She chokes. She gags. She stops breathing for a moment. Her eyes rim with red, making her look a bit like Uncle Fester, highlighting the fairness of her skin in contrast. She gags again in earnest, then the vomit comes, clear with chunks, onto her high chair tray. I hold her angled downward so she doesn’t choke again on the thing that’s already choking her.

All this from trying her first very small, unground, not-cooked-to-a-pulp piece of cauliflower.

Some parents, I’m sure, see solid foods as their ticket to freedom: no longer tied to the bottle or the breast, they can travel lighter and begin the process of helping their children fully enter the world of the grownups. As for me, I know I’ll miss this intimate time with her, this sweet together time. It is a freedom of a different sort to be able to go somewhere without packing any food other than what I make myself, every moment of every day. Besides that, beginning to serve solids, we’ve found, is an activity fraught with peril and not for the faint of heart. Choking lurks behind every lunch, and a potential allergic reaction follows every new food.

We started with avocados – if you don’t include the apple slices we let her suck on. She loved those, but again: what if a piece broke off? Choking hazard. What if she managed to get a bit of peel in her mouth? Gagging or choking hazard. I’d let her hold them, but only if I was watching her. And only when I gave up blinking.

Peas: gagging. Green beans: gagging. Carrots: good. Sweet potatoes: good. Mashed potatoes: vomiting.

And that happened twice. Really? POTATOES are the food that makes my baby vomit? Something that is, in most ways, flavorless, that takes on the taste of whatever it’s mixed with? Yes. Thanksgiving day, the first attempt brought up the bite of potatoes and whatever came before it. A month later, we tried again, making the potatoes even creamier this time (with potato water, not milk): vomit. We’re giving up on potatoes.

Peas: still gagging. Apples: good. Pears and mangoes: good. Turkey vegetable dinner: gagging. Cheese: good. Egg yolks: gagging. Barbara’s Hole ‘n’ Oats: good. Puffs: good. Yogurt: good. Bread and crackers: good. Lentils and rice: questionable. The list goes on.

Even the “safe” foods, however, have their moments.

She was eating an O-shaped piece of cereal. Leaning forward, she squeezed the O between her thumb and forefinger, her grip solid and steady. She’s come such a long way since the fumbling-grasping of a month and a half ago! She carefully maneuvered her fingers to her mouth and released the O in time to keep it in her mouth (many of its shipmates had jumped overboard already, bobbing on the blue splat mat below). And somehow, she managed to choke on the O, the food shaped in a way to keep children from choking. Wasn’t anything safe anymore?

As a parent, you ready yourself. Will you have to put into effect the lessons you learned for infant Heimlich? Will you need to call 911? Should you pick her up and angle her downward so that gravity works in her favor? I did, but did I do the right thing?

Mealtime is when families come together, when everyone is in the same place at the same time. Food is a unifying factor. The three of us sit down to enjoy a simple meal together, a family, no longer just a couple. We wouldn’t have it any other way.

But when a baby is one of the three, even the simple things aren’t so simple:  mealtime is fraught with peril. Look out for the cauliflower and potatoes.