There was always something soothing in that copyrighted phrase from Burger King. It gave you control, freedom. It didn’t matter what you wanted on your burger. They would not issue any judgment calls – or tell you no, your request is crazy - you just got your burger – your way.
And that’s what my little guy wants. For him, it’s McDonald’s. And the Burger King phrase really kinda sums up our whole food issue. He maintains control. I think a lot of the judgments. the advice and the dirty looks I get about my kid’s eating habits pre-suppose that rationally he will give up that control if I just “starve” him. But presupposing rationality does not account for the disability. There is something that goes on in his mind, sensory, processing, something I don’t understand that prevents him from eating except in a strange, ritualistic, highly regulated manner. It’s not something that can be attacked with reason, or for his own good. It’s something else.
For a while, the little guy had gone vegetarian. He has never knowingly eaten peanut butter (yes, accidentally in candy which he promptly spat out). He refuses to eat any other nuts, fish, veggies, meat/soy, or legumes. There was at one point no source of protein going in. Recently, he was on a Jamba Juice, Orange Dream Machine/Lunchable Nachos diet. Then, as abruptly as that phase came on, it left. We’re back to the Happy Meal!
And when I say we’re back to the Happy Meal, I’m literal. The only thing he will eat that is not a straight sugar rush (or fruit) is the McDonald’s cheeseburger. Don’t even say “chicken nuggets” because you might as well say skunk meat or cannibalism – his reaction is about as terror-stricken.
Believe me, his eating habits are not something that a short ABA program or starving him will “cure”. His ABA team has put on and taken off the “new foods”, and “sitting for meals” program several times because they cannot make progress with him.
Frustrated with the ‘junki-ness’, the cost and his refusal to eat much, I cut him off of all fast food and tried to implement my own food program. That worked out really well. He did not eat much of anything. I think on average, he was eating, a few bites of peaches, part of a pop-tart and a few chips per day. That’s it.
There were moments a few weeks ago that there was talk of g-tubes due to his choice to starve rather than down any food.
So it was with much fanfare that we returned to McDonald’s when he asked for it. And thus, the routine began again. There is a whole ritual around these burgers. I hand him each piece. The pieces have to be just so – if the bite is not the right size, if it has no “edge” (think- middle of the burger- torn on all sides), wrong temperature, etc., he won’t eat it.
Sometimes, the whole burger falls apart because it’s saturated with ketchup. Then, I cuss and moan. Then I feel guilt because my child says, “Sorry, Mommy!” and I realize he thinks, I think, he’s done something wrong. I have to explain why my voice sounded un-Happy Meal-ish. “I’m sorry sweetie. I didn’t mean to yell. I’m not mad at you…” I’ll say. At this point, he cuts me off and says, loudly, “You didn’t do anything wrong!” meaning himself in the second person. That usually continues for a good five minutes, followed by his refusal to eat any more.
Or, if there is just a slight over “ketchup-ing” then I debate whether to give it to him. If he doesn’t take it from me on the “clean side”, then he gets ketchup on himself. This is not a sensation he enjoys. He has, for as long as he’s eaten these (probably 4.5 years), yelled out, in a panic-stricken voice, “CLEAN, CLEAN!! Two minus five equals….” (his opening act for meltdowns) and it will continue until long after he has a wipee or napkin to rid the nastiness from his fingers or clothes. Before he was 4, I would have to pull over and clean him myself.
So, last week, handing him the burger, I debated whether a slightly, “over-ketchup-ed” piece should be offered. I elected to “go for it”, feeling adventurous. I waited. All was quiet for a few seconds. Then, quite calmly he stated:
“I got ketchup all over me.”
I checked the rear view mirror. Sure enough, it was my kid still sitting back there. He has a little ketchup on his face.
Was that really him that said that huge, appropriate sentence, or was it the DVD? No, it was him.
He laughed. I was dumbfounded. I responded, “Well, I guess you did.”
I handed him a napkin.
He wiped his face. He finished the burger. The whole thing.
No more discussions. No meltdowns. No drama.
That, in my house (or car), is progress. And it may not be rational to you, but that sentence he gave me? That was music to my ears. And so was the empty box.