Its been a fairly uneventful Easter so far, whilst some of the fault for this lies with us for being far too relaxed rather than taking the kids here, there and everywhere as we normally do during the holidays. The main reason for our lazy outlook has been down to the weather. We would much rather stay in and keep warm and dry as the weather has been utter shite, we have had everything that the sky can throw at us from sunshine to rain to hail and even some flurries of snow for good measure! I thought it was meant to be spring, but apparently the weather has other ideas.
We have managed to visit our family over the bank holiday weekend, including a trip to my parents brand, spanking new house for evening dinner. Don’t get me wrong when I say this (especially if you are my parents and may be reading my blog for whatever reason) but we often get quite uptight about visiting other people’s houses, especially when it involves eating out, as our kids are well-known fussy eaters. E is an utter nightmare recently when it comes to food generally, whereas J at least has a fairly good excuse with it being part and parcel of his condition (as previously mentioned he has Aspergers/ Autism). Having one child being awkward at the dinner table can be tricky but having two can make things seem almost impossible in terms of eating or going out at all. We aren’t hugely hung up over the situation as we tend to eat mostly at home where there is no real issue. Otherwise, we try our hardest to ‘go with the flow’ when it comes to food, the more that we relax, the more that J relaxes and as a result food tends to go down with minimum fuss.
When out and about we tend to either buy food which we know for sure that the kids will have a go at eating, or otherwise we pack a bait (aka a packed lunch). Unfortunately, E seems to have picked up on J’s behaviour when eating and is now being really picky over the food that she will eat. At least J will give food a try to and can even offer good reasons for his inability to cope with eating some foods, whether it be due to texture, appearance, smell or simply the way in which was arranged. E on the other hand, now closes the trap door tight shut and refuses to allow food to enter her mouth for love nor money. In all honesty, I think that E has too much opportunity to snack between meals and whilst we try to limit her snacking, she is a bugger for getting her own way, as most two years olds tend to be.
Anyhow, getting back to the story, we visited my parents and whilst that may sound like no ‘big deal’ to you, it was a big deal to me. Those of you that know me well already know the situation with my folks, for those of you that don’t know me yet, lets just say (to cut an extremely long story short) that my parents have had a rough couple of years in terms of their relationship and have only recently settled into a new house for a ‘new start’. I therefore wanted everything to go smoothly when it came to our first meal as a family in their new home. I wasn’t expecting miracles but neither was I expecting the reality.
We began by sitting around the table together as a family, the scrumptious smelling food was served and from that point onwards the shit pretty much splattered all over the fan… E decided to leave the table and run around the kitchen island time and time again, which I have to admit does look like good fun. She refused completely to return to the table or to try any of the food which had been lovingly cooked for her. Grand, just grand! J on the other hand remained at the table, poking at the sweetcorn with his fork and making squeaking noises not dissimilar to a dog in pain. I chopped his sausage up for him and tried my hardest to encourage him to eat in a chirpy, positive manner. In all honesty, inside I was dieing just knowing that I was being watched like a hawk by my folks and was most probably about to fail miserably.
Whilst J gave the food a go, he ate next to nothing and my poor Mother looked completely heartbroken as her cooking was once again shunned by my two children. I tried to explain that it was nothing that she had done wrong and that she should not worry herself over it. It’s just how it is, well how it is for us anyhow…
I myself was a terribly fussy eater when I was a child and I have memories of my Fathers eyes burning into me whilst at the dinner table. Every meal felt like some sort of assault course back then and even now, at the age of thirty-something, I can still see my Father looking at my plate and taking note of how much food I have consumed and no doubt calculating the nutritional value of what I may or may not have eaten. These days though, whilst I am still aware that my own eating is under scrutiny, I feel that I am being judged far more in terms of parenting skills for what my children now eat or should I say ‘what my children don’t eat’.
I could feel myself becoming defensive for our children whilst at the table. Paul and I weren’t making excuses for our children at all, we simply tried to explain how difficult it can be at times. I commented upon how the children at least eat fruit and therefore have no problems with gaining vitamins, this comment was instantly quashed by my Fathers response of “Fruit has little nutritional value and isn’t particularly good for them Rachel”. I was at a loss and could not possibly rescue the situation.
J ran off to the toilet for the third time within half an hour, he was more than likely trying to escape the awkwardness, I quite fancied going with him if I were to be honest. Meanwhile, Paul went to keep an eye on E whilst she continued to run around the kitchen island on repeat, good move Paul, good move! At this point, I realised it was as if I was back to being a child myself, my parents sat either end of the table and I, sat in the middle wondering how exactly I was going to get out of this one. My parents began quibbling about what they must have done wrong, perhaps the plate was too overloaded, perhaps the sausages weren’t the right ones, perhaps it was undercooked, perhaps it should have been plated differently… the list went on and on as they nit picked at each other over who was at fault. I felt terrible and sat there hands over my face wondering whether we should just leave, it wouldn’t be long before the obvious was highlighted it was obviously my fault.
Luckily, my Father seemed to brighten up and suggested that we try the kids with a pudding. We decided upon ice cream as it was the only option that we all knew both of the kids would devour. As it turned out, E had now decided that she no longer liked ice cream and wanted raspberries just to be different, in response to this J offered to consume E’s portion of ice cream as well as his own. I could feel the parenting skills judgement panel scoring me as each second ticked by and I practically wanted to crawl under the table. Great, my kids won’t touch their meat or vegetables, but they will happily eat two portions of something sweet and sugary… just bloody wonderful!
Thankfully, the table was eventually cleared from food and rather than running (as I had originally planned whilst sitting in the parental hot seat moments before) we stayed to play games for an hour or two. My Father had bought the most fantastic game called ‘Labyrinth’, which I believe was made by a German company named Drei Magier Spiele. Unlike the popular Labyrinth game currently upon the market, this was slightly different in that it required pieces of wood to be slotted beneath the board to create an unseen labyrinth. Players then have to manoeuvre their magnetic pieces around the board without knocking into any walls, in which case they have to return to the beginning. In order to win the game, players must be the first to collect five picture tokens, which they do by landing upon required spaces having ventured around the labyrinth. It sounds complicated but once you get into playing, it’s fairly simple and such great fun! We had a barrel of laughs playing this game for an hour or so, then after Paul had finished installing my Fathers new technology in and around the house for him, we left for home.
I was happy that I decided to stay following the events at the table, thus resulting in the evening ending on a positive note, rather than despair. I wanted to document this though, purely because I think it’s important to highlight just how hard it can be as a parent to a child (or possibly children) with autism when they struggle with eating, especially when out and about. Whilst this may be true, we must try to remember that at the heart of the situation is a child, a child that may feel scared, overwhelmed and ultimately unhappy. Try not to let the outside pressures affect the way in which you deal with a situation, whilst this is great advice I cannot honestly say that I find it easy myself as of yet. I am still learning, as are my children and together as a team, I am sure we will crack it one day. Until then, bread and butter it’ll be!