They come in all shapes and sizes.

Hooper’s first birthday

Van’s first birthday
We took Van to the pediatrician the other week for his one year check-up and the fact that kids come in all shapes and sizes rung true all over again. Van is the same size Hooper was when Hooper was 18 months old and it blows my mind.
I don’t give advice because I know no two situations are the same but if I could go back in time and give advice to the neurotic lets-take-inventory-of-every-bite-eaten-and-every-ounce-drunk self, I’d tell her not to worry and not to obsess.
Maybe then I wouldn’t have a toddler who pockets watermelon and a baby who – through baby led weaning – is more independent at the table than his older brother.
In other news, apparently my sister is in charge of getting the cupcake
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into my kids’ faces and Sarah, well, she’s my sister’s “assistant”.

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Hooper Eats.

An Update.
When Kary left, it all seemed so simple. Everything made sense. We had a plan; rules and suggestions taped to the fridge as daily reminders. And even with those daily reminders, I found myself wanting so bad to be consistent despite the fact I was consistently forgetting what we were supposed to be doing. The reality is that many of us eat three times a day. That’s three solid times a day, for over two years, that we have become comfortable with bad habits. Things like, “I’m going to take your food away because it appears that you are done”, practically shook as they came of my tongue. I felt like a big burly man in a women’s dress: not comfortable.
There was no instant gratification. Not one new strategy implemented brought immediate reward. Entire meals were being skipped left and right. And, once again, tension returned to the table as Willy reverted back to threats of time outs while I pressured him to stick with the plan despite the plans ineffective appearance.
It’s hard to be a parent. And it’s hard to change behavior.
We floated through the three week trial period keeping to the plan as best we could.
After about a month, this is where we’re at:
-We have a mealtime routine. It consists of cleaning the table, washing our hands, setting the table, putting a record on, and then sitting down to eat. The same way that brushing teeth and putting jammies on signals bedtime, this routine signals mealtime. We’ve been good at sticking to this and he understands the concept of mealtime. He also understands that there is no TV until everyone is done eating. We’ve made the mistake of turning on the TV, in hopes he would eat, but have learned that this is ineffective unless we spoon the food into his mouth. Which leads to the next update…
-We no longer spoon feed Hooper. At all. Sure, we slip up at times and encourage him to eat the food on his plate (we’re not supposed to encourage him at all) but our days of loading his spoon and bringing it to his mouth are done. I feel relief with that, like I was carrying giant piles of wood from one location to another location only to have my boss come in and tell me that, in fact, I don’t need to carry shit and that I’m better off sitting on my ass. Now there’s a rule I can abide by. If doing less means doing more, I’m all in.
-Meals are faster. This ties in to the fact that we’re no longer spoon feeding him. Trusting him to feed himself has made meals quicker because, well, he doesn’t eat that much on his own. I’m not sure this is necessarily a good thing, but I’m rolling with it because it follows the same conclusion I came to before: Less is more. I’m trying to remind myself that my job is to provide him with healthy choices and his job is to eat as much or as little of it as he wants. I also have piece of mind knowing I can rely on the snacks that we’ve added.
-We haven’t added a new food to every meal. I knew this would be hard for us to do with each meal, so I mentally committed myself to one new food a day but haven’t been great at even keeping to that. We’ve been told from Kary that toddlers need to see/try a food sometimes 20 times before they try it/ like it. It feels so silly putting things on his plate over and over again that he does not even touch. It’s also hard because my own diet lacks a lot of variety so going to the store and buying different food just to put on Hooper’s plate for “looks” seems silly.
-We’ve resorted to giving him food he likes to make meals easy and to give us the confidence that our new game plan is working. I realize, in writing this, that that confidence may be false but we need an “easy” meal every now and again to keep our sanity. Our goal is to not cook separate meals for Hooper, ever, but more times than not this has equated to the fact that his dinner goes completely untouched. He’ll happily declare his meal as being “done”, bring his full plate of food to the kitchen, and move on to playing with his toys. When this happens, it’s hard to keep to the rule of keeping the snack that follows “snack sized” as we both get anxious about sending him to bed hungry.
-He knows he is at risk for having his plate taken away if he gets up from the table. Sometimes this works great and he runs back to sit back down and eat his food. Other times he’ll happily say he is “done” despite not eating a single bite. It’s been a struggle not to get upset with him when this happens. Keeping our emotions at bay is an ongoing struggle. It can be so frustrating to watch him happily refuse a meal you took the time and energy to make. Add in the worry of him missing a meal, and yeah, it’s all an emotion struggle.
-It’s been frustrating allowing him to refuse to eat food that we know he’s ate before (when we spoon fed him) and liked. We had chicken pesto pasta, for example, and he ate all the pasta but left all the chicken. There’s a handful of meals he “ate” before that he will not now that we’re leaving it up to him. In this sense, it feels like there is even less we can give him that he will eat now that we’re trusting him to feed himself.
-As time passes, I can feel us slipping back into old ways. It will be a continuous challenge to make the rules a habit. I fear we we’ll revert back to doing whatever works for the day to day struggle, losing site of the larger picture.
To be continued…
You can read all posts in the series here.

