Thursday, July 12, 2012

Baby's Oral Fixation

“What are you eating?” is universal parent shorthand for “You have something in your mouth that’s surely not food stuff, and I will now have to risk being bitten by you and/or pissing you off when I pry open your mouth in order to figure out what it is and to make sure it won't kill you”.

When Claire surreptitiously eats in the proximity of the highchair, I can be relatively sure that the question mark in the mouth is food related. However, a question mark still remains about the age and freshness of the piece of food resurrected from the floor. Greater concern and urgency occurs when I see her mouthing something near the change jar or litter box.
Certain gustatory attractions make sense to me. When Claire reaches for the chalk for the fifth time, my mouth waters right along with her. I also know that if I actually let her try chalk a few times, she’ll figure out that it looks tastier than it really is. In a few years, she will also learn that Smarties are supposed to be candy, but they look and taste a lot like chalk. These disappointments are early lessons in the principle that things aren’t always what they seem.

Other things hold an edible appeal to Claire that I struggle to understand. No matter how hard I try, I can’t seem to convince her that the taste of Kleenex is not on par with her favorite food, banana.

Soda bottle caps clearly belong in the “if it can fit through a toilet paper roll, a baby can choke on it” category. I’m willing to risk it by applying the following rationalization: With a close eye on her, I can avoid both the choking and the tantrum that will ensue if I make her stop sucking on it.

Unlike non-toxic chalk or closely supervised cap chewing, sometimes Claire tries to eat things that require her swift removal from the source. The other day, I moved her away from the most intriguing mulch in her Aunt Daphne’s yard. I had hoped grass would prove as interesting; however, she continued to return to the forbidden place of her original oral fascination. After we repeated the grass/mulch dance a few times, I said to George’s cousin Mini, “I can’t wait for this oral fixation phase to be over”. Mini has a seven year old and related, “Yes, but then it will be on to the next phase. There’s always something…”

The way she trailed off at the end made “the next phase” seem too ominous to ask her to detail what it might be. So my mind jumped ahead a few years to Claire asking for keys to drive the car (now, she just chews on them). Suddenly, the present risk of Claire cracking a tooth on a set of metal keys didn’t seem so bad.

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