Mr. G called down the stairs while I was doing the laundry...
Mr G: Mom? I have a question.
Me: Ask away!
Mr G: Can I have salad for dinner?
Me: Um, sure, have all you want!
Mr G: Thanks!
So he proceeded to have two or three bowls of greens with salad dressing.
Now, that might be odd enough knowing he's 10.
But he's 10, and has had a feeding disorder with aversive feeding ('acquired dysphagia' though not in the form one sees with kids with motor or neurological issues). Essentially, he was picky. Picky down to 12 foods, picky to the point of the same food every day, picky to the point of panicking and fleeing the room sobbing to cower behind a door if I held a new food out in his direction. Kind of 'terrorized by food'.
When he was young, the advice (from a feeding clinic) - after dealing with a bunch of sensory processing issues - was to expose him to foods - not force, but put it on his plate. If he saw it daily, he'd get acclimated to it, and eventually try some. And then when he seemed acclimated, he was to try something with every meal - a small taste, and he was to spit it out if he didn't like it (politely, into a napkin), but he did have to taste it. Eventually, he'd start finding more foods he liked that way.
Eventually, I thought, would be 4, 5, 6 months.
Nope. I don't remember how long it was, but it sure wasn't a few months.
As he transitioned past 8 years old, asking him to taste became a clear overstep of boundaries. He knew he could self-manage, and I was still running on the advice to get him to try try try. I think he was almost 9 when I got frustrated again with the constant resistance, and realized that the resistance might be a sign of me doing it wrong, not a sign of him trying to not do it right.
I ended up getting a book by Ellyn Satter (How to get your child to eat, but not too much), recommended by a feeding clinic website, which took the other tack. If he's growing at all - even at a low rate - then the feeding has to be utterly up to him.
So, I apologized to him for pressuring, told him that he'd outgrown the approach (if he'd ever really been within it's effective circle anyway), and said that from now on, I'd just trust him to observe the food, and try things that looked interesting or good, and not if he didn't want to.
He was happy with that.
But I wasn't happy with that, really. I still had to handle my own issues with him not eating 'well'. Which I did mainly by going to the My Pyramid site (US government nutrition analysis), entering 24 hours of his dietary intake, and running their analysis. Which always came up with the same thing - he's way short on fiber, a smidge short on Vitamin A, and otherwise absolutely spot on. Calories are perfect. Protein even a bit on the substantial side (though not excessive), plenty of calcium, etc., etc., etc. It has always been that way, but I still need to check. (The nutritionist at the feeding clinic said, 'his diet is actually really good - he's a bit short on Vitamin A and fiber, but not much short.') At least when I check, I can let it go. The knowing is good - calibrates my intuition, reminds me that his intuition about his body is really good. I don't have to check very often anymore, since I know that even if he's listening to conflicting messages from his body (don't eat THAT, don't eat this, I'm hungry!), he's still getting the whole message through.
And now here he is, a couple years later. My mom has been making seductive salads when the kids are over at her place, baby greens and fresh herbs and blackberries and a half-dozen other ingredients, creating rainbow joy that I'd eat any day of the week. After a couple months of this (with his cousin already a true convert, though she was easy to convert as she already loved salads), he tried it. And then ate several bowls at one sitting. Cool.
I casually provided the materials at home... he declined.
But I've kept the makings around, and the other kids are starting to get into them, too. I just left them there, and let him know he was welcome to partake any time he wanted.
It is still hard to let go of even the consciousness of waiting. He can feel that, too. Release, release, release. Trust him.
And here he is. Eating salad. I'm sure his body is hungry for it, having been getting by on peas and cucumbers for 'green' since forever.
It took total freedom, and opportunities elsewhere (nowhere near my watchful eye or enthusiasm or even praise), to get him enough elbow room to make the choice I'd have made for him years ago. But, well, it had to be a free choice, like the choice to love. Unencumbered, unfettered, no boundaries even marked with rocks and sticks on the ground. Open territory to explore.
I don't really feel like he's an alien inhabiting my son's body. What I really feel is relief (mainly that he's eating things that he'll need for his growth spurt), tinged with a bit of regret that I didn't figure out how much freedom ('complete') he needed sooner, that I didn't extract my own issues from his sooner. I know it wasn't my fault he developed the problem (it started with a bad scrape with the bulb syringe at birth - not a minute old, and he was scraped so hard across the soft palate that he screamed), and he's a super-taster (really sensitive taste buds, everything tastes 'loud' ), plus sensory issues with textures, plus genetic tendency to 'neophobia' - his dad also avoided new foods most of his life, plus a choking incident when he was 2... it was after the choking incident that he crossed the line between 'cautious' and 'avoidant'. Totally not my fault on those things. Just my fault for putting on the pressure.
I don't feel guilty, really. I feel regret that I didn't entirely understand how this worked. I wish I'd read this book sooner, wish I'd had a better idea about the genetics involved (70% of picky eating is inherited genetically, as the body's method of protecting it from poisonous items). Glad we did the sensory work with his mouth (helped with dental stuff, too)... But, here I am, and here he is, and ... well, it's good.
Salad, though. I'd have bet salad would have been the last thing he'd add. Shows what I know.