My Daughter Is Twelve and Four

swallow-my-sunshine-yellow-bowl

Earlier this month, my twelve year old daughter Sammi mused to me, as she rummaged through the refrigerator for a snack, that she was hungry all the time these days.

“I feel like I just always want something to eat!” she told me as she scooped refried beans into a bowl at the counter.

“That’s pretty normal for a kid your age,” I reminded her. “You’re doing your last big growth spurt right now.”

“Yeah,” she answered, sprinkling shredded cheese on her bowl of beans and sliding it into the microwave, “but this is crazy. By seventh period every day, I’m already trying to think about what’s left in my lunchbox to eat on the walk home! I just chew gum and try to make it for three more classes.”

I made some suggestions about keeping a small snack in her bag to nibble between classes, and she brought her bowl of beans and cheese to the counter to eat as she got started on homework.

Four years ago, I would not have recognized one thing from this scene: not her independence, not her strong shoulders or her thick hair, not my casual tone, and, most of all, not the fact that my daughter was making the equivalent of a full meal as an after-school snack.

Four years ago, a bowl of refried beans and cheese would have come home from school with her in a thermos, missing a few spoonfuls, and be dumped in the trash by dinner time when she still hadn’t finished it.

Four years ago, my relationship with Sammi was almost entirely composed of my trying gently to encourage her to eat, my trying not-so-gently to encourage her to eat, and my internal monologue that blamed everything that went wrong with her temperament to my failure to find exactly the right things for her to eat.

Four years ago, I didn’t really know my daughter at all. Continue Reading…

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No Way Through It But to Do It

kids-and-homework

She is at the kitchen counter, tongue jutted out over her top lip, pencil in an awkward grip, tears rolling down her face.

“There’s so much of this!” she says, between strangled sobs.

I chop carrots, a profile at a counter perpendicular to the one where her science book, notebook, tablet, and half-eaten bowl of cheese crackers are scattered. Her hair is in her eyes, and she keeps angrily tucking it behind her ear. I put down the knife, rinse my hands, wipe them on the back pockets of my jeans, and walk gently and slowly around the edges of the counter. I pull her hair back and wrap it into a quick ponytail, and then I kiss the top of her warm, slightly-sweaty head.

“No way through it but to do it,” I tell her.

She falls forward, her head in her arms, and cries, still gripping the pencil. I rub her back, softly, and rest my cheek on her neck to whisper in her ear, little useless things about getting a drink of water, taking a five minute break, finishing her snack. She growls and rises, determined through tears to get it done.

I straighten and make my way back toward the carrots, noting that her sister is on the couch in the next room, laptop propped on her knees, papers everywhere, water bottle cuddled against her side. She’s absentmindedly eating a package of dried seaweed, listening to music, and occasionally holding her phone up at just the right angle for a photo containing only half her face. She looks up, and I blow her a kiss. She smiles, waves, and catches it.

The battle rages on at the counter.

I wonder what made my two daughters so different: the older one go-with-the-flow, flexible, arched toward satisfaction; and the younger one frustrated, questioning, mourning, her happiness easily won but equally easily lost. Continue Reading…

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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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