Tonight I have to start by expressing my heartfelt thanks to everyone who read and commented on my last post, whether here on the blog, on my Facebook page, or in person. It meant a lot to me that so many of you were so supportive of us and of L. I honestly didn’t intend for the post to stir so much emotion, but I guess it came from a very emotional place within ME, and that seems to have touched many of you. So…thanks. It truly means quite a bit to me to have been opening the comments and reading the notes some of you sent, and seeing all of the love and warm wishes you were sending to us.
We’re in an interesting place right now, the RRG clan. Our household has been aswirl with developmental milestones and the attendant craziness lately. P. decided to potty-train himself, which was accomplished rather more quickly and easily than I recall it being with L. He grew an inch and a half in just two months. He’s eating broccoli again, after being on a “no-green” kick for many months. There’s hope.
L., for his part, has learned to read. He’s suddenly become quite silly and a bit wild. He’s telling terrible jokes. We’re a few weeks shy of his fifth birthday — FIVE. I CAN’T BELIEVE IT — and he’s metamorphosing into a Real Big Kid right in front of us. He’s grown almost two and a half inches just since his last doctor’s appointment, back in April. And he’s eating less. Just less, all around.
Without us doing really much of anything, L. has regulated his appetite noticeably. It may be because he’s gone through the growth spurt I knew was coming; it may be because he’s almost five and has reached a new maturity level; it may be due to our new determination to completely divorce, in his mind, the process of eating with the outcome of getting a dessert or not getting a dessert. Maybe it’s all of those things. But I see him making better food choices without any prompting, eating smaller portions of everything, and generally seeming less HUNGRY than he’s ever been.
What are the tweaks, really, that we’ve made? Well, aside from instating the new “family treats” rule, we have begun serving him just a little bit less of everything at meals, and waiting to see whether he’d clean his plate, ask for seconds, or leave some behind. L. has always been known for his appetite, so it has frankly surprised me quite a bit to see him not only NOT asking for seconds, most nights, but sometimes even leaving food on his plate. Somehow, the bar has been lowered, and without me knowing quite how it happened, he’s changed his expectation of how much food he thinks he should eat at a given meal. And I’ll admit that it has, in turn, changed MY expectation.
We’ve also enlisted him more concretely in making decisions about what to eat, and how much. When he has eaten a full meal, but still asks for seconds of something he really likes — like Sunday Roast Chicken, or cous cous — I’ve taken to asking him, “Can you wait a minute, please?” After a few minutes, I’ll then ask, “So. Does your tummy still feel hungry for chicken, or is it just that your mouth likes chicken and wants more?” Most of the time, he says, “It’s just my mouth that wants it.” I’ve been surprised by that level of self-awareness (and truthfulness) in him. Before, I think, we probably would have just given him a bit more chicken (what’s the harm? it’s just chicken…or broccoli…or rice); now, because we’re waiting and then asking, he’s got the opportunity to recognize that he doesn’t NEED it. I don’t want to squelch either the honesty or the enjoyment of food, so J. and I have come up with a response that seems to work: We acknowledge his answer, then give him one last (small) bite. “Ohhh, I see. That really WAS delicious chicken, wasn’t it? My mouth liked it too. But it’s not healthy for your body to eat more than your tummy really wants. So let’s do this: Let’s have one last yummy bite for your mouth, and then clear our plates from the table and say goodbye to dinnertime.” While I know it’s not a perfect system, the last little bite on the rare occasions when he really seems to WANT it appears to help him find a way to close the meal and be satisfied. And for now, it’s still helping him to eat less overall, so it’s a solution I think we can live with.
This weekend, though, I took him out for a purely fun lunch — a lunch not intended to have eating rules, or “healthy” choices, or anything like that. We had a Mommy-son date scheduled, for lunch at a restaurant and a showing of the new Winnie-the-Pooh movie (sooo cute, by the way. Highly recommend). A gourmet burger place has just opened near our movie theater. L.’s favorite lunch treat happens to be cheeseburgers. It seemed like a win-win. And he’s been doing so great, in so many ways, lately…I felt like it was a calculated splurge.
We sat down and looked at the menus. For the kids, there were plenty of different side orders to choose from, most of which were actually not terrible — small salads, mandarin oranges, baby carrots. I showed them to L., but didn’t omit the choice of French fries; I wanted him to choose, no matter what it was. He looked quickly, then went back to coloring his placemat. “I’ll have broccoli, Mom,” he said.
A 4-oz cheeseburger arrived with a side order of broccoli; I took his plate immediately and rearranged things. The burger was cut into quarters, the broccoli removed from its separate bowl and cut into manageable bites, then placed directly onto the plate next to the burger. Without comment, L. ate most of the burger. He looked at the broccoli. He looked at me.
“Did you want to eat the broccoli?” I asked. He pondered for a moment.
“I think I should have some,” he said. And proceeded to eat more than half the portion I’d given him, which was very generous. “I’m full, Mommy,” he said, and stopped. “I think I should be all done with my lunch now.”
He took another sip of his milk, then hopped down from the booth. “Time to go see a movie, Mom,” he said, taking my hand. We did. Along the way, we ran into a little friend of his, who was heading out for ice cream. L. didn’t ask for ice cream. We walked through the lobby of the movie theater, filled with all the usual overblown sweets and treats and the irresistible smells of popcorn and cinnamon-sugar pretzels. L. didn’t ask for candy or snacks. We went home happy. He didn’t have an afternoon snack. And at dinner, he ate only fruits and vegetables; he didn’t much care for the pasta with pesto, or wasn’t hungry, or just didn’t feel like eating it. So he ate salad and mushrooms and applesauce instead.
Some small part of me can’t help but jump up and down and cheer, This is what it feels like to know that your child can be in control of his diet. It feels like a new branch of the old path, a new way of looking at the way he — and we, as a family — manage all the cues around food and eating in our house. It’s watching him, even at such a young age, take hold of the things we’ve been trying to teach him about food and really apply them in a way that makes sense for a five-year-old boy; in a way that shows he’s listening not just to us, but to his own body. I’m at peace with where we are right now, and my son is, too.