Most people know we do a special feeding program for our son, where we puree or chop food and serve it to him through a series of prompts and spoons that can only be ordered on Amazon.
But while all the pureeing and the Amazon Priming and the meticulous measuring of chicken nuggets can be frustrating and difficult, the hardest part of this whole process is something else entirely. It has nothing to do with the food or the feeding protocol. It has to do with my face.
A big part of this feeding program is the way we are – and aren’t – allowed to respond to Josh during a meal. We are to give positive reinforcement and to ignore all negative behavior (unless he is going to hurt himself or someone else). So when he, gee, I don’t know, flings a spoon full of blueberries at my face, I can say nothing. I can do nothing. I can’t glare at him or use my Angry Eyes. I can only sit there, blueberries drying in my eyelashes, while my little fruit flinger laughs hysterically. And then I get to tell him good job for not throwing blueberries the next time.
But the thing about Josh is that, above almost all else, he is very, very observant. It’s hard to sneak things past him, even if you never talk about it in front of him. It took him about 12 minutes into the first session to figure out that I wasn’t going to say anything when he acted like a hooligan.
So what happened next really shouldn’t have come as a surprise.
One fateful day – let’s call it a Wednesday – I was feeding Joshua his bites at the Marcus Autism Center during our initial eight-week run. So he and I were in a room on one side of a two-way mirror, and our feeding therapist and the program coordinator were on the other side. We couldn’t see them, but they could see us. And they got an eyeful.
Josh had been going through what we’ll call a rebellious stage – the aforementioned berry launching, for instance, was one of his new behaviors during feeding therapy. I thought we’d reached the height of his abilities, but I learned a lesson that day that I have learned many times over since – you should never, ever underestimate Joshua.
As I picked up the next spoon to give to Josh, I noticed he was reaching for his shoes. I said nothing as he used his impossibly long reach to remove his shoe. And I said nothing as it went sailing over my head.
A sock soon followed. Then the other shoe and sock. I was irritated that he wasn’t listening and was afraid I’d show it, so I purposely avoided eye contact with him. But out of the corner of my eye, I could he was delighted with himself – and he wasn’t finished.
Ignoring my prompts to eat the next bite, Josh giggled uncontrollably as he began the next phase of stripping: Removing his shirt. He had been able to do that for several months, but he was laughing so hard that it took a minute.
There were, in theory, protocols for things like this. After a few seconds of zero attention being paid to him, he was supposed to acquiesce to my requests and take his bite so he could get his reward. But the joy of nudity was more powerful than any reward I could offer.
I was at a loss. The experts on the other side of the mirror said nothing, I suspect due to laughing uncontrollably. Not that I could blame them – I was now afraid to look at Josh not because I was irritated but because I was fighting the urge to burst into giggles myself.
The shirt was off and had been tossed at my face. I removed it, folded it, and set it next to me. After taking a calming breath and trying to think of something sad, I picked up the spoon for the third time, turned to Joshua, and told him to take his bite.
His only response was to wriggle himself out of the seatbelt in his high chair (ironically, we were participating in this feeding program because he was so small and underweight) and begin removing his pants. Those took a little longer, because he was fighting to take them off inch by inch beneath the seatbelt and tray. But no one ever said Josh was a quitter, and soon the pants joined their brethren in the act of flying through the air like a magnificent, baseball-patterned rocket ship.
We were at a standstill. I could barely breathe from trying to contain my laughter, and Joshua was giggling so hard he couldn’t sit up straight.
Finally, mercifully, our 40 minute feeding session was over. Josh was working on removing the tabs on his diaper, and I was Googling whether you could get a hernia from holding in hysterical laughter for half an hour.
The therapists came in, did not acknowledge the nudity, and told me they would see us at our next session in 50 minutes. They were extremely professional as they handed me Joshua’s socks and shoes. And they maintained their cool demeanor when Josh was finally successful at taking off his diaper.
I re-diapered the giggling maniac, marched him down the hall, and into the private room we’d been assigned for nap time. As I told him to stand still so I could put his shirt on for the second time that day, he smiled at me.
“Mommy?” he said, still smiling.
And then I swear he winked.