An article published in The Seattle Times last year shed light on children with severe eating disorders. I wouldn’t go so far as to rate our monster as severe, but I can relate to the parents of the children illustrated in the article. I know their frustration. I know it well.
Dave Uchalik, an occupational therapist at the Abilities Center in Detroit provides the guidance for this evening’s meal:
“The goal is not necessarily to eat those foods (immediately) but to increase their level of interaction with them.”
Mission Operation Pasta accepted.
Sure, I could apply this method to any number of edibles that would eventually add food groups to my son’s diet. Progress around here is slow and adding pasta, a member of the already accepted carbohydrate family, seems to have all the merits for potential success.
“We’re having noodles for dinner.”
“Aaaaaaaaww,” his good mood immediately shifts to concern, heading quickly toward panic, “I hate noodles!”
“That’s okay, because I don’t want you to eat them.”
The building panic deflates into confusion. “What?”
“I don’t want you to eat the noodles. I want you to squish them. Build something. Create shapes likes circles and squares and dodecahedrons.”
“Yep. Those too.”
We gathered around the table, the food placed in the center, buffet style. A portion of pasta, tossed in garlic butter and parmesan cheese placed on everyone’s plate.
This would be enough, normally, to invoke an inconsolable amount of wailing, tears, and a frantic attempt to escape the table. Not tonight. Instead, noodles were picked up without prompting and laid out in groups of three, then four, then five and counted. Pasta became a math lesson in multiplication, addition and subtraction. Then it turned into target practice as he lined up one noodle and took aim with another.
The zealous target shooting begins to include his sister, his father and myself. I point out that although his plate is fair game, we still need to respect others at the table. It’s a gentle reminder, unenforceable really. He seems to know as well as I that proper table etiquette is not the point.
I learn to pleasantly tolerate the occasional rogue noodle bouncing off my arm or unintentionally landing in my lap. The table and the floor are peppered with macaroni and for the entire length of dinner, the infectious giggling rarely stops.
My husband showed our son how to poke the tines of his fork through the open center of the macaroni. One by one, my son picks up noodles and mounts them on his fork. Re-enacting a scene from The Ant Bully, he casts his spell, exclaiming, “Klak-teel!” and flings his fork like a scepter. Pasta sails wildly through the air, over his sister’s head seated across the table.
Never have I heard so much laughter in the presence of pasta.
Did he eat the macaroni? Let’s not be ridiculous, of course he didn’t eat the macaroni. What he did do was something he’s never done in his entire life. He sat happily at the table and enjoyed a plate of noodles.
Then he said something that for us, is nothing short of a miracle.
“Can we have noodles for dinner tomorrow night?”
Yes, buddy. Yes, we can.