Dinnertime in our house is a chaotic event. My boys yelling, "Mom! I need juice! Mom! Are we having pancakes?" over the clattering of silverware and dishes. Chandler will not eat with us at the table. He prefers the kitchen island, with the counter height stools. Picky isn't the word for children with autism, intake of food is a mysterious clumsy dance, sometimes you have a breakthrough when your child surprises you by taking a bite of an "off limits" food with a nasty texture like oatmeal, or scrambled eggs. And sometimes you get chewed up food spit out on the plate.
Today was a mental bully. I spent my mothers day studying for todays finals -which knocked me to the ground because of my inability to concentrate. On the way to my first final (a biology test in which I had to draw a human heart complete with blood flow), I stopped off at Chandler's school to bring him a sweatshirt for recess ( it was unexpectedly chilly and rainy today). I signed in at the office, and turned right, and I could hear him screaming from the hallway. Getting closer, I could hear Kim, his speech therapist on the phone, leaving me a message...."It just isn't like him, we haven't seen him like this in a long time....." I tapped her on the shoulder and she hung up the phone finishing, "You can disregard this message since you are here!" I stepped inside the classroom to see him on his knees on the floor, covering his face with his T-shirt. He was sweaty and red-faced. His para was next to him, a look of concern on her face. He calmed a bit upon seeing me, and together we try to decipher this episode as I softly speak to him, "What do you need?", signing need. Brainstorming was something we did often to sort out Chandler's moods, but there was just no good answer for today. Allergies? Sore throat? Tired? Who knows. I leave him calmer, zipped up in his sweatshirt following Mrs. J outside. He glances at me twice. I walk to my car anxious, turning back to see he is no longer watching me.
(Dinnertime 6:30 p.m) I set three foods in front of Chandler at the counter. You have to first understand, that his food horizons are not broadening, even with food therapy. It is painstakingly slow, and his menu options seem to get smaller and smaller. Spaghetti is now out, we have lost waffles, regained mac and cheese, lost plain cheese, chicken and rice, and various other foods gone along the way. I refuse to let him eat pop tarts for every meal. I feel like a short order cook. So I place lemon yogurt, chicken pizza, and spaghetti-O's with franks in front of him. First the whimpering starts...I pour him a glass of milk...then the jumping off the chair and I return him to his place. Here comes the spitting, and shirt chewing....Oh, god, he hasn't done this in months. "Come on Chandler, don't you want to go outside?" I bribe sweetly. Here comes the red face, and the tears. "Just take a bite." I plead. "A BITE! NO! 'SIDE!" he throws his head back and screams. He is slapping the counter over and over, "ALL DONE, ALL DONE." Pushing his plate away over and over, but I persist, "You have to try one bite of something, Channy." (blood curdling screams, sobs mixed in, while slapping his hands together repeatedly). Here comes the bad mom part. I get upset, and yell at him, "You cannot starve yourself!! You need to eat!" He begins to throw his arms around me, still screaming, and I can see in his eyes he is begging me to understand why this food is inedible. He pulls away from me and falls to the ground. I am crying as hard as he is. We are in full meltdown mode together. We sit on the floor with him in my arms and rock back and forth. "I don't understand, baby", I say, "Why don't you want to eat?" I ask rhetorically. He squeaks out, "All done." I surrender. "Okay, all done." He wipes his eyes, and sprints to the front door, "Outsiiiide....", leaving me on the floor.