I should say we’ve been practicing self-feeding for a couple of months now because I want Hope to fine tune her motor skills or because I want to help her become independent…or because I can’t shovel food into her mouth three times a day until she’s a teenager. Yes, I want her to develop her life skills and independence, and I would spoon-feed her every day for the rest of her life if I had to, but our goal is far less important and much more imminent: her birthday cake!
We began our self-feeding endeavor a few months ago, although the effort was in spirit only. Hope has never been the baby who feels compelled to put things in her mouth. The three items most frequently masticated by baby Hope are her own body parts, such as her fingers, forearms, and most recently her toes; her burp cloth or blankie, which double as shrouds for spontaneous games of peekaboo; and her spoon, made for gnawing and throwing over her shoulder, as if for good luck. Further, she was still eating mostly purees and in a reclined position in her high chair. “Does she eat solids?” we’d be asked. “If you consider beautiful whole foods pulverized into liquids to be solids, yes, she eats solids.”
It was on Halloween night that Hope first munched on actual pieces of whole food while sitting up in a high chair and not on mommy’s lap. (Homemade breadsticks and fresh buratta at Scampo in Boston. Not too shabby.) Until this point, her head was sagging a lot and we were nervous of her choking or aspirating in her upright high chair. Plus, to this day, she’s working without any teeth. But now there were no more excuses—Hope could and would learn to self-feed.
We had been working on Hope’s pincer grasp, which was emerging but not entirely reliable at this point. When I’d place some delicious blueberry and purple sweet potato puffs—halved, because I’m paranoid—on her high chair tray, she’d set her sights on the one perfect puff, try very hard to rake it up into her hand, and if she got it, she’d pick it up and let go. So I began guiding her hand to her mouth, trying to get it there in time before she opened her grasp and dropped it into the deep recesses of her high chair seams, never to be seen again. A slobbery, sticky hand helped a lot in keeping the puff from falling prematurely, but it wasn’t a solution.
We went on like this for a few days until one afternoon when Hope grabbed a puff, admittedly dropped it in midair, and brought her hand to her mouth all on her own. I cried, and I’m confident that I scared her out of trying again for the rest of the day, but just like every other skill she’s mastered, we practiced and practiced until it clicked. So she now understood picking up food and bringing it to her mouth to eat, but what were we to do about that pesky pincer grasp? Everything was being raked, and it’s very hard to stuff all five fingers and a bite of food into your mouth at one time.
We needed more help, so I turned to our OT to figure it out. She suggested molding the mature side of Hope’s hand (thumb, forefinger, middle finger) around a piece of food, which worked, but Hope didn’t like feeling her fingers restrained when she was confident she was doing just fine on her own. So we took it a step further and started handing her pieces of food instead of relying on her to pick them up from her tray, and although messy for everyone involved, she immediately started taking with her pincer grasp.
So we’re at T minus three days until Hope’s first birthday party, which is nearly two months in the making. I’m not sure what she’ll do with her smash cake, but if she’s truly my daughter, she’ll master eating chocolate in no time, pincer grasp or not.