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Hooper Eats.

This is a continuation post. You can read the first two posts in the series by clicking here.
A glimmer of hope.
Our Occupational Therapist, Kary came over and joined us for dinner. Willy cooked a mild fish with rice and peas. We followed Kary’s instructions and ignored Hooper while we ate. One by one, he ate his peas (not shocking, as it’s one of his favorites). We had a record playing and were enjoying adult conversation, sharing stories of parenthood intermixed with advice on how to improve our current situation. And for the first time, in a long time, the table was a fun place to be.
Apparently Hooper noticed it too because he stuck around. Sure, he got up a few times to go do this and that but each time he came back around to see what we were all up to. And to our surprise, as conversation and laughter weaved it’s way over the table like the aroma of the food itself, he ate his fish. On his own. Every bite. Willy and I took turns exchanging oh my gosh glances like a freaking comet was passing right by our window. Kary kinda chuckled and exclaimed that it doesn’t usually go that well so fast.
And as we walked her to the door and thanked her a thousand times over, I thought we may just have a child prodigy on our hands. Problem fixed.
Oh the ignorance.
I’ve always believed that life gives you only what it knows you can handle. Van is a good eater because I’d probably rip off my toenails one by one if I had to deal with another poor eater. And that glimmer of hope was just that: a glimmer. Exactly what I needed for what has turned out to be an otherwise uphill battle. But oh that glimmer sparkles bright as a reminder of what could be and what will be so long as Willy and I are able to keep to our roles.
The following rules were given to us by Kary.
The Rules
-No more than 20-30 minutes for a meal. When 20-30 minutes are up, take the plate away. If he protests, tell him mealtime is over. If he’s still hungry, remind him he can have a snack in an hour.
-Offer a new food at most meals with one or two preferred foods.
-Be consistent. Consistency will teach Hooper what you expect of him. Try using a mealtime routine.
-No getting up from the table more than three times. When he gets up from the table, ask him if he’s done. If he says “yes”, take his plate away and excuse him from the table. If he says “no”, have him sit back down. Do not keep asking him if he wants to come back- only if he’s showing you he does by hanging around the table and trying to get attention.
If he is done and barely ate anything (or chose to not eat at all) don’t make him something else until snack time (one hour later). Then you can make him a preferred food so he gets something in his belly but keep it “snack” sized.
If he wants to eat his dinner after you’ve excused him (more than 3 times) tell him the meal is over but he can eat again in one hour (you can bring the food back in 15 minutes since at this age he can’t tell time). Have him sit back at the table with the same meal. If he doesn’t want the same meal and is asking for something different, tell him he needs to wait until snack time (truly one hour later).
-Stick with statements, not questions. Examples: “It looks like you’re done” versus “are you done?” and “Mama would like to share this with you” versus “Do you want to try some?”.
-Create an environment you would want to be a part of. The more relaxed, fun, and enjoyable the table is the more likely he will be to join in.
-You are in charge of the what, when, and where of a meal. Hooper is in charge of whether or not to eat anything and how much he wants to eat. Trust Hooper to know what his body needs as long as you are giving several opportunities to eat healthy foods.
-Give small amounts (2 tablespoons) of each food you are eating with the meal and let Hooper ask for more. If he is filling up on just one thing, tell him that’s all gone but if he’s still hungry you can have (______) instead.
-Try to give small rewards for trying new foods (not food rewards and not big rewards). But don’t make a big deal; the less attention, the better. Wait until the end of the meal to give the reward and/or praise.
-NO putting food in Hooper’s mouth for him. If he decides not to eat, that’s okay. (Ignore our rule breaking photo evidence above).
-No encouraging him to eat a particular food on his plate. If you really want to encourage him to eat chicken he has left on his plate, for example, don’t mention the chicken at all but if he asks for more of anything (like pasta that was also part of the meal) tell him it’s gone but if he’s still hungry he has chicken left on his plate. This is the closest you should get to “encouraging” him to eat. You can also model good behavior by eating the chicken off his plate after he tells you he’s “done”.
Your thoughts? What has worked with your toddler?

