Posts tagged ‘feeding’
C started at his new school late last week. Between three days off for a snowstorm, a half day for teacher workday tomorrow, and a holiday on Monday, it feels like he’s hardly begun. There are many differences in his new school: the kids all seem genuinely kind, they pray in class (“I prayed that God could take a day off work and come down and visit us in school,” he told me), and lunch is a calm, relatively quiet experience. Still, he’s asked me to come every day and sit with him at lunch. Eating in a new place is like eating each food as a completely new food, so he always struggles when starting a new school.
I went to lunch again today knowing it will likely be a few more weeks before he’s ready to cut the cord. C anxiously sat down to eat his rice and beans out of a thermos (also new). He didn’t want to eat, and I had to push him a little bit to get him started. After a few minutes, I got up and went to speak with his teacher in order to give him some independence. I came back and sat down, at which point C reached across the table, patted me on the shoulder, and said quietly, “Mom, you can go now.”
I so often cry when C does things, and I often cry in both happiness and sadness at the same time. It’s a strange thing, really; it perplexes me a great deal to feel such opposite emotions simultaneously. I walked out of the school, my eyes filling with tears at the great leap in his comfort level as well as at the fact that he needs less from me every day. This, I suppose, is what all parents feel as their kids grow up – I doubt many other parents feel both joy and sadness when their kid finally pushes them out the door of school in 4th grade, but it’s all relative. It’s happy-sad, but ultimately more happy than sad.
If I only knew the answers to these questions….
1.) Why he puts his hands over his ears when he’s eating something that freaks him out.
2.) Why he sleeps with his blankie wrapped around his head and/or neck. Even when it’s hot.
3.) Why ketchup is okay but tomato sauce is not.
4.) Why he hit his habilitation worker yesterday.
5.) Why he wants ants and spiders to crawl up his arm but he won’t touch a plastic cockroach.
6.) Why he sleeps upside down, sideways, and everywhere but where he’s supposed to, and what that means if he ever gets married.
7.) Why he asks for cardboard flavored rice crackers but I have to beg him to eat a cookie.
8.) Why he can sit still and watch hours of Thomas movies but can’t keep his bottom on the chair for 2 minutes of anything else.
9.) Why he can remember what food he tried to get each and every piece of his GeoTrax train set and in which order he received them, but can’t remember to put his shoes away. Ever.
10.) How he got to be so dang cute I don’t really care much about any of the above.
When we finally brought C home from the NICU, our doctor told us we had to keep him cold free for his first year, which translated to my quitting my job and staying home. For that year, my entire social life revolved around nurses and therapists coming to visit C at our home. Once we got the all-clear, however, we started to venture out in the world. At about 2 years old, we decided to try him in play school one day a week for some socialization. After a long visit, numerous conversations with the staff, the big day finally arrived. I brought him to the school, and he happily toddled into the room. He had no words yet, and had only started walking a few months before. I left, anxiety and eagerness fighting for control as I triple checked my cell phone to make sure it was on.
I knew I had to come back and feed him lunch because of his feeding issues, so I went back early to observe. What I saw has remained one of my most painful memories. As I walked in the building, I heard the usual noise that one would expect coupled with something far more disturbing; the sounds of my own child’s cries, which any mother can pick out of thousands of such cries from a crowd of other children. As I approached, I saw him standing in the middle of the room, hands held up, fingers spread, tears streaming down his face. He was nearly hysterical in his sobs and as he stood there all by himself like he was all alone in the world. It was instantly obvious to me what was wrong – his hands were dirty. He hated having anything on his hands, and his frustration was obvious because he could neither communicate it verbally nor could he figure out how to fix the problem himself. “Boy, he sure is a screamer!” one teacher commented. I fought the urge to snap back at her that perhaps he wouldn’t be screaming if anyone had been engaged enough to figure out what he was screaming about.
After getting him cleaned up, we proceeded to lunch, at which all the children happily ate their mini-tacos. I sat on a little chair at a little table, surrounded by little people eating big people food. I fed C his baby food and started crying. I couldn’t stop crying, and was soon fighting back heaving sobs as I tried to decide what to do. The young teachers tried not to stare at me in their complete and utter discomfort. There’s no manual for this; I felt completely lost and alone in the world – much like he had been when I saw him earlier. It was the first of many such choices I’ve had to make for him in is life; ultimately I took him out of a bad situation, one in which he probably could have learned something had I left him in the midst of it, but one where the lessons would’ve perhaps been at too great a cost.
C’s feeding issues are especially difficult for people to grasp. The best way I’ve found to explain it is to say he is absolutely terrified of food. The thought of food can bring up a fear in him so primal it’s hard to imagine it wasn’t born in him. Yet I suspect the trauma of being re-intubated several times as a newborn (he would cough the intubation tube right out as a NICU baby, something the nurses found amazing), combined with a highly sensitive sensory system, a poorly developed tongue, and motor planning problems are the likely culprits.
The issue first presented itself when he was nine months old. A well-intentioned occupational therapist gave him a cheerio, his first encounter with solid food, and he immediately gagged, choked, and vomited. It was downhill from there. Ultimately we found a feeding therapist (who would even know these people existed unless you needed to know?) and we started seeing her immediately.
Apparently, feeding is one of the most all encompassing things our bodies actually do besides sex. All the senses are engaged, our hands must be able to find our mouths (no small feat for someone with trouble getting messages from the brain to the hands), our tongues must be developed enough to move the food around, and we must be able to swallow. When you think of how all these systems work together for us to actually eat, it’s amazing we can all do it.
Many, many people have said to us that we should let C get hungry enough and then he would eat. AHA! If only that were true! There’s a small subset of children who will actually starve themselves to death rather than eat a food that scares them. It’s difficult for someone who has children who simply just EAT to grasp this. C is not a picky eater, but rather the texture, flavor, and newness of an untried food triggers an actual physical reaction that we all know as the “fight or flight” response.
When we started feeding therapy, we were at war in Afghanistan, and I remember seeing pictures of children who needed help in so many ways. I asked our feeding therapist what would happen to a child like C in a country where he couldn’t get this kind of help. Her answer, both abrupt and painful, was, “He would die.”