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Around the Kitchen Table

By Maureen Weber


Yesterday and today


In May I had the good fortune to travel to Ottawa to visit our daughter Leigh, her husband, Nohé, and our now eight-month-old granddaughter Anissa. The presence of a baby in the family engenders memories of my childhood and our time as parents of young ones. Parenting has always been a challenge no matter what generation we belong to, and while some things never change — all babies are cute in their own way — much is unrecognizable.

Feeding, for example. When I arrived at Leigh’s the first thing I noticed in the kitchen was a lime green streamlined chair that would not be out of place at NASCAR. It could recline, be raised and lowered, it had moving parts and wheels, and a five-point harness that looked like it would be safe enough to withstand a collision. It was even Italian. We kind of splurged on a high chair, Leigh explained.

When I was born I had a new high chair too. It was bright yellow including the tray, which had chrome trim reminiscent of unwieldy cars of the ‘50s. It did have a strap underneath to anchor the tray and prevent the baby from sliding through. That chair made it through five kids, but by the time it got to Greg, 10 years later, the strap was long gone and Greg was “secured” into the chair with one (or two) of Dad’s old ties. I remember Greg falling through and getting stuck. It was a challenge to decide whether to pull him out the bottom, or grasp under his arms and pull him out the top. Either way a bump on the head was assured.

While Anissa’s chair is impressive, what I found even more impressive was what she was served. Parenting advice 30 years ago insisted on introducing solids individually and over a great deal of time lest the baby experience some sort of discomfort.

I remember well that advice. When mine were young I, with great trepidation, spent at least a couple of weeks on rice cereal before introducing jars of Gerber’s carrots, giving each mushy vegetable its week (grainy peas being the least appetizing). When it was time to introduce meat, I bought baby food chicken and fretted when, even disguised in the favourite sweet potatoes, it was met with disgust. The fact that it smelled like my cats’ canned chicken with liver probably didn’t help. New research says a Tyrannosaurus Rex could bite with the weight of three cars, but I’ll bet my little ones could match that judging by the way their mouths clamped shut when coaxing them to be meat-eaters.

Anissa, on the other hand, opens her mouth like a baby robin for her meals. She started off with oat cereal for a couple of days but within two weeks was eating avocado, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, spinach and sweet potato each cooked, blended and frozen into little plops of colour by her mama.

Fresh fruits like mango, strawberry-kiwi pops, blueberries, nectarines, and bananas are a given. My kids got mostly the same, but theirs came out of a jar complete with sugar and thickeners.

We had Cheerios to keep our kids occupied while we were preparing their meals. Anissa has Baby Mushies, an ingenious invention that look like cat treats and function about the same. They’re spongy discs made of melt-in-your mouth blends, like “kale, spinach and apple.”

The really amazing stuff is the scramble-fried hamburger with spiced pizza sauce (spooned out of the pot before the salt is added) and mashed black beans, extra strong cheddar, coconut curry fish, hummus. And how is it that Anissa’s favourite food is boiled eggs? My oldest son-in-law still won’t eat eggs.

Anissa gets some mass-produced baby foods, but now they come in pouches in combinations like “sweet potato, papaya, apricot and cardamom.” Did you know you could squeeze ratatouille out of a tube?

If only I’d known you could feed babies real food, it would have taken some of the stress out of the job.

I was feeling a bit like a relic from the past, so I got out of the kitchen and caught a glimpse of something familiar in Anissa’s toy box. In recent years Fisher Price has done a re-issue of classic toys and, there it was, the Chatter Telephone, not only from my children’s baby years, but from my younger brothers’ as well. Anissa grabbed the receiver and pulled the phone toward her with just a little too much gusto. It came at her quickly and hit her in the face. Wailing ensued. Yep, I thought. Just as I remember. I wonder if the Music Box Teaching Clock is still as lethal.