“We are back in business!” Jim proclaimed as he took off his coat this evening.
We had just come back from a day with Charlie’s friend from Philadelphia, Hal (whom Charlie, not yet able to say the final short /a/ and the /l/ at the end, calls “How”). Hal knocked on the door while Charlie was still doing ABA; we could hear Charlie saying “How! How! How! How! How!” as Hal sat down on the couch and I attempted to put the fluff into something resembling a pile.
Charlie’s session over, we got into the black car and, under a clear blue sunny sky, drove to the Bronx where we caught the last twenty minutes of a basketball game between Fordham (where Jim now teaches) and Saint Louis University (where Jim used to teach). We were standing just under the bleachers beside a small concessions area. “Red hummus!” said Charlie, eyes focused on two very large pump contains of ketchup and mustard. As I was telling him that we would get something “later,” Jim spotted some empty seats in the top rows of the bleachers and up we went. Charlie sat down between him and Hal, his arms crossed over his chest, eyes focused on the action on the court. As the clock wound down, groups of very tall young men kept appearing and sitting down in front of us; Charlie did not mind.
With 25 seconds to go, we headed off to Arthur Avenue for a late lunch. The wind blew cold as Charlie skipped along past a body shop and a White Castle, tugging on Jim’s hand.
When your child is on the gluten-free casein-free diet, Italian restaurants pose a challenge. Pizza, pasta, sandwiches with fresh mozzarella on fresh focaccia: I can find equivalents for these for Charlie when we are home, but it is a different story when we are not. Once when he was much younger, Charlie seemed oblivious to what we were eating; we ordered pizza, he had whatever I brought him from home.
When Charlie was around six years old, he started to become very aware of what we were eating. We went to diners and to various Asian restaurants, where he had fries and a burger, or summer rolls and rice noodles. Then Charlie started really noticing our food and asking to eat our fries or noodles first, and then his—-as if, to him, any and all food in front of him on the table had to be consumed, by him. We first tried to teach Charlie “eat your own food first”; this worked for a few months, with Charlie keeping an eye on our plates (we ate fast). Then he started to reach for our food and with more fervor. After I pulled my bowl of noodles towards me and encouraged him to eat his own first at a Vietnamese restaurant we used often to frequent, Charlie cried and hit me. The Vietnamese waiters and the Mexican busboy, who had always greeted us with smiles, stared, horrified.
We never went back to that restaurant and, over the next three years, we stopped going to any restaurants; if I didn’t cook, we got take-out (and even eating that at home occasioned some instances of food throwing). Home food-throwing slowly stopped by Jim or me staying close by Charlie whenever he was eating and holding his plate, and then gradually moving ourselves away; Charlie now sometimes asks me “Mom” and taps my arm, so that I hold his plate (after a few successful bites, I take my hand off his plate, and move myself bit by bit away). Food-throwing at school was addressed by giving Charlie choices about what to eat: “bread or rice? grapes of chicken? carrots or apples?”
That is, Charlie has been learning to handle some anxiety he has about getting to eat his food (which for some reason led to him throwing it last summer). Giving him a sense that he has some control—some choice—about his lunch has also helped, and both of these skills—small but with a big impact—enabled Charlie to eat lunch with Hal and Jim and I in an Italian restaurant on Arthur Avenue today.
I ordered Charlie a burger and fries. He waited, perched on the edge of his seat, and did not reach for the crusty Italian bread in the bread basket. Jim and I took turns dabbing Charlie’s food with ketchup as Charlie called out “red hummus”—“hummus” seeming to be the word Charlie has linked to any sauce that comes out of a bottle. We worked on him saying “ketchup”; Charlie almost did not bother to eat his fries, preferring to lick the ketchup off and ask for more.
His hands and face (and shirt) needed a good washing up in the bathroom, after which Charlie grabbed for Hal’s and my hands, laughing and shoulders tensed in thrilled delight, and he again skipped and smiled holding Jim’s hand as went back to the Fordham campus. “Hendrixx,” Charlie requested as we settled into the black car and drove back over the George Washington Bridge, Charlie looking north at the Hudson’s waters and the New Jersey palisades.
Jim and I have been plotting out more places that we used to visit and again want to try to take Charlie too, including a certain Spanish restaurant where Charlie used to eat his fill of “yallow rice.” I recalled Charlie’s successful dinner in a diner on Monday but it was Hal who asked the most important question:
“What I want to know,” he grinned, “is what you’re going to do with the fluff?”
“Just leave it be for awhile,” I said.
What’s a little (well, a lot) of fluff on the rug when you can go out to lunch Charlie?