We used to call our old vacuum cleaner J. Edgar. It was a Hoover and it lived in the closet. Mean? Yes. Maybe that’s why J suddenly turned into the kid who inhaled his food with the same force and relentlessness as a vacuum cleaner. No sooner was a plate put in front of him that, regardless of how hot the meal was, he’d suck it up without so much as one chew. Mastication was not his thing, and no amount of wheedling, needling, scolding, persuading, negotiating would change J’s mind.
When I tell you that we all get indigestion witnessing this I am not exaggerating. J has ruined many a meal for us, and we know he doesn’t mean to, but we also know this cannot continue.
That’s when I started counting between bites. Oh, he resisted. J was so angry the first time that he threatened me with a royal tantrum, and I didn’t budge. In fact, I was so enthused about this new resource that I made everyone put their forks down after each bite, and together we counted to five…SLOWLY…before the next bite. You can imagine that the rest of the household’s population was not particularly thrilled with the notion of being treated in such a fashion. J’s meals, generally, are served in smaller portions than ours so that first time (last Sunday) he was done in ten minutes. He asked to be excused (I suppose he wanted to go fume in the basement) so I sent him on his way.
“MY food is cold,” said one bear. “Do we REALLY have to do it with him?,” said the other bear. “Get over it and EAT!,” said I, yet another bear. True, our meal was less than stellar in temperature, but J ate his meal in more than the usual time, and I actually saw him chew. Progress.
Between last Friday, when J had his big trip to the OR and handled himself so beautifully, and Monday evening, when I realized that getting him to chew each bite of his meals was not a fluke, I had some sort of weird epiphany: I don’t quite suck as much as I thought as a mother, and I can admit to myself (and by Tuesday I could say “and to others”) that I’ve been partly responsible for some of J’s anxiety.
It was this mindset that I carried to the psychiatrist’s appointment on Tuesday afternoon. J had repeatedly consumed his meals putting down his fork and counting since Sunday evening, and he was accepting of the fact that if he tried to sneak two forkfuls rather than one, I would count anywhere from 1 to 10 to 1 to 15 to make up for his sleight of hand. At first he grudgingly accepted this modus operandi, and then he realized that I wasn’t going to budge and we could count as much as I wanted because, after all, I was in charge. My version of being in charge entails putting my fork down between bites, but it was working and I was willing to eat the coldest, yuckiest-because-of-waiting-to-be-eaten leftovers if that’s what it took to model the behavior for J.
By the time he ate two hot dogs, we were both exhausted, but I felt empowered by this achievement. Off to the psych’s office we went.
Dada sat across from J and J sat next to me. The doctor faced all three of us, reading our expressions in that sphinx-like way of his. We related all the upheaval caused by J’s teeth since the beginning of the year, and we candidly confessed that our anxiety was as great as (if not greater than) J’s. By that I don’t mean that we were more upset about J’s teeth than J was, but rather that we were the ones anticipating all sorts of disastrous behavior as a result of all this…
We didn’t try to put more of a positive spin on anything. We were, if anything, truthful and forthright. We explained how far we think J has come in the past year, and how far we think WE have come. The doctor, looking from one to the other to the other, asked WHEN we’d like to reduce the med. Not IF, but WHEN.
So on the morning of the seventeenth of June, before he heads to his first day of ESY, J is taking .25 mg of his med and that evening he will take .50 mg. Granted, it’s a small reduction, but it’s a reduction nonetheless.
After this transition, which we are crossing fingers, toes, eyes and have chickens trying to get to the other side will go smoothly, we go back to see the psych in early August. We hope we have to wait that long. We are going to work very hard on working that long.
The way we see it is: we are standing on the edge of a very high bridge, and we’re wearing bungee ropes. We are at that point where we don’t know if the cords are strong enough, if they will help us bounce or not, if they’re too long and we’ll hit the ground…but we want to jump nonetheless. We want to jump because we have faith we’ll bounce, but we cannot guarantee it. Not even J can guarantee that for us, and he’s the most important element in this transition: if he is doing well and he continues to blossom as he has, we will all be fine and this will work. If, for any reason, we see him falter, then we go back to what we’re doing right now.
What would that look like? That suddenly realizing in mid-air that we are heading for disaster because J is not entirely ready for this change and the transition is not working for him? I’m hoping it looks more like Wile E. Coyote suddenly realizing that Acme has let him down (again)
rather than Karl Wallenda slipping from the tightrope and plummeting towards certain death.
(This event, by the way, I witnessed on live television on March 22nd of 1978…the poor man was crossing between two buildings of the same hotel in Puerto Rico and…well…read his wikipedia page…it wasn’t pretty.)
That’s where we’re at…optimistically angling for Wile E. Coyote. There are worse things one can angle for, right???