Mark vs Cancer

Saturday, February 09, 2008


"What drives someone to accomplish a difficult task against great odds? To defy convention, command or even coercion in order to hold true to a deeply held principle?"

These are questions I asked my eight month-old son, Justin, the other day as he and I battled yet again over The Bottle.

The Bottle has become a milk-bone of contention in an otherwise wonderful relationship between my son and me.

To me, The Bottle symbolically represents an appeal to rational thought, a pragmatic solution to the pertinent question, "How shall my son get milk? How shall I give my poor wife some relief?" My attitude towards the bottle is informed by my adult certainty that nearly all babies take bottles with very little difficulty, benefiting from the nutrients and calories they imbue.

But to Justin, The Bottle is cast in a very sinister light. It represents the compulsory enforcement of artifice, blatant denial of his most cherished perceived needs, and the ultimate insult to his human dignity. With resolute disdain and rage, he will resist at all costs--to the very limits of his physical capacity--any attempt to introduce the darned thing into his mouth

Now, I am a huge proponent of mothers nursing their infants, and Elizabeth has done a fantastic job of struggling with and then succeeding at this noble task. Quite literally, every ounce of fluid that Justin has ever received, save a precious few ounces that he may have inadvertently swallowed while spewing the remainder of a bottle in my face, have come from his mother's milk.

We didn't recognize this bottle-phobia would be a problem until he was about two months old. At that age, we figured he was just confused by the different feels of bottles and nipples, and so we tried a variety a different brands, searching for one he would accept. He rejected them all wholesale. He had made up his mind: he would never--ever--take a bottle.

But I continued to hold my own stubborn and deeply held belief: that no baby or child will willingly allow themselves to starve to death when they have ample food placed before them. (The corollary of this belief is that if children have a choice between eating their vegetables and starvation, they will choose the veggies.)

Being somewhat obstinate myself, my strong-willed son and I were on a collision course, and at about four months of age, he, I and The Bottle sat down together to have it out. When Justin became hungry, Elizabeth was asked to leave the premises, and I took Justin to a comfortable room where lullabies played softly and there were no distractions. I spoke soothing words, cradling him lovingly. I had an array of bottles, nipples and formulas before me to handle every contingency.

Three hours later, I stumbled in a crazed stupor from the room, having endured relentless, mind-shattering shrieking for the entire time. I handed the frenzied boy to his concerned mother, who promptly satisfied his every need. That same scene replayed itself on three successive nights, and finally I surrendered, intending to wait until he was older and perhaps more reasonable.

That was five months ago. We still skirmish occasionally, just to see what will happen, but these Bottle Battles are now much shorter and less dramatic, and The Bottle and I always lose. We've basically lost hope in The Bottle and have resorted to passively hoping that sippy cups will one day catch on. We have been heartened by the recent discovery that he will take medicine from a dropper: might we deceive him into taking formula that way?

Through these struggles, Justin has held two aces in his hand. The first is that he is exceptionally cute and otherwise good natured, quick to smile and laugh, and has woven himself inextricably into our hearts. The second is that he has an incredibly patient and loving mother in whom his absolute confidence to provide for all his needs, no matter the personal costs to her, is always rewarded.

When he is finally weaned from nursing, Elizabeth will deserve a gold star, a congressional medal of honor, a national monument on the Washington Mall, a symphony written in her name. Her devotion and love to her son has been truly inspiring.

I, too, love Justin very much, and he is very similar to my other two wonderful, cute, independent and strong-willed children, though neither of them had the bottle issue. I know that in the end their evident willpower, though leading to numerous parenting challenges in the interim, will serve them well in life. Or so I'd like to think.

In honesty, this strong will is partly a personal attribute, inherited from my parents, that I am proud to pass on to my children. I'd like to think that for me it has been a net positive, helping me doggedly persevere to overcome difficult challenges and attain worthy goals.

But with deeper reflection, I'm also aware that this very willfulness has gotten me into trouble, and has sometimes transformed into an inflexibility that has prevented me from embracing other opportunities, from accepting a palatable alternative, or from enjoying a worry-free existence.

But as far as I know, it never prevented me from taking a bottle. I mean, come on, son! You would like it if you would only try it, I promise. Pretty please?

Well, I know full well that no amount of begging or cajoling will work. But this much I have to say: watch out, World. Our little J-Man is going to try to impose his will on you. And considering how things have started out, I wouldn't bet against him.


Kristen said...

You're right... Liz is amazing:)

Tankfos said...

I wish I could still be bottle fed. Life would be so much easier. I don't understand why Justin has such a problem with it.

Goose said...

WIll power is the ability to dig down deep. To find a reserve that you never knew was there. It seems as though Justin has found this at a very young age. I see bright things for him in the future. Say for instance, an 800 meter runner. It takes real men/women to run that race, and with his marathon of refusing the bottle, he certainly has the drive, passion, and of course will power to be great. Mark, tell Justin that training starts this summer, and don't worry I will give you the first personalized training session for free. After that it will cost. Mark, give Justin a future, the 40 meter dash is only an event in the Foster family. He is going to need some real skill to win races that matter and that is what I have to offer.

Tyler said...

Drew, you only knock the 40 yard dash because Mark owns you in that event.

I think that Justin should just give in and take the bottle. Really, I think there are much more worthy causes to spend your will power on. Like finding an end to world hunger or curing cancer or finding Big Foot.

Max is overall a pretty easy going toddler, but he has been putting his foot down emphatically and with explosive tatrums lately over things like taking off his pants or getting into a shopping cart. Often, if not forced, Max willingly takes off his own pants, but for some reason, sometimes he digs in his heels and decides that his mom or dad taking off his pants is equivalent to torture.

Danalin said...

But what a cute face and personality to make up for that crazy battle!

You know, I was so against the bottle for a long time (don't ask me why...) and then when I needed to get Max to make the switch I was worried that we would have a fight on our hands. I actually cried because he seemed to have zero problem with it. Seems lame after hearing/reading about your battle with the bottle. I doubt that we'll be as fortunate with all of our children. When that time comes, I'll be sure to get you to commiserate with me. Kudos to you, Mark, for trying so hard to give your wonderful wife a break!

Matthew said...

Wow. This boy is one stubborn cuss. My heart goes out to you -- this must be immensely frustrating, and poor Liz is such a trooper. Must be very hard for her, but it sounds like Justin is well fed at least.

Wendi and I have been lucky enough to be blessed with a son who loves food. Simon is not picky. Though Wendi had problems nursing him at first, we have never had difficulty getting him to try new foods. Sweet potatoes seem to be his favorite.