Shut Up and Stop Worrying: parental guidance at the grocery store


In our small town there is no grocery store, and few opportunities to meet people by chance–the library and the church are the only public spaces, so unless you want to wander the woods hoping to meet folks walking their dogs (we do this at least once a day), it can be a lonely existence   Hence I look forward to the grocery store.

We start in the produce section, per usual, and I give Charlie a sprig of watercress to chew on while we browse the veggies.  I’ve read too much scary stuff about pesticide residue in kids, so now we do most of our shopping at Whole Foods (yep, I’ve become one of those people), which makes the produce experience all that more exciting.  I still get a thrill every time I walk down that aisle of leafy greeness.

After Charlie is done mashing the watercress into the cart handle and then into her face, she gets ahold of my grocery list. I walk around the cart to fetch something (organic fennel and asparagus? yes, please!), and a woman comes running up behind me, just in time to grab the paper from out of my child’s hands.

“Oh, she has a piece in her mouth!  I just saw it!  It’s right there!  I’m sorry, I don’t want her to choke!” I come hurrying back, thank her (I’m not sure for what) and take the list, inspecting it surreptitiously for any unusually large bite marks.

Meanwhile our new friend is practically wringing her hands to keep from sticking her fingers in the mouth of my apparently choking child.  I take a look at her, trying to figure out if she’s nuts or just overly friendly (my two basic assumptions about people who talk to me or my kid).  She’s not very young, but not old, either, this savior: about my age (30-something), blond and tall and not particularly put-together-looking.  Basically she looks like me, but a bit more high-strung.

Meanwhile, Charlie is grinning wildly; I can see some residual pieces of watercress between her 6 teeth, but no paper.  As far as I can tell the list is intact–maybe a little damp around the edges, but certainly in better shape than the ant I found her eating off the kitchen floor this morning.

“It’s just that I have a three-year-old at home, so I’m always careful,” she says.  Ok, so she’s a mother.  I can’t decide if she’s trying to justify her overreaction or drive home the seriousness of paper-eating.  At least she didn’t catch us five minutes earlier when Charlie was chewing on a plastic bag full of peppers.

“It’s amazing, you know, how different they all are,” I say, half bragging and half trying to sound reassuring.  “I have friends whose babies gag on purees, while I can give this one a whole apple and she’ll just eat it!” My kid is cool with paper, I’m trying to say.  I mean, she eats gravel and dog hair on a pretty regular basis (I don’t actually say this.  I only share that information with people who read my blog).

“Well, I also work in the emergency room.”

Oh.  Ok, wow.

Clearly I misjudged her tone.  She didn’t think she’d overreacted at all: she thinks I’m taking parenting way too lightly.  I’m sufficiently chastised.

This isn’t the first time strangers have come to the rescue of my child, saving her from the certain death guaranteed by my parenting.  A few months ago when we were just starting to give Charlie solid foods, I decided I really wanted to go the Baby Led Weaning (BLW for short) route*.  G thought this was a fine idea: no buying expensive baby food!  No feeding our child something we had to prepare separately from our own meals (a major sticking point for the French, who think we US folks are crazy to not force more adult food on our kids)!  People think we’re a little crazy, but so what?  They thought that before we ever had a kid.

This is more or less what my child looks like in the middle of a meal. For this and other reasons, I don’t recommend BLW for those with weak stomachs, or for families who don’t have at least one dog.

Early on we were at a town holiday event and high on the novelty of feeding our 6-month-old solids.  She didn’t really ingest anything at that point, but I felt like a great mom already for letting her taste such family favorites as blue cheese, green curry, and rabbit.  My husband was letting her suck on a raw carrot and I was gleefully recording everything with my smart phone when an older woman came over and sat down at our table.

She proceeded to regale us with the story of her daughter who, as a two-year-old, had inhaled a small piece of a similar carrot.  The child had then contracted acute pneumonia, had to have a bronchoscopy (a light and camera on a tube inserted into her lungs), and was “this” close to having her chest surgically opened when they found the offending speck .  The moral of this story, I assume, is to never feed your child carrots.

I have nothing but sympathy for someone who has endured such an ordeal, especially now when I understand how freaking scary motherhood can be, but I admit that even while this episode was underway I was starting to feel a bit irked.  First of all, I have double standards when it comes to you approaching me about my baby: if you’re coming over to tell me how incredibly adorable she is, great!  Sit down and I’ll buy you a pint.  If you’re coming over to tell me what I’m doing wrong, get out of my face.  And gory details about carrots in lungs?  TMI for my taste.  Also, for heavens’ sake: could just as easily inhale a piece of carrot (or anything else, for that matter) and have the same experience.  Does this mean humans should never eat carrots?

Choking is a serious and scary thing, and every parent out there, I promise you, has had that blood-chilling moment of panic when they see their infant gasping for breath.  Charlie used to choke on breast-milk when she was a newborn and it nearly gave me heart failure.  That’s why I went out and got CPR certified.  But you cannot, I repeat CANNOT live in fear of every potential tragedy that might befall your child.  It will not help matters, and it will make you and everyone around you (including your kid) miserable.

I’ll have more stories about crazy things Charlie eats before her first birthday, I’m sure.  In the meantime, I’m looking forward to reading this so I can throw some cold hard facts in the faces of  worry warts everywhere.  Maybe we should start a reading group…

*Here’s some recent research on BLW.  If you’d like to know more about the research I’ve done, or my experience and that of my friends who are doing the same sort of thing with their kids, feel free to reach out and ask.  I’d love to share!

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