“Chance is the first step you take, luck is what comes afterward.”
― Amy Tan, The Kitchen God’s Wife
A year ago, in the heels of J’s dental saga, we implemented the “count between bites” system for his meals. We were, at that time, pretty fed up with J’s habit of inhaling his food like Monstro the Whale from Pinocchio. Indigestion by proxy was a problem for us; it’s hard to consume a meal pleasurably when you witness the same exact food playing the part of the bird in a scenario that involves a plane engine.
There is no denying that, since the year of the meltdowns, J had improved significantly in many ways. By the same token, there is no denying that, from circa that time, we had developed all these defense mechanisms that often involved relenting, negotiating, and downright surrendering. Little by little we gained territory, but food was an issue…a major one. Of the 33.5 pounds of cheese consumed per capita in the US each year, J was consuming his share and ours. Not only that, J ate more ramen noodle than any college student on a budget has consumed in the history of ramen noodle as a college student diet staple.
It is a well-documented fact that we can now take J to eat at restaurants, and he paces himself instead of trying to imitate the people who gorge on hot dogs and pies just to prove that they can. That we can now take him to restaurants that don’t have a mascot, and that don’t serve one of a very limited list of items J will eat is nothing short of a wonder. A few nights ago Dada and I went to have Thai food, just the two of us; still in the “let’s look at the menu” stage, Dada asked “do you want to order an appetizer?” Without missing a beat we said in unison: calamari…J’s not here to bogard them!!!
We now have in our midst a version of J that will try any green food item you put in front of him. Orange items he will smell to see if they are appealing. Cauliflower will be eaten regardless of how it’s prepared. Yesterday morning (in one of my Little Engine That Could moments) I took left-over mashed potatoes, pureed carrots, wheat germ, an egg white, and some fresh herbs and concocted what I hoped would pass for some sort of pancake. J ate two…because there were only two left. His omelet had fresh spinach leaves, a small amount of cheese, and egg whites…he ate it with enthusiasm and making his nom-nom-NOM sound. He savored every bite…I know this because I was savoring my breakfast, and because pieces by Telemann, Boccherini, Mozart, Schubert and Haydn played while J ate. The same person who considered it torture to wash his hands while singing the Alphabet Song now takes his time eating, savoring, enjoying, and not questioning what I put on his plate.
A year is not such a long time. In 365 days we have gone from wondering HOW to get J to eat better, less, more prudently, more calmly to watching J start on vegetables, move to meat, and eat the small amount of carbs we put on his plate. We have gone from nearly 290 pounds to a hair over 250, and every pair of shorts that required a belt by the end of the day now requires a belt as soon as it’s put on, fresh from the dryer. The excitement that was reserved for Pringles, mac and cheese, Ramen noodle and Cheez-Its is now clearly visible when Yogurt Time rolls around and the home-made pear chips are handed to him, or when it’s hummus and pita chip for an afternoon snack. The last time that J ate Ramen noodle was January 9th, if memory serves…for someone who HAD to have Ramen noodle for breakfast to quit cold-turkey and be OK with never eating that again…well…call me Betty Ford, please. I think J’s been cured of the hyper-salty, waxy-noodle addiction he harbored and clung to quite stubbornly.
We have the same exact kid in our home, but he’s a lot healthier and (we think) a lot happier. He has discovered that strange looking things he discounted when we presented them to him can be tasty. He has discovered that it’s ok to like things that we used to refuse flatly without giving them a chance. He has discovered that cheese can be delicious even when we’re not single-handedly consuming the 33.5 pounds per capita per year…four times over. J has discovered that not everything has to be salty or sweet to be delicious, and that a handful of chips can be just as satisfying as a huge bowl full of them. J has learned that we are not as crazy as he thought we were, and that going to the gym for an hour every afternoon and actually getting on the machines and sweating can be very satisfying.
On Saturday morning, we did the usual rounds: library, market…you know the drill by now. For the first time in his life, J went to a Dairy Queen. We ordered a hot fudge sundae for him, a small one. As we sipped our Orange Julius-es, J sat there basking in the glow of the little plastic cup with just enough ice cream and hot fudge to represent a sweet treat. He was happy; he clapped and giggled quite joyfully, and we enjoyed watching his slowly work his way through the sundae.
A year ago we started counting between bites, and we started reducing J’s medication. A year later, with some other adjustments, we are in an entirely different stage of J’s life and development. Next Monday we go back to the psych, and we start discussing the next reduction in dosage; we also get another weigh-in, and we talk about how those little changes have altered the way J handles the outside world. He hasn’t changed…he’s very much, and unequivocally the same person he was last June, but that person will now eat at, and behave and enjoy, dining experiences that were far beyond our expectations.
If you see him eating a sundae, though, you can see he’s still there, loving every spoonful of the “wrong” foods…but now he knows how to wait, and how to stop.