I SPENT the day with my baby granddaughter this week and I'm still finding bits of sweet potato, boiled egg, carrot, banana, peanut butter sandwich, yoghurt and quinoa in weird places.
On the tiles behind the toaster. In books. In the cat's fur. In my left ear. In the shape of little handprints on every glass door or mirror.
Some of the food even made it to her stomach.
For the past few weeks my youngest son and daughter-in-law have texted photos of the baby, now eight months, after meals. There she sits, secured into a high chair wearing whatever she's just eaten while the room around her looks like a helicopter's taken off in the middle of a busy farmers' market.
I'm looking at a photo now of the baby after a meal she had several weeks ago. She is staring straight down the barrel of the camera, not smiling, with what I would have to describe as a touch of a glare. It's disconcerting to see a chipmunk-cheeked pre-toddler giving a "Yeah, what?" look, but there's no escaping that's what it is.
Her left arm is thrown up high and a little nonchalantly. Job done, is the attitude. The other rests on the chair. Her legs are stretched out like someone who's just eaten slightly too much and is giving the belly room to advance into a bigger space, and she's wearing a nappy. Her body is covered in meat and red stuff. It would be alarming if there weren't enough bits of pasta strewn about to show what she's just eaten.
I've just demolished my first spag bol," she seems to be saying to the camera. "I am an Aussie."
Her father liked his food as a baby in the late 1980s; was never happier than when handed his very own barbecued chicken still warm in a bag as a special birthday treat; forced his parents into working overtime to pay for the food bills during his teen years, and still manages to eat more food per day than Australia's purportedly smallest town (Fox Trap in Queensland, population 4), except these days he has to pay the bill at the checkout so I don't mind in the slightest.
Back in the day when my sons were young and I was too, parents were advised to feed infant new eaters bland simple things. Rice cereal, egg custards, stewed fruit, mashed vegetables.
My granddaughter chowed down on goat curry the other night and took a particular fancy to some kind of prawn dish during a Thai restaurant meal. She likes Vietnamese as well. I've been on this earth 59 years longer than the baby. I've never eaten goat, let alone a goat curry.
I thought I was wild giving my sons soy pasta and little baby antipasto plates of vegetables, cheese, dried fruits and bits and pieces when they were little, with Vegemite sandwich chasers and milk.
My granddaughter holds food up and considers its texture and appearance before gumming it to a paste, swallowing it and searching for more. Her first words might have been "Mum" and "Bub" but her 11th, 12th and 13th are just as likely to be "Mi vit tiem" (a Vietnamese roast duck staple) or Pasta e Fagiola with Escarole (a famous Italian beans and pasta dish).
My son, a teacher, and daughter-in-law, a nurse, are following Australasian Society for Clinical Immunology and Allergy guidelines released in 2016 after an infant feeding summit that considered evidence about infant diets and rising allergy levels in Australian children.
For years parents were warned off feeding infants foods like peanuts or eggs. But there is some evidence since 2010 to suggest introducing common allergenic foods such as cooked egg, peanuts, nuts in general, wheat and fish should not be delayed after babies start to eat at about six months old.
ASCIA notes more evidence is required to clarify optimal timing for each food. If you're going to use the internet to find information about what to feed your baby in the first year I suggest this country's leading allergy and immunology specialists - who use evidence before making recommendations - is a good place to start.
Somewhere on the internet there's probably a site where grandparents provide wise advice to other grandparents before they care for their baby grandchildren for a full day for the first time. If there isn't I think I'll start one. The advice will be simple.
You will be exhausted.
A crawling 8-month-old gathers no moss.
Your house will look like it's been hit by a cyclone or a small group of rampaging possums.
If you have favourite books don't leave them at the bottom of the bookshelves.
Remember to clean your inner ears after minding an 8-month-old for a day.
No, babies are no different now than they were in the 1980s, it's just that you're a lot older.
Don't try to clean the mess when the baby's sleeping. He or she will only make more mess when they wake up.
What goes into a baby comes out the other end. Avoid the morning after goat curry night if you're faint of heart.
My baby granddaughter likes a walk. Out on our quiet street the other day we wandered, trailed by my nearly deaf, nearly blind, slightly demented old dog Lloyd, my middle son's mental, yappy little dog and my cat.
"My son calls me the street's crazy cat lady," I said to my neighbours across the road as they drank tea on their front deck.
"Well, we didn't like to say....," was the response.
Up the road I ran into some other neighbours, a young couple pushing their nine-month-old identical twins in a pram while their older son, 3, walked along and chattered beside them.
There is a quiet calm twin and a party animal twin. It's how they tell them apart.
They are always smiling. They always look tired. They are my heroes.
We exchanged baby stories. The babies dribbled. The parade of little animals wandered round and the toddler laughed as the critters sniffed each other.
"I'm going to be a grandmother again - my middle son and daughter-in-law," I told them. They just laughed when I asked if they were having another.
This column was originally published on April 4, 2019.
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