Wednesday, April 21, 2010

On Feeding My Watermelon With a Small Hole Bored In It Swinging on a String From the Ceiling

Yes, I realize that is a strange title. I read somewhere once that spoon-feeding a squirmy baby is like boring a small hole in a watermelon, hanging it on a string from the ceiling and then having someone swing it back and forth while trying to spoon applesauce through the hole. They weren't kidding. It's a pretty darn accurate comparison, I think.

So, as any of you who are actually reading this thing know, Mr. Ry-man has developmental delays and areas in which he struggles. One of those areas is feeding.

Our pediatrician has never been concerned about his eating, because all he cares about is that Ry is eating a wide variety of healthy foods, which he is. The kid will eat any vegetable, any vegetarian or non-vegetarian protein (that he can eat with his food allergies), any grain (ditto), and any fruit except for pears (really, pears?), so the pediatrician is satisfied. The frazzled and mashed bean and carrot-covered woman who spends almost 2 hours every day spoon-feeding him his meals is not (that would be me).

Rylan is a very particular eater. He will not pick up food and put it in his mouth. He will, however, pick up food, make a face and wipe it on his shirt, his mommy, his mommy's willing and ever-expanding chubby dog, the wall, etc. He will gladly take his spoon, fling the food on it across the room to land on a treasured wedding photo and bang his high chair tray with glee. He will also gladly pick up his bowl and throw it on the floor where it shatters over his mommy's bare feet, and then SMILE. He will do all of these things, but he will NOT, I repeat NOT feed himself. The idea is just preposterous, Mom, come on.

He also will not eat food that is hot...or warm...or cold...or cool. Food must be lukewarm, tepid, neither above nor below room temperature. If food is slightly warm or cold, gagging, flailing, choking, and crying will commence. He hates ice cream and soup for this reason. In addition, he will not eat food that is crunchy, or crispy, or dry, or hard, or firm. Crackers, chips, raw veggies, undercooked veggies, sandwiches, non-squishy cookies and breads all will be met with gagging, flailing, choking, and crying.

Obviously, he has some feeding problems that are being addressed with therapy. I tried to "tough mom" his feeding problems out of existence by refusing to spoon feed him, by giving him rougher textured foods only, and by just putting food on his high chair tray and leaving him to his own devices. Guess what? He never ate a single bite. He also never seemed the slightest bit upset about the whole process. That is because, the root of my inability to encourage him to feed himself or eat rough textures is that he just doesn't care about food.

Those of you who know me well, take a second to absorb that. MY child doesn't care about food. At all. Period. Sure, he'll eat it if you put it in his mouth. He even shows a little bit of pleasure when fed a few select foods, but if he saw, say, a piece of Grandma Joan's clementine cake sitting right in front of him, he would make no move to eat it, nor would he whine to get me to feed it to him. He would either ignore it, or touch it, make a face, and wipe his hand off on any handy surface or slowly-moving mammal.

I might think that his developmental delays were keeping him from being able to express any longing feelings toward solid food if it weren't for his reaction to "milkies".

Soymilk is the great love of my son's life. He loves it more than his security elephant, more than his favorite books, and even more than his Daddy and Miss Lindsay. You can walk into any room in my house and say the word, "milkies" and in two seconds flat, Rylan will have crawled there and be whining for his sippy. He will reach for his sippy if it's in a high place, he will crawl across the room to retrieve a sippy sitting on the floor, he will put any sippy he finds in his path into his mouth immediately in the hopes that it contains his beloved "milkies" (which makes picking up the empties after each "milkies" session really, really important, ew!).

My son would rather drink soymilk than eat any delicacy I can whip up to tempt him. The thing that I find really confusing is that the soymilk isn't even the yummy sugar-packed vanilla kind. It's plain ol' fortified soymilk. Yum. Not!

We, of course, limit his soymilk intake so that he is hungry enough to eat solid food, but for now, getting the little dude to eat solid food means making sure it is exactly the right temperature and texture and spoon-feeding it to him. If his exacting demands are met, he will sigh and dutifully swallow his portion of salmon and mashed potatoes, or blueberry pancakes, or upside-down caramel pear cake, whilst dreaming all the while, or so I imagine, of a lovely plastic sippy filled to the brim with Silk Plain....mmmm...

I am just overjoyed that we have (or will have soon) three new members of the Get Rylan Dittrich-Reed to Feed Himself and Enjoy It club: Sabrina, his therapist from the Pediatric Language Clinic, a speech therapist from the ETCH Rehab Center, and an occupational therapist from the ETCH Rehab Center. I wish them all well. May they have better luck than his parents. I have a feeling it's going to be a bumpy ride for them, too, as Ry may not have inherited my love of food, but he sure as heck inherited my stubbornness!


  1. aww, poor rylan :-( I know adults that eat only for sustenance. CRAZY! I love food way too much too.

  2. Megan, I had no idea just how complex his eating habits were! But I I can see grown-up Ry: breakfast is a bacon egg and cheese SILKSHAKE; lunch is a ham and cheese SILKSHAKE. Dinner is steak and potatoes, plus Silk, plus a blender = SILKSHAKE.

    I'll be *very* interested to hear all updates from his therapy sessions ... what will they do?

  3. poor mommy, and rylan, although i'm guessing he doesn't see it that way, unless you're trying to get him to eat something awful like ice cream ;) i have so much admiration for never complain about all this stuff you are going through with him, instead just face the challenge head-on with so much determination. you are my hero, megan! xoxo

  4. Holy moly you are a saint! I really hope that they can figure it out for you guys!!!

  5. LOL on the Silkshakes, Lindsay! I have no doubt he would be a lot happier about "eating" even now if I blended his food with soymilk and he could drink it out of a sippy.

  6. Thanks for the compliments, guys! It's an interesting challenge and I love a challenge. Plus, he's my only kid, so I don't really know any different.

  7. I am so impressed with you Megan- I can't imagine dealing with those food issues everyday. I love that you can approach it all with humor! Isn't it funny that being parents of one child we just sort of accept however they are without having to deal too much with knowing it could be incredibly different. I am sure that with help Rylan will come to enjoy eating a bit more, even if soymilk will always be his one true love :D

  8. What a great post! I know many families that could relate. This is the most common issue that i deal with in my practice. I have been pretty successful with improving it though. I am glad your team will be working on this. This is the type of thing that ABA is great for (that book I recommended will have some strategies). What you can do (off the top of my head) is don't give him soy milk for a few hours(a whole day is best but may not be practical). This will increase the motivation to want soy milk. Sit him in his tray and show him the soy. Tell him "Let's eat" In a perfect world he would put the food in his mouth. Probably he will not! So, hand over hand help him feed himself (this may be easiest with a spoon at first). Once the food gets in his mouth (from his hands but your help) make a big deal and give him a sip of soy milk "Great! eating!" "Wow!" "You fed yourself!". Repeat. Eventually, you will only give the soy for more independent eating (this is called shaping). I can all but guarantee this will work. It might need some tweaking and if you try it I am happy to problem solve. Consistency is the most important thing with this approach (no giving the milk out of frustaration). It is important that he only gets the soy milk during meals for self-feeding though. If you are concerned about him getting enough milk then seperate out his "nutrition" soy time from meal time. Though, in a perfect world it would be best if he was only allowed soy as a reinforcer. Hope this makes sense! (Also, feel free to ignore my advice ha!)