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Hooper Eats.

This is a part II, you can read the first post on bringing in the help of a professional here.
Here are our goals:
-Willy and I need to be on the same page. I need to be a better role model (I’m as picky as they come. I ate cheese pizza and fries everyday Monday-Friday during my four years of high school. I live by the anthem that I eat to live, not live to eat. I was that kid who didn’t like her food touching. I was also that kid that sucked her salad dressing off her salad but left the lettuce. What? You didn’t know that kid? Welp, now ya do). Willy needs to not let his excessive worry over Hooper’s overall health allow him to revert to impulsive strategies that we’ve used in the past that got us to where we are now.
-We want to feel confident about our game plan. We need to believe it will work for us to stay true to it. It can’t just be rules to follow, the rules need to make sense and fit into our lifestyle.
-We’d love to shorten the time that meals are taking. Because still chewing a bite of food thirty minutes after it entered the mouth is as painful as watching a man with no fingers tie a shoe.
-We’d be stoked if he could add some more variety to his diet, but really we’d be grinning ear to ear if he just ate what we gave him now with some degree of ease.
Kary asked us to brainstorm our thoughts on the following statements (see items in bold). Here are our responses:
 Unless there is an undiagnosed medical issue, children will eat the amount that their body’s need and they will not starve. 
Both Willy and I agree this is probably true but neither of us can commit to this 100%. When Willy and I talked further, we both agreed that our issues stem from Hooper’s weight dropping consistently over his first year of life. We both adopted this notion that he was not healthy and that we needed to be more proactive in feeding him. In reality, while his pediatrician did monitor is weight more than the usual baby, he never declared him unhealthy and never suggested I supplement my breastfeeding with formula. We need help trusting that he will remain healthy even if he chooses skips a meal here or there.
Missing a meal will not hurt a child and in fact kids often have fluctuations in the amount they eat- sometimes they will eat a ton for one meal or even for several meals in a row, then they will eat very little for the next meal or meals. When a meal or two are skipped, a child will be more hungry at the next meal. 
I’ve read that you should not look at what a toddler eats over the course of a day, but instead over the course of a week. Nevertheless, it’s hard for me to trust fully.
-If your son has been gaining weight along a consistent growth curve, this is good proof that he is not starving and he is in fact getting “enough” to eat.
As of his last appointment, at 2 yrs old, Hooper was in the 50th percentile for weight, which is perfect. We don’t credit this to the fact he is not starving… instead we pat ourselves on the back for getting him to this point… one painful spoonful at a time. I know, we’re twisted. We need to have our thought process reversed, right?
– Kids have preferences for certain foods and they will hold out until they get those foods if they know from experience that this is a likely option. 
Willy and I both agree. We’ve gone wrong here one too many times, resorting to giving chicken nuggets when he refuses whatever meal we’ve tirelessly tried to get him to eat. We’d love to work toward undoing the damage and having a healthy alternative plan in place for when he does refuse meals — even if it means accepting that he’ll simply eat more the next morning for breakfast.
– Some kids eat slowly and/or graze on small meals through the day rather than eating a few large meals. Lots of adults eat this way too!
We both laughed at this one because he’s such a slow eater. He’ll scarf down certain meals (chicken nuggets, pizza), but the healthier stuff takes forever. I’d love to give him smaller more frequent meals, but the problem lies with his slowness at each meal in conjunction with his nap schedule. I’m not sure where I could fit in smaller meals. Some days it feels like I’m spending his entire waking hours trying to get the one meal in him. It’s so draining.
– Kids do what their parents do and they want to be just like their parents. Modeling the behavior you want to see is so important. 
Willy and I both agree. And I know I need to work on eating healthier so I can be a better example. It’s a work in progress for me too.
What are your responses to the bold statements above? 

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Hooper Eats.

