I’ve always wanted Alex to eat a Flintstones vitamin. I wanted to tap one out of the bottle, place it in his fingers, watch it disappear into his mouth, and listen to the crunching. I figured he’d like the little grape Freds the best, just like his dad.
By the time he did this, around age five, Alex would also eat hamburgers, pizza, and an occasionally piece of broccoli to supplement the chicken nuggets and applesauce he’s been parked on since before age 3.
I remembered wanting this, as I used Jill’s brass mortar and pestle to pulverize the three little grape Freds into purplish gunpowder. Then I sprinkled some of their remains on Alex’s applesauce. Stir, stir, stir, until the powder folded into sauce like vanilla into a cake batter. I wish Alex would eat a vitamin and not hand it back to me untouched. I wish Alex would eat cake. Ned loves cake.
“Alex!” I called, bringing it to the table. “Applesauce!”
He actually picked up the spoon and fed himself the stuff the first few times. Then I sent fortified applesauce, mixed the night before, to school with Alex. But I’ve since discovered that ground-up Freds, over hours, give applesauce a metallic taste.
Ever since then, trying to get Alex to eat any applesauce resembles an exorcism. “Alex! Applesauce!”
“Noooo!” Up come the hands. Around pivots the head, steering the mouth as clear as possible. “Noooo. No! Watcha ‘Elmo’s World!'”
“Have some applesauce and you can watch ‘Elmo’s World’…”
“Nooooo…” Poor Alex doesn’t seem to remember, but he’s had a lot worse stuff forced down his throat. He used to get vitamins through a feeding tube, in fact. He didn’t seem to mind that much.
Our babysitter, Stacy, can get it into him. She sits him on her lap, manhandling him back when he tries to slither down time and again. She handles her spoon like a rapier, parrying and thrusting. She deserves a medal, and I told her so.
She has a boy a little younger than Alex, and she realizes as I do that “manhandle” and “parrying” aren’t words you’re supposed to use when describing how a to feed a four-year-old applesauce. You’re supposed to just give him the vitamin and he’s supposed to either crunch it happily — that’s what Ned does — or fling it to the floor and scream, “I want broccoli!”
Jill and I have elected to feel about Alex’s eating the way we feel about more terror attacks on New York: We just aren’t going to worry about it right now. He’ll hold a hamburger and a banana, even put both to his lips. He will not bite. At school, one of the teacher’s assistants has actually succeeded with yogurt, though Alex rarely eats it for us. Orange juice he’ll sip on our weekend breakfast runs to McDonald’s. He’s been doing pizza, or at least peeling off and eating the cheese, ever since I exhausted him one raw day on the playground and wheeled his spent frame into Sal’s on Madison Avenue. Last summer he acquired a taste for Mr. Softee ice cream. Or was that two summers ago? Jill wants to get him onto Popcicles this summer, so next winter, when he’s sick, he’ll be used to them. Good idea, because when after 10 days of fever this winter, he was skinny as a Save The Children ad.
I did, however, run Alex’s diet past his pediatrician’s senior nurse, who has kids of her own. Chicken nuggets, I mentioned, Cheerios, applesauce, Cheese Nips, Goldfish, occasional fish sticks, pretzels, bacon, cookies. Mostly water to drink. Chicken from a Chinese hold-in-the-wall around the corner, which incidentally has the best lo mein I’ve ever tasted. Once we sneaked Alex a piece of the broccoli; the other day, he actually ate a few of the noodles.
“Well, that sounds not so bad,” the nurse replied. “I know my daughter still won’t anything green.” Really? How old is she? “Thirteen.”
Eating has been Alex’s thing for years now. We used to studiously write down every ounce he slurped from the bottle during feedings, because every ounce was another few minutes we could shut off his feeding pump. We packed calories into his food in those days, too. Cream and maple syrup in his Gerber yams, for instance. Bottles of Gerber’s littered every shelf of our fridge. Today we have snacks in every cupboard, and two boxes of chicken nuggets in the freezer. The vitamins are in the cupboard, next to the mortar and pestle. Ned loves the vitamins. He thinks they’re “candee,” and keeps saying, “Moh! Moh candee!”
I don’t know if Alex will take the $10 liquid vitamins I picked up a few days ago. I also don’t know how Alex stays half a head taller than Ned. I do know it’d all be easier if he just ate half a head of Fred.
Jeff Stimpson, 49, is a native of Bangor, Maine, and lives in New York with his wife Jill and two sons. He is the author of Alex: The Fathering of a Preemie and Alex the Boy: Episodes From a Family’s Life With Autism (both available on Amazon). He maintains a blog about his family at http://jeffslife.tripod.com/alextheboy, and is a frequent contributor to various sites and publications on special-needs parenting, such as Autism-Asperger’s Digest, Autism Spectrum News, and The Autism Society news blog.Tweet