In this melodrama the cast of characters consist of Dad: former very picky eater as a child, now a grown man, less picky - still won't eat his veggies. Alexander: 5, converted to picky eater status at age 18 months. Sophie: age 3, on a current food strike. Helena: 14 months, will try anything - ANYTHING given to her and eats a wider variety of foods than Daddy. Mom: not-so-picky eater, on again - off again dieter can make it tricky (currently on again and counting the dreaded WW Points, so nary a pat of butter can be found).
It is lunch time. We know this not because our own stomachs are growling or by the clock. No. We know it because Sophia and Helena have begun throwing themselves at the gate that bars them from entering the kitchen.
(voices in unison with tiny fists pumping the air they chant) "We want Food! We want Food!" They take turns as gate crashers, sometimes taking it out on each other. Pushing and shoving escalates as Mom and Dad man the battle stations just beyond the gate in the land of milk and honey.
Dad and I are trained operatives. We know the drill. We move with skill and precision filling the cups and preparing the table.
The chanting has turned ugly. "Hell no. We won't go!" and we scurry to please the mob.
Everyone has a special spot. Sophie shows off her OT skills by securing her own safety belt and we cheer her accomplishment. I never cheer too loudly causing her to cover her ears in protest. Helena taunts us as she stands in her high throne. When we mention belting her in, she laughs a haughty laugh knowing full well that it is an empty threat.
"22 minutes until Zaboomafoo," we call to Alexander in the living room, which lets him know he has time to actually chew his food before his favorite program begins. There are never days when we are less prepared so he must forgo chewing. We are never so late that we allow him to eat alone after the show. He runs in, muttering under his breath something about be offended about having to get off of the computer for lunch.
Alexander has his plate (he is currently eating about 6 different foods in rotation - and yes we have been to a nutritionist, prepared foods from Deceptively Delicious where healthy food is disguised, sought help from Sophie's ST, still offer other foods, etc.) He is fairly easy. We don't need to ask him to eat 50 or so times during this meal or remind him that his show is on in 3 minutes to get him moving. Never do we do a food race with Dad because we know that he could choke.
Helena does quite well on her own, for the first couple of courses at least. She does not believe in wasting food which means she never chucks half of her food on the floor. Ever.
Dad and I take our time eating our meals in this pleasant atmosphere, drinking in the quiet and joy of having our family together for a meal. We never eat last or resort to sneaking in a few bites here and there. His meal is well balanced and he would never consider cheese a condiment. Mine is fresh tuna on home baked multi grain bread sprinkled with fresh rosemary from my organic herb garden as I would never rely on frozen diet entrees, microwaved for 3 minutes, stir and heat for an additional 90 seconds.
"What shall it be today Soph? Baked Alaska," I ask hopefully? I had been preparing this dish all morning.
She doesn't bother with a response but the look she shoots me tells me all I need to know.
"Fillet Mignon and lobster tail?"
She raises her eyebrow and purses her lips.
"Bacon cheeseburger, fries, roasted duck, Cornish hen and loaded baked potatoes?"
"Oh Mother" she sighs.
I'm running out of options. "Pizza, Philly cheese steak, chicken fingers? Come on, chicken fingers are your favorite," I remind her as if she has forgotten.
"It does not suit me today. Besides, were the chickens happy, well fed, free range chickens? No? Then how can you possibly expect me to eat them?" she says.
"Red beans and rice, grilled cheese, apple pie," Dad offers?
"There are children starving in Africa. Why should I eat so well when others go hungry," she asks? We never feel as if we are living in the Dr. Seuss book Green Eggs and Ham, without the happy ending.
"Mac-n-cheese, ravioli, baked ziti?"
Sophie goes on a 4 minute diatribe about not eating these foods until all wars cease and peace is brought to the Holy Land.
Dad and I present her many, many options. We take time outs. We never, ever raise our voices, become emotional, show frustration, have even a little mist in our eyes for we are rational thinking parents. We understand on an academic level that she is 3, that she comes from a long line of picky eaters on both sides of the family tree who all survived. We know that she will not starve and this shall pass.
"Sophie are you hungry," I ask calmly?
"Why, yes Mother. I am," is her response.
"Do you want to eat," I ask?
"Yes Mother. I require sustenance," is her reply, uttered without growls, screams, pouty lips, tears running down her cheeks, or turning her head away from us to face the wall and show her displeasure.
"What do you want Sophie," Dad and I ask (and sign in American Sign Language)?
"Today I shall have crackers and if they please me, I may also have strawberry applesauce with a cup of apple juice," she says. Her words are carefully chosen. She never asks for this by simply signing cracker while snot runs down her sorrow filled face.
"Crackers? Sophie, that's all you ate last time! One cannot live on crackers alone" we argue ineffectively!
"Yes Mother. Today I shall require Wheat Thins, sun dried tomato and basil," she says majestically as a Queen giving an order.
We never give in to her unreasonable request but always leave the table triumphantly, no matter how long it takes. The children all are satisfied, we revel in how amazing we are at this parenthood thing. We never, ever feel like failures or leave the table in tears. Not once have we compared our children or wondered if Sophie's behavior is because she is 3 or because she has Down syndrome. We never try and put a percentage on it. As in: it is 90% being 3, 10% DS related (with her delay in being able to communicate her needs or aversions to certain tastes or textures) or visa versa, or neither? Never do we marvel at Helena's ability to eat most things presented to her. Never.
And never, ever do we say, it's 5 o'clock somewhere and take a shot or drink a glass of wine before putting them down for nap time - a mere four hours before we do this all over again.