The Gift of No Dessert

Swallow, My Sunshine: Blueberries in a bowl
My daughter pauses on her way to return the jar of honey to the cabinet, angles her body toward the counter, and reaches for her buzzing phone. Absentmindedly, one hand still holding the honey while the other wraps itself around the phone, her gaze travels down to the messages that have come in while we were eating dinner. I wait to see what happens next.

As I suspected, the honey drifts toward the counter, set down as the connection between my eleven-year-old and her new friends from middle school crackles back into existence again. She is absorbed, and I turn back to the sink to finish the dishes. Ten minutes later, I dry the last pot and announce, “Bedtime, kiddo. Up you go.”

“BUT!” she says, loudly, “I was gonna have DESSERT!”

“No time left,” I answer, squeezing her shoulders. “You chose to look at your phone for the last ten minutes. Put the honey away and let’s go upstairs.”

“BUT!” she repeats. “I’m HUNGRY!”

I look at the time and mentally inventory the fridge and pantry for the quickest thing. “There’s no time for regular dessert. You can eat one yogurt squeeze or a handful of blueberries. You have five minutes.”

And then, as she opens the fridge quickly and sighs, I take in her long legs, strong shoulders, and thick hair, and I am grateful for the three hundredth time that five minutes is plenty of time for whichever she chooses. Not so long ago, there would have been neither phone time, nor the choice of fruit, nor the option to begin eating anything with so little time to spare before bedtime.

Not so long ago, my daughter Sammi could barely eat anything in five minutes. Continue Reading…

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Summer and What to Do

summer chair at the lakeIt is summer here in the midwest, and like nearly every summer for the last nine years, I’m balancing conflicting impulses: to work as hard as I can in every moment my children’s schedules and propensity for all-day-tv-watching will allow, and to spend as much quality time as possible with my children while they still want to spend time with me.

We’ve had memorably difficult summers, of course, like the summer when Sammi, the sunshine of this blog’s title, began the first and most restrictive phase of her six-food-elimination-diet for eosinophilic esophagitis, and the summer after her aortopexy surgery, when I took her for feeding therapy every week. Those were sunny days with metaphorical thunderstorms always looming.

This summer, though, is as perfect a summer as I can imagine. Everyone is healthy. Both my daughters have just the right amount of independence and connection, and I am writing this from the window of a coffeeshop where Sammi left me on her way to day camp. She’ll pick me up later. I have a full slate of work, a hot latte, and not a single doctor appointment on our calendar for the foreseeable future. Continue Reading…

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Feeding Therapy in a Vacuum

cerealHere’s the crazy thing about taking my 8 year old daughter to feeding therapy: no one important really knew we were there.

There was a complex set of circumstances that brought Sammi to the cheerful basement office suite forty minutes from our house. Unaware of this were a host pediatric medical specialists: an office of gastroenterologists, a cardiothoracic surgeon, an otolaryngologist, an endocrinologist, and her general pediatrician. Though all of them examined her, declared her capable of eating, and recognized that she did not, in fact, eat well, not one of them had recommended feeding therapy.

They didn’t recommend it when, despite the compression on her esophagus having been surgically relieved possibly for the first time in her life, she failed to eat any meal in under an hour — including a simple bowl of cereal at breakfast. Continue Reading…

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Dear Weary, Frightened Mom

raspberriesheartDear Me, Two Years Ago,

I can see you, standing at the kitchen counter, packing up another lunch you’re sure you’ll see again, nearly intact, in seven hours. I see you cutting that tortilla in half a little too angrily, putting cookies in a bag in a ritually delicate way, hoping that if you don’t break them, she’ll eat a whole cookie instead of the half that breaks. I see you counting raspberries, asking yourself how many she can eat during her snack time so that, by lunch, she’ll only have more calorie-dense food left to fill her up.

I see you struggling not to ask her if she ate her lunch when you greet her after school. I see you handing her a banana right there on the playground, too distracted by waiting for her to peel it to really hear how her day was. I hear your teeth clenching. I can feel your toes curling in your shoes as you chant, in your head, take a bite take a bite oh my lord take a fucking bite, NOW. Continue Reading…

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Unlearning the Body

chocoAfter six weeks on a fat-free diet and a week on a low-fat diet, my eight-year-old daughter Sammi was officially released from all her food restrictions by her cardiothoracic surgery team. Her chylothorax — a leak in the thoracic ducts that process fat — had completely healed.

The two of us had decided to spend the day together in downtown Chicago, starting with a visit to the Hershey Store. After all, it had been nearly two months since she’d had free rein to eat anything she wanted. I thought that surely she would gorge herself on candy while I watched gleefully.

Instead, she nibbled timidly and said, “I’m full for now.”

It was heartbreaking to realize that, as far as she’d come — years of false diagnosis with reflux, then eosinophilic esophagitis, then a revelation that her swallowing problems stemmed from a structural obstruction in her chest, culminating in major cardiac surgery — she still had more hurdles to jump. Of course we couldn’t undo eight years of her experience of eating in one day at the candy store. Why had I been so naive? Continue Reading…

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