Posts tagged ‘eating’
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.
Spongebob Squarepants, a creature I had hoped never made it into our house. C has gone through several fascinations with cartoon characters from Dora to Thomas to Wubzy. Fortunately, he skipped Barney and the Wiggles. I thought C would skip Spongebob too, but he is all the rage at our house right now.
Actually, I find the little yellow guy fairly funny. There are moments of hilarity in that stupid show that go far beyond kid humor. And the fact that I seem to be able to imitate several of the charaters’ voices spot-on seems to be not only a useless talent I didn’t know I had, but also a source of endless enjoyment for C.
All silliness aside, I now love that little yellow guy like no other cartoon character that has ever graced our television screen. For you see, Spongebob Squarepants has done what years of feeding therapy could not get C to do. Spongebob singlehandedly convinced C to eat something he’s never really eaten – the dreaded multi-ingredient dish.
You see, C is a single-ingredient kind of kid. Plain chicken, with nothing on it. Plain rice with nothing in it. Plain hamburger – just the patty – with nothing else. No bun, no lettuce, no tomato, no nothing. We don’t do casseroles at our house. No soups, no salsas, no dips, salads or anything that requires a recipe, because that would have too many ingredients.
But tonight, after listening to C go on and on about wanting a “Krabby Patty,” I finally decided the heck with it – I’ll risk the wasted food. I confirmed numerous times that he actually wanted a turkey patty ON a bun WITH ketchup on it PLUS avocado AND tomato. All. At. Once.
And C proceeded to eat the whole thing. Thanks, Spongebob. You’ll always have a place at our table.
Every once in awhile, I am reminded of how challenging it is just to be C. He courageously tackles demons most of the rest of us don’t even consider a threat. To face those fears on a daily basis requires a certain kind of strengh above and beyond the normal.
C’s big fear? Food. It’s all tough for him, from the earliest retching when we’d open the fridge to now swallowing the gag when he looks at unfamiliar foods. If he could just skip eating completely, he’d probably be a much happier kid, but nature calls, and eat he must.
Last week he helped his class win a pizza and ice cream party, and he was probably the most excited of his classmates. Yet he doesn’t eat pizza and ice cream – can’t eat pizza and ice cream, but more telling, doesn’t even want to eat pizza and ice cream. He’s never had cake, pie, pizza, soup, casseroles, or a salad.
The night after the party, when he asked if he could try some ice cream, I jumped on it. He wanted to try the sorbet in the freezer, and I popped out a spoon. Try it he did. What most people won’t understand, however, is the massive aligning of the planets it took to actually get that sorbet in his mouth. No setting down a bowl in front of him. First he had to look at it, and I was careful to cover up the chunks of fruit on one side. He then had to smell it, with my enthusiastically stating how much it smelled like strawberries, his favorite. I got out a spoon, scooped out less than 1/8 of a teaspoon, and slowly glided it into his wide open mouth so as to ensure it didn’t touch his lips.
Then started the reaction. Eyes scrunched shut fighting back tears, jumping up and down, and what I call the “closed-fist hand flap” motion to distract himself. This was followed by his covering his ears. This all took place in the span of the three seconds it took him to swallow the sorbet.
This was a mild reaction, believe it or not. I immediately responded with, “Wasn’t that great? Want more?” Sure enough, he did. Five more spoonfuls, and a request to have it for breakfast the next morning.
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.”