food for thought - part two

I remember strangers mistaking Calvin for a newborn when he was several months old. I hated being asked his age. I could never bring myself to tell the truth for fear of some sort of judgment, so to avoid lying, either I pretended not to hear the question or I’d say something vague like, “oh, he’s a few months” even when he was almost a year.

Calvin has never registered over the third percentile on the growth chart. It was clear from the very start that some sort of gastrointestinal distress made eating and digesting uncomfortable, which likely caused his poor appetite. And yet, at six months of age, when we initiated rice cereal, and then mashed avocado a bit later, he seemed to enjoy them. However, to get him to open his mouth we had to whisper funny things like “ricecerealisveryverygood” emphasizing the “sss” sounds. He’d smile, open and we’d quickly spoon it in.

Calvin’s low muscle tone made it difficult for him to digest food and easy to spit it up small amounts, irritating his esophagus and causing him pain. It seemed he also suffered from acute nausea, and though we could never be certain, it was a hypothesis that made sense. For hours after meals and after sleeping Calvin cried and spit up and cried and spit up. His slow digestion made bacteria and bile back up in his stomach causing him to feel wretched, and lying down made it even worse. His only solace was to be held by us until it passed. We tweaked his diet with extra fiber and pushed the liquids, tried antacids and prescription meds, and messaged smooth circles on his tummy to coax the gas out. It was heartbreaking to see him in so much misery while at the same time his incessant crying and frequent spit ups tested my delicate patience reserves. Somehow though—mostly—I held it together with the help of a loving and understanding husband and a few appropriately positioned F-bombs.

Calvin’s discomfort worsened when he began eating solid meals twice a day. On a couple of occasions we landed in the hospital where x-rays revealed a gut bound up by painful gas and stool. That’s when we started having to give him a suppository nearly every other day. This went on for eighteen straight months until we finally found a benign, over-the-counter medication that nearly eliminated his constipation.

Even so, there was a prolonged period of time when Calvin refused to open his mouth to eat unless we distracted him with the use of two toys: one, a plastic abacus with colorful alphabet blocks that spun noisily on a series of rods, the other a large, heavy plastic cube that lit up and played different musical instruments. Seated, using our left hand, we’d hold one of the toys up in the air shaking it to distract him while we spooned the puréed food, right-handed, into his open mouth. It was awkward, tiresome and pathetic. But he ate.

After over a year of these arduous, ridiculous but seemingly necessary antics we agreed we couldn’t continue. We took the advice of a pediatrician who told us to let Calvin, then almost two, participate more in his feedings by initiating finger foods. It was difficult finding foods that Calvin could hold, much less pick up and chew safely and well enough to be easily digested. Graham crackers, cheese puffs and cut grapes became some of his favorites. Unfortunately, the number one snack-food choice of mothers—Cheerios—were too small for Calvin to pick up because of his poor fine motor skills.

Calvin’s new found freedom and empowerment made all the difference in improving his appetite and interest in food—and, as one might expect, the cheese puffs probably didn’t hurt either.

To be continued

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