I guess I should start off by apologizing for not posting anything about Hooper’s eating for a while. I had to take a break from bitching about how awful it is. I was sparing ya’ll from my incessant whining and complaining. It’s bad enough to live it, worse to write about it, and probably annoying to read about. So, I’m excited to have something positive to say.
We’ve called in help.
As in professional help.
Sound extreme? I initially thought so too. Surprised there are professionals that specialize in feeding difficult children? Me too. Best decision I’ve made as a mom thus far? Perhaps. I’d put it right on up there with hiring a cleaning crew
Wondering why we called in the troops? Sit down, grab some coffee, this could take a while.
We made a ton of mistakes; We tried distractions. We tried ultimatums. We tried time outs. Every bite was becoming a battle. Our strategies to get Hooper to eat were always changing and the inconsistency was making us look like babbling idiots. One of the main things I requested from the occupational therapist was a game plan; something Willy and I could both agree on with some sort of, dare I say, evidence based research behind it; because I’m pretty sure duct taping your kid to the chair and force feeding them is not a proven method. And trust me, we were two shakes of a lamb’s tail away from investing in some duct tape. Or super glue. 
Tension at the table. I can’t remember the last time Willy and I had a “Hey, how was your day” conversation at the table. Making sure Hooper ate his food became an obsession on both of our parts and all of our attention and energy was centered on him. It led to arguments between Willy and I as we fought over ways to deal with it. If he ate his dinner, we’d go on with our evenings in good moods. If he didn’t eat his dinner, we’d linger around the table overcome with frustration and anger. The fact that what he ate, or didn’t eat, had any affect on our moods at all was clearly a problem in itself.
Spoon feeding. Having Van around has shed light on just how ridiculous things with Hooper have become. Van happily sits in the highchair and goes about his business feeding himself. We pay little attention to how much he eats. Truthfully, I have no idea how much gets into his mouth and how much is gobbled up by Sarah as it hits the floor. And really, I don’t care. I’ve accepted my role in Hooper’s poor eating and want to take myself out the equation as much as possible now that I have the chance to with Van. I’m confident that he gets what he really needs at the breast anyway, so whatever he grabs off the table is his business. He cries when he wants more and, most of the time, I give him a little more. And that’s the extent of my involvement. It seems odd that he’s totally self-sufficient while I’m on the other side of the table dangling a spoon full of food in front of a child that’s totally capable feeding himself. Again, my problem. Like I said, we’ve made mistakes. 
Organizing our day. We all know Hooper is a fantastic sleeper. So much so that it began to feel that his entire waking hours were spent feeding him. Meals were taking forever. There was one time, for example, that I had to go to Costco. I tried to give him lunch as fast as I could and we left when he was still finishing his last bite. We got in the car, drove to Costco, parked the car, made our way into the store, and as we walked down Aisle 9, he still had the bite of food in his mouth. True story. Are you still questioning my decision to bring in professional help?
I knew it was all wrong, I just didn’t know how to make it right. 
Then came Kary.
I remember, long ago, when I was in a why is hindsight 20/20 kinda relationship. It was one of those relationships that was just not right. Deep down, I knew it wasn’t a good fit because I was reluctant to share much of it with even those closest to me. But, when I did start sharing, I couldn’t believe the words coming out of my very own mouth. Listening to my own words had me shaking my head before I could even get to the end of the story. 
In emailing and talking with Kary, I had a sense of deja vu. That feeling of what the hell have I been doing? came over me. I admitted to Kary that he is totally capable of feeding himself but that we have gotten in the habit on not trusting him to do so. And, at that moment, I wanted to eat my own words.
My best friend is beautiful. I know, off topic, but stay with me. When she got married, she hired this ridiculous guy to come do her makeup. I label him ridiculous because we’re talking about a girl that wears no makeup, does not need to wear makeup, and does not want to wear makeup. And she hired a guy who does makeup for drag queens. Literally. I’m not joking. When I questioned her about it, she said this: I’ll feel more beautiful walking down the isle knowing that a profession helped me get ready. So despite the fact she had him remove the eye liner and that the rejected lash extensions stayed in his makeup box, she walked down the aisle feeling more confident, more beautiful.
Same same, but different. I have an idea of what needs to be done to make things better. I know I need to trust Hooper more and I can see that in my very own telling of the story. But, I also think partnering with a professional will help me become more confident and will help me stay on track. Plus, there’s two of us that needs help; Willy needs to be on board too and the ship were sailing on needs to be driven with both of us, working in concert.
This will be a continuing series because there’s a lot to be said. Please share anything that has worked for you or that you have learned along the way. Have a difficult-to-feed toddler? I feel ya.
Side note: Thanks to everyone who commented on the They come in all shapes and sizes  post. There was some good dialogue and I just finished responding to each comment.
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