Noe Valley Voice May 2008

Noe Telling: First Food Ceremony

By Robin Dutton-Cookston

"That's it! We are giving the baby solid food!" I yelled out to no one in particular after tossing yet another pair of ruined pajamas in the trash.

A week's worth of exploding diapers finally did me in, and I hoped that some rice cereal might firm things up in the poop department.
I didn't originally plan to make the meal into a symbolic event, but somehow my baby's first bite of cereal became a significant rite of passage for our sometimes-too-secular family.

Growing up white-bread Protestant, as a child I was often jealous of the coming-of-age rituals experienced by other kids. I longed to don a white wedding-style dress and celebrate my first communion, or stand in front of a crowd of friends and family, reading the Hebrew text at a bat mitzvah.

My elder daughter Grace lit a fire under my ritual envy when I told her that we would soon be giving her little sister Rosemary a taste of solid food.

"Tonight, Mommy! Can we do it tonight?" she screeched in delight and jumped up and down on the sofa. I remembered a recent conversation with a friend who is part-Bengali about her son's traditional First Food Ceremony, and an idea slowly began to take hold.

"Why don't you create a centerpiece for the table?" I asked Grace. This would add some color to the dining room and keep my preschooler busy for about two minutes.

Grace scrambled around the house and returned with a silver platter, five tiny votive candles, several small trinkets and charms, three sand dollars, and about 2,347 sequins. She piled the whole mess in the middle of a floral tablecloth and set to work. By the time dinner arrived, we had a beautiful kid-created focal point for our meal.

We dimmed the lights, lit the candles, pulled the highchair up to the table, and I ceremoniously dished out a couple of tablespoons of rice cereal sweetened with some expressed breast milk.

"Um...I feel like we should say something formal," I said. "Maybe we should sing a song?"

"How 'bout 'Baa Baa Black Sheep'?" Grace chirped.

And so we sang: "Baa, baa, black sheep, have you any wool? Yes sir, yes sir, three bags full...."

After serenading our baby with the tune, each member of our family took a turn presenting her with a tiny spoonful of cereal. As the spoon was passed around, we all got goose bumps. Big smiles crinkled our faces.

The event was silly and childish, and I doubt it resembled in any way the Bengali tradition of my friend's family. However, I felt immensely grateful we could share this milestone and welcome our baby girl, once again, even deeper into the fold of our family.

Robin Dutton-Cookston, whose essays have appeared in Mothering, Hip Mama, and her own zine called Apron Strings, lives on Cesar Chavez Street with her husband, two daughters, one cat, and lots of spiders.