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National Editorials & Columns

A retainer on baby food

“Oh, man, apple plum berry is still my favorite,” I said to my friend as I scraped the bottom of my son’s glass jar of baby food and gingerly lapped up the last of it off my spoon. “I seriously could eat this all day.”

My friend wiped food off my son’s face and watched me with piqued interest. Perhaps she had never before seen an adult go to town on a baby’s unfinished Gerber goodies.

I offered her a spoonful. She shook her head “no.”

“It’s cool that your tastes haven’t changed in all this time,” my friend said.

“Yeah. What was your favorite baby food?”

“Oh, I don’t know. I doubt my mom remembers,” my friend said.

“Yeah,” I said. “I bet my mom doesn’t remember, either.”

“But...” My friend stared at me. Then she asked, “Are you saying that you remember your favorite baby food?”

“I just told you. Apple plum berry.”

My friend stared at me incredulously. I stared back, confused.

What was her deal?

For me, the best part of my son’s moving on to solid foods has been tasting his many jars of baby food. It’s nostalgic — a trip down memory lane. But now, for some reason, my friend was staring at me as if I were either some total bozo or the world’s most ridiculous liar.

“So I guess you remember being breast-fed, too, right?” she asked, with more than a hint of sarcasm.

“What? No. Don’t be ridiculous!”

“But...” Once again, my friend just stared at me. And I stared back. Then suddenly, it dawned on me where all this confusion was coming from.

“O-o-o-o-o-o-h,” I said. “You think that I was a baby when I ate baby food!”

My bad.

I’ve been told I ate a wide variety of mashed meals in my first few years of life. I’m sure that’s true, but I don’t remember any of it. What I do remember is the veritable smorgasbord of baby food I ate for a full year when I was 9. Yes, 9.

When I was in third grade, my orthodontist attempted to correct an overbite by placing a retainer in my mouth. It covered all my top teeth and hung down, acting as a tongue guard.

Worst of all, it was permanent. It couldn’t come out of my mouth. Not at night. Not for special occasions. Not ever — no how, no way — unless the removal was performed by the orthodontist.

This retainer was essentially a prepubescent torture device — all the humiliation of adolescence without the coping mechanism of the aloof attitude acquired at 13. I was simply glued into a clear plastic devastation device and told to suck it up.

Not that I could suck. Sucking with that contraption was nearly impossible. In fact, simply closing my mouth was nearly impossible.

To add insult to injury, the permanent retainer made me lose all my friends to my chronic spitting. It’s hard to share secrets with your buds when they wind up showered with an earful of your saliva.

Shockingly, becoming an easy target for kids at school and losing my friends weren’t the most heinous parts of having the permanent retainer. It had robbed me of the one thing I loved most in this world: eating.

Chewing was awkward and time-consuming and soon became too much work. My new diet consisted of yogurt, pudding, applesauce, soup and good ol’ baby food.

If I’m being honest, the baby food was the best thing to come out of my orthodontic nightmare.

It wasn’t always easy being the weird kid who brought baby food to school, but I loved going to the grocery with my mom. I loved walking up and down the baby food aisle and picking out exactly what I wanted to eat for every meal for the next few days. There was a newfound autonomy that few kids had at the young age of 9.

Tasting my son’s baby food has been a happy reminder of something good in a time that was not. I just have to remember that most people don’t have the same accessible nostalgia for Gerber Good Start that I do. And that’s too bad, because I’m tellin’ ya, the food has only gotten more delicious! Seriously.

Clink your glass jars, and raise your sippy cups! Cheers to the memories!

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