Friday, May 22, 2015

The Boy and the Battle of the High Chair

A of couple months back, our then seventeen month old decided to boycott the high chair. It all started when he realized he could climb up onto our dining chairs all by himself. Cool! We thought it was cute for the first couple of days as his face beamed with pride and excitement in his new-found freedom and access to the table at all times. We rolled with his desire to be in a chair and swapped out the high chair for a booster seat. He thought this was pretty neat too and life proceeded as normal. But then something shifted again and he decided that actually the booster seat wasn't his jam and he'd much prefer to freestyle in a regular chair like the big kids. Before we knew it, we'd leave the kitchen for mere seconds and return to find him devouring his older sister's bowl of granola, left unattended and seemingly up for grabs. I did what every mom should and stopped and snapped a couple of pictures, capturing the hilarity in it, unaware this was just the first pebble in the landslide that was about to take place. I'm not sure what we were thinking (he is our third kid so it is safe to say we weren't) but we rolled with it and let him continue to give the big boy chair a shot.


Within the week, mealtimes had become a climb-up-stand-up-get-down-come-back-climb-up-stand-and-jump-on-chair-grab-anybody's-food sort of affair. It all happened so fast and it was terrible, not to mention that it went against every feeding bone in my body. I knew we'd slid down a slippery slope and landed ourselves on the wrong side of the Division of Responsibility in feeding (if you are just reading my blog for the first time, you can read more about what I mean by that HERE). In brief, the Division of Responsibility says that the parent is responsible for what foods are offered, when they are offered and WHERE they are offered and that the child is responsible for how much and even whether they eat at each individual meal or snack time. In our case, I had grown distracted with life (it happens!) and landed myself on the path of least resistance, going with the flow and letting the little dude become the boss and determine the where of feeding and eating.

Once I realized my error, I made a hard and fast decision to bring back the high chair. I was silly to believe my eighteen month old could sit safely, strap-free in a big boy chair. It seemed like such a good idea at the time - he was excited about it and he was happy in a regular dining chair. But the all-you-can-eat-walk-up-buffet was just not working for me. I think there were meals when I washed his hands three or more times, thinking he was done eating only to have him return five minutes later and in sneak-attack fashion, rejoin us at the table before we even realized what was happening. We would tell him no but he just screamed and climb up into any empty or temporarily vacated chair when our hands were preoccupied with assisting his sisters. I was going bonkers before I finally realized that I was the adult and I needed to be the one to set a limit. And my limit in this case would be where he was allowed to eat: in the high chair. Strapped in. Every time.

To put it simply, he was NOT pleased with this plan. We removed and hid the extra seat at our table, leaving only enough dining chairs for the oldest of us and told my son who each of the remaining seats (including the high chair) belonged to. This was only marginally helpful. Mealtimes morphed from crazy to utterly chaotic as he initiated epic episodes of back arching and screaming each time we tried to put him in the high chair. Any food within reach would immediately end up thrown onto the floor. He would scream for 5-10 minutes as I calmly* told him he could choose to eat in his chair or get down and be done with the meal. For the first three nights, he went straight to bed without dinner. Y'all, it was painful.

The piece I've neglected to mention thus far was that all this re-introduction of the high chair went down just days before we headed across the state with my parents and siblings for my brother's graduation. Perfect timing. I bet you can use your creative imaginations and figure out where this is going. Let's just say that eating out + high chair re-introductions do not mix. I will confess to my humanness and tell you we attempted to stand strong and hold fast to our you-only-eat-when-in-the-high-chair rule while out of town. Aaaaaaaand, we lasted approximately 12 minutes and 5 seconds before we showed all of our Parents of the Year cards and caved in every possible way. Our screaming youngest was given the pacifier (which is ONLY for bedtime). He was allowed to sit on our laps at the table, crawling from from person to person as he willed. He was permitted to wander around behind our chairs, causing some near-misses with the kitchen staff as they rounded the corner with trays full of food. AND we even let him eat off our plates. I hang my head in shame but it only took those twelve humiliating minutes of screaming for me to decide "let's re-introduce the high chair next week." Welcome to real life, People.

I will tell you though that upon returning home from our trip, we did stick to our guns and implement a no ifs ands and buts about it high chair re-introduction. It was messy (literally and figuratively) and loud but this time, in the safety of our own home, I had mentally prepared myself for the screaming fits that most certainly came three times a day at each mealtime. I knew that the process would be painful but that the results would be worth it. And they are. I am happy to report that it only took about a week and we now have a 19 month old who cheerfully joins us at the table in his high chair. Allow me to be candid and say that yes, there are still meals where he doesn't want to go in his seat. Food gets thrown, as my dirty walls can testify. And yes, he does still try to climb into any vacant "big kid" seat until we remind him which one is his. But overall, our mealtimes are peaceful** again.

Please tell me something in this little scenario feels familiar. I know I'm not the only one. It is no joke that feeding kids is hard stuff! Rest assured that if you've found yourself in a feeding rut, on the wrong side of the Division of Responsibility, there is hope. It happens to all of us. Just like any form of training and conditioning, the process of getting back on track won't be pain-free. Exiting a rut involves a brief stint of uphill before the wheels can pop out and forge a new path. Press on. The results will be worth it when you stick to your jobs as a parent and you allow your kids stick to theirs!

**read: as peaceful as they can be with three humans five and under!

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