But. However. And yet.
I can't help wondering if something about nursing on demand has led us to where we are now with Monkey's eating, and if I'm unwittingly heading down the same path with Miss. (Though for the record, Monkey eschewed almost all food from the beginning: Miss has a much wider repertoire and I hope to keep it that way. She eats strawberries, and pasta, and broccoli for heaven's sake, so something must be going right. Even if she seems to have gone off the erstwhile staple of scrambled eggs lately.)
But when you nurse a baby whenever they ask for it, how do you also establish regular mealtimes? If they just nursed at 11.37, they're not going to be hungry for lunch at 12.00. Or did they comfort nurse rather than hunger nurse? Am I supposed to be paying attention to that? How can I even tell, really?
I know that's simplifying things: gradually one can cut down on the nursing, start saying no when a mealtime is coming up, make sure they're reasonably hungry for lunch and dinner, nurse afterwards, whatever. It all makes lots of sense on paper, but it's tough to do. Especially when they go from not-remotely-hungry to way-too-hungry in the blink of an eye, and then it's nursing or nothing. At least, that's how my kids seem to be, and Monkey was an extreme example.
So here we are, he's four, and in a fit of would-be maturity he announced that he would no longer need "bed-side" in the evening. Which cuts him down to just once a day, when he wakes up. I was delighted and took him up on the offer post-haste. Every evening since the first, he's asked for his bed-side, I've said, "But you don't have bed-side any more. You're four now," and he's taken it remarkably philosophically. He got himself into this mess, after all. (I'd call it a pickle but for the tragic irony. A pickle is a vegetable, you know.) But the trouble is that the deficit in his nutrition is evident. He wasn't just comfort sucking before bed: that was a whole meal going on there.
This has thrown his eating habits into even starker relief, and I don't think they're going to go down too well with the doctor at his four-year checkup on Friday. A typical day goes like this: Morn-side at the crack of dawn. Mooch around refusing anything to eat for a couple of hours. Finally ingest a few oatmeal squares or frosted-mini wheats just before leaving for school, with some juice (fruit and vegetable juice, thank you very much) or honey milk (his new obsession). Just milk at snack at school, unless it happens to be a day when they have animal crackers or pretzels or quesadillas - in which case they make him a special one with no cheese, or anything else, in it. Peanut-butter sandwich (crusts cut off) and milk or juice for lunch. Possibly a snack of cheerios mid afternoon, or some chocolate milk if we go to Target or IKEA, or some bagel if we're in the supermarket. And... it's starting to look like another peanut-butter sandwich for dinner.
The best I can say is that he doesn't get any junk - no cookies or ice cream or cake on a normal day unless he has actual food, and even then only a tiny bit. He doesn't even like fizzy drinks. I try to avoid high fructose corn syrup in our bread and crackers and cereals, if possible. And I don't buy the sugary cereals - Honey Nut Cheerios is about as exciting as it gets on that front. I've been trying to brainstorm with him about foods he might try, and it's as if he wants to, but he just can't bring himself to do it. (He has inquired about what foods his father and I don't like, and now claims that he'll only eat turnips and mushrooms. Fat chance.) Yesterday he made me buy a can of Chef Boyardwhatsit horrible ravioli, because he liked the ad, but when it came to the crunch, even though I have lost all pride when it comes to bribery and have told him he can have ice cream if he just tastes a new food, he couldn't even look at it. (Miss wasn't impressed with it either. Can't say I blame her.)
The first night he had little or no dinner and woke me at 5.45 the next morning, clearly starving. Last night he appeared by my bed at 3.45, and I had to give him some emergency middle-of-the-night side to get him back to sleep. (After I pushed him off he requested cereal, but by the time I got back from the kitchen he'd dropped off again.) Tonight at least he had the sandwich, but this really doesn't seem like a balanced diet. I really hope it keeps him till morning, but I don't know. If he suddenly has a growth spurt, we'll be up a gum tree.
In my more pessimistic moments I wonder if the doctor will say we need some sort of food therapy. Is he considerably worse than your average picky eater? Is the breastmilk the only thing standing between him and actual malnutrition? I keep telling myself that if he's hungry enough he'll eat - which is true: he just doesn't see why he should eat anything different. He's remarkably healthy and, while on the small side, I don't think his growth has fallen off the curve or anything; neither his father nor I come from tall families. But whenever I see that ad for Pediasure, where they show a child who - horrors - refuses both fish and broccoli, and therefore has some gaps in her food triangle that must be filled with delicious chocolate-flavoured anti-Slimfast, or whatever the stuff actually is, I have to laugh, hollowly.