Let Them Eat Paper Towels

by Briton Underwood
Originally Published: 
Baby standing in a bed

The first kid (or kids in my case; thanks a lot, fertility gods) is often wrapped in bubble wrap, figuratively speaking. I mean, literally speaking, we probably would just pop all the bubble wrap, and it would become less of a safety measure and more of a choking hazard. But popping bubble wrap is so much fun.

Sorry, where was I? Yes, the firstborn child, the one we cared about. It isn’t to say that I don’t care about my latest addition, I just remember dive-tackling one of firstborn sons—like I was protecting the president—to wrest a toxic piece of paper towel from his mouth. Using my hands as the Jaws of Life, I would pry open their little mouths and risk finger amputation to save them from a piece of dog food, as if it was a cyanide pill.

Then, I remember looking at my youngest chewing on a paper towel, shrugging and thinking, I will get it, eventually. The threat level was code yellow, not DEFCON 4 like it was with his brothers. As I sluggishly moved from washing dishes to my youngest, I remember debating whether or not it was even worth catching some bite marks on my pinkie to retrieve the foreign object. Let him eat paper, whatever. These dishes need to get washed.

What is more frightening than the fact I got around to getting the paper towel out of my son’s mouth? It’s the fact that I admitted to occasionally washing dishes. I hate admitting to doing adult things. I once told my wife that I was the cool parent, too hip and busy for household chores, whereas she was the responsible one who needed to keep the house together. That went over really well.

There I was, being a hip, cool, dishwashing dad, while my son munched on a piece of Bounty’s finest quilted print. It isn’t that I don’t care about my youngest’s well being, I certainly do, it’s that I just am not as nervous that he is going to die from eating a little dog food or a piece of paper towel.

After two years as a parent, it has become rather obvious kids are going to eat as much dirt, grass and random objects as their little hearts desire. I went through a phase when I was almost positive my son was part mole-rat because every time we went outside he would eat his weight in dirt. Seriously, it is always a surprise when you go to change a diaper and the poop looks less like stool and more like beachfront property.

They grow out of those stages of needing to learn everything from an object by running it through the gauntlet of senses. Eventually, the need to taste test everything dissipates.

The thing is, a baby is inevitably going to chew on household items. As long as you keep the rat poison out of reach, usually they are safe. Now, I say usually, because there are times they get into stuff that causes a panic.

One time, my kids decided they wanted to get their swerve on by sipping on some syrup. I am not talking Aunt Jemima’s syrup. My kids broke into their diaper bag, located the baby Benadryl, and spent the next minute figuring out the child safety top, before passing the sweet hooch amongst themselves. They got a few swigs in before we staged an intervention and took a trip to the hospital to sit around while my kids looked stoned out of their allergy-medicated minds. But it happens. While it was a scary moment in which I lost my gold star in the parenting category that day, the baby bag has since been relocated out of reach. Lesson learned, moving on.

As a parent, you should grow with your kid—not just physically, because we all put on some parent weight, but also mentally and emotionally. There is an entire maturation process through which we learn to identify immediate threats to persons and, well, a piece of paper towel. I am not saying give your child a good fiber boost by letting them eat roll after paper towel roll, followed by a healthy cup of Pedigree. Paper products are expensive, and no one has the cash to fund that diet. There are just other things to worry about, like whether the baby bag accentuates your butt or makes it look fat.

I know there is someone out there who will feel the need to point out eating paper towels is bad, all the while shoveling hot dogs into their kid’s face. I am not judging you. It is OK—hot dogs are delicious quick lunch fixes (in fact, if you don’t have any bread, just wrap their hot dog in some paper towel).

As parents, there is a need to sometimes let our kids learn something by trial of mouth. Seriously, you know the kid who eats sticks isn’t going to be picky with dinner. So I say, after years of inexperience that has become experience, “Let them eat paper towels.”

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