refusal to eat food that she thought she wouldn’t like. Can you believe that? If something doesn’t look good to her eyes, it must not be good enough to eat then.

But if she did took a liking to something, she’d eat nothing but that alone for a few days … until she becomes tired of the food, and poor mama has to search for something new to entice her brat with again.

I have always attributed her pickiness as a trait that she picked up from her lola, my mother-in-law, the alpha and the omega, the absolute mother of all picky eaters!

Thus, I came to the conclusion that a child is either born a picky eater or not. There was a time when I saw children from less fortunate families gobbling up their rice with nothing but sabaw sa kamunggay. I remember thinking then that it was a good thing none of them was picky like Abby.

But I had to revise this thinking and consider another possibility when I saw the commercial of Lactum with Claudine Baretto and her daughter. I believe that this was the child who was abandoned outside her home and whom she later adopted.

The ad was about Claudine giving Lactum milk to her daughter to supplement her diet as she would eat nothing but hotdog. Granting that she really is picky in real life, I wondered whether she would still be as choosy had she stayed with her biological family, whom we can fairly assume, would be incapable to giving her the same privileged life she is enjoying with Claudine.

Could it be possible then that picky children are made, not born? It is probable that children from marginal families learn early in life to eat whatever is on the table because there simply is nothing else to eat!

And our choosy dears? They must have also caught on early that if they stood their ground on the food they say yes and no to, mommy and daddy would sooner or later give in to their demands. Why? Because they can. They have the means to give to the child what it wants. Their less fortunate counterparts do not have that luxury, so their children either have to eat whatever is there, or face starvation.

So next time we feel like banging our heads against the wall out of frustration, maybe the thought that we might have brought this upon ourselves in the first place, will somehow extend our diminishing patience.

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