When It Looks Like a Blueberry, It’s Probably a Blueberry

blueberry

My daughter Sammi was born at 41.5 weeks of gestation at four pounds and eleven ounces. I have spent the last ten years reciting those statistics in reverse.

“So mom, what was her birth weight?” is often one of the first questions a pediatric specialist asks.

A pause for my answer, and then I could chant it along with them: “So was she premature?”

No, she wasn’t, I have to answer. She was what they call post-term, which is the opposite of premature. It’s late. She was waiting it out inside me, and then when she came out as tiny as a premature baby, everyone scrambled. She was totally proportionate — filled out and lovely, just miniature. The hospital did genetic testing and found nothing out of the ordinary. That’s when we began to hear two different lines of justification for her size. Continue Reading…

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Waking Up to the Pill Cutter

pillcutterIt was the summer of 2011 when, with no swallowed steroids and a totally unrestricted diet, my daughter Sammi was declared to be “in remission” from eosinophilic esophagitis, the disease with which she had been diagnosed almost exactly a year prior. Though we had turned our lives upside down to follow the prescribed elimination diet — including replacing our cutting boards, pots and pans to avoid potential cross-contamination — we were suddenly thrust, untethered again, into “normal life.”

Except one thing. Continue Reading…

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Sammi’s Restaurant

When Sammi was a feisty three year old and we were still unclear about why she ate so slowly and with such unusual habits, I tried to entice her to eat heartier foods by inviting her to cook alongside me. It was a method recommended anywhere I sought help with “picky eating,” even though she wasn’t picky in the way that most people described their picky-eating children. She tried a great many things — always willing, often surprisingly eager — but seldom more than a few bites. Cooking together — particularly baking together — was my attempt at imbuing food with a kind of positive energy. It was Jewish-mama-mojo, those afternoons when I plopped her on a stool next to me and held her little hand as it dropped flour in a bowl, stirred eggs, drizzled oil. Continue Reading…

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Mother Blessing

tostados

More than ten years ago, I attended a mother-blessing, also known sometimes as a blessingway, for one of my closest friends. Andrea was due shortly thereafter with her second child, a daughter. Surrounded by a small group of powerful, loving women, Andrea and her still-gestating daughter were touched by healing hands and given tokens of energy and affection in the form of beads to make a bracelet Andrea could use as a focus in labor.

Mid-way through the evening, we gathered in the kitchen of the host, Andrea’s friend, for food and drink. She bustled around in front of the stove and returned with a steaming ceramic bowl of refried black beans, smelling strongly of garlic, and a platter of corn tostados. We all slathered the crunchy, oversized tortilla chips with the savory beans, and I knew that, perhaps in small part due to the circumstances heavy with love and support, I’d fallen in love with a food. Continue Reading…

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Endless Meals

Sit down and finish your dinner.

Are you done or are you just distracted?

All the rest of us are done. Could you please eat your dinner?

Just FINISH. If you want that food, then EAT IT.

For CRYING OUT LOUD, Sammi, FINISH YOUR DINNER!

I can’t sit here with you anymore. Eat what you want and then bring your dish in.

My husband and I had decided early in our children’s lives that we would eat together as a family whenever possible. We had both grown up that way, largely, and especially given the research that showed how valuable a family meal is to raising connected families, we’ve maintained this policy even as our children have gotten older and busier. Seated at the end of the dining room table closest to the kitchen, the four of us have always used the time together in the traditional manner — catching up on our days, joking around, planning family events together.

But when we were done, there was Sammi. Still sitting there. Still eating.

Unlike other families I knew who struggled with a picky child at mealtime, Sammi’s issues were seldom that she was refusing to eat what was on the plate in front of her. In fact, if we suggested that she might be finished, she would often tell us that she was still eating. Then she would take a bite, chew it slowly, and begin a conversation. Five or six minutes later, we’d realize that she was not using the time when someone else was talking to take another bite — instead, she was watching, nodding, interacting, but not eating any more.

Pick up your fork and put some food on it, we’d say, rolling our eyes. You know how to eat. Just eat your dinner!

Thirty minutes would pass, and the other three people at the table would be long done with their meals. We’d linger, chatting. Maybe one of us would get up to switch a load of laundry, rifle through the mail, answer the phone. Those left at the table with Sammi would keep chatting, fussing with our dishes, maybe having another helping of something, just to pass the time.

An hour after sitting down, Sammi would still be spearing pieces of food, now long-cold. By now, her sister Ronni would be off and playing, or reading a book in a chair nearby. Either David or I would have lost the ability to sit at that table a moment more, and would be in the kitchen doing dishes or hanging out with Ronni. The parent left at the table might start reading to Sammi or to him or herself in an effort to stave off the frustration and boredom of still being at the dinner table.

After ninety minutes, it would be nearly bedtime. If Sammi was still sitting at the table with her food, we often began a countdown to the end of the meal.

In ten minutes you need to get ready for bed. Eat whatever you can finish by then.

Bedtime is coming in five minutes. Finish.

It’s almost time to go upstairs!

Dinner time edged right up to bedtime for years and years. There were never, ever any family board game nights. We seldom had dinners in front of a movie, lest the adults lose our focus or vigilance over the state of Sammi’s plate. A summer walk at sunset? Never — we were still at the dinner table.

It helped to know that Sammi’s slow eating was likely a symptom of eosinophilic esophagitis, or reflux, or both. It helped, but not enough. I kept feeling that nagging, nagging sensation in my own belly — something else was wrong. This was nearly her only symptom. Why did the problem of slowness persist even with drinking? She drank like a toddler even at age 8, puffing her cheeks out to fill them with water and letting it down a tiny bit at a time. It seemed wrong. It seemed strange. I sat there, night after night, staring at Sammi eating in slow motion, musing and, despite myself, fuming.

We watched her, the sound of doctors labeling her “failure to thrive” whispering through our heads as she delicately balanced four peas on her spoon. Feed her more calories, they told us. She needs more nutrition, they insisted.

Let THEM try, I thought, over and over, waiting for the end of another interminable meal.

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