Nutella is meant for your pointer finger, gooey chocolate dripping off until it gets plopped into mouth. Apples are better without the skin. Blueberries should be plump, large, and sweet – forget about the small, tart ones. And tacos are only tacos if there are black beans, dairy-free cheese, a corn shell, and a dribble of tomato salsa (forget about the meat). And the broccoli, heavens, it needs to be steamed for just a minute so that it stays firm. Wilted broccoli will go into the the “no thank you bowl” right away.
I often wondered why my beautiful, bright son didn’t enjoy eating. Dinner time was, and still can be, a stress induced event. For me, cooking brings me joy because it is creative and filled with flavors. For my son, food is stressful because he unsure of how it will feel in his mouth; how it will sit in his tummy; if it will be too salty; and the list goes on. So far, my understanding of my son’s food associations are related to something in his life he can control. He can control gluten-free white bread and coconut-milk yogurt. He cannot control what happens to his body when he eats gluten-filled pasta or a drinks a glass of milk. You see, my son is very particular about many things in his life (i.e. his shoes, his legos, his backpack), and, namely his food is the most particular thing he can control.
It is a proud moment when my son can ask the sales clerk if the rice crispy treat has gluten. It is a sad, devastating moment, when he learns that the marshmallow whip used in the ingredients has flour. It is a horrifying moment to watch him crawl under a table and cry because the treat he can usually have (at our home) now contains gluten. The stares and the looks from other patrons used to bother me; however, now, I just tell myself that this is how my son processes his new understanding of food. I cannot allow others’ judgments to steer my parenting, my love, and ultimately, the way my crazy, joyful life is lived.
So, yes, I grieve. I cry and I sometimes sulk. But, then I remember, the beautiful, bold, juicy blueberries that bring such joy to his face. I remember that food for my son is just a means to fuel his body – he doesn’t seek out food when he is stressed or anxious or upset. I look at this as “okay.” I remind myself that he is learning how to create a healthy relationship with food – and a relationship that won’t harm his body. I remember that what I knew as a child will not be his experience – and I am blessed to be on the journey with him as he explores food and eating.
For any parent who struggles to at the dinner table, who can’t go to a restaurant for a meal, and who plows through every aisle and shelf at the store to find something, anything, for their child to eat, then we have a connection.
My learning thus far is that everything I learned in my life is not what my son knows and understands. I have to erase my food experiences from my expectations for my son’s eating and nutrition. I embrace who he is and how he eats (with his finger dipping the Nutella and then plopping it into his mouth). I welcome his sense of adventure as he tries things that (for you and me) may seem normal, but for him seem like the top of 14K mountain.