Wednesday, March 15, 2000

The slob who came to dinner

My 6-year-old eats like a pig. Which is to say, he eats a lot and he eats messy. There are all sorts of good reasons for this--sensory-integration difficulties that cause him not to know how full his mouth is, fine motor weakness that causes wielding a fork to be a major chore--but this does not make watching him any less unappetizing. It's gotten to the point where even the kids at school don't want to watch him eat.

His specialty is cramming his mouth so full of food that he can't chew, and has to sort of wait for everything to dissolve. While doing this, he tends to get up and walk around, shedding bits of rice and corn in his wake. He is a full body eater. He wipes his mouth on his shoulder, touches his hair and gets food in it, gets food tidbits all over the table and his shirt and his pants and his chair and the floor, and has a tendency to go into his hand-flapping habit right after eating with his hands, so that morsels are scattered to the four corners of the kitchen. He also enjoys pulling the fork or spoon (when he actually uses those utensils) out of his mouth with a grand flourish, which usually results in rice being flung in Papa's face. Mealtimes in our house are what you could call stressful.

Now, the only way I know to discipline a child into good table manners is to remove him from the table at the first infraction. Unfortunately, that's not an option with this little guy, simply because he is such a little guy. We're talking 37 pounds at age almost-seven. He's lost the "You can feed this starving child for 5 cents a day" look he had when we brought him home from a Russian orphanage five-and-a-half years ago, but he's still way wiry. His spring jacket is a size 2/3, and though the shortness of the sleeves indicate a new size is called for, there's no strain on the snaps down the front. Finding pants for him is an endless challenge--we need about a size 6 in length and a size 3 in the waist. So in the long run, having him pack in the food is significantly more important than packing it in prettily.

But in the short run--well, yuck. There are only so many times you can see a boy cram food into his mouth with both hands before you start to consider offering a liquid diet and a straw. With sensory-integration therapy, things have gotten slowly better--his days of stuffing an entire Taco Bell soft taco in his mouth at once are happily over. We're now trying doling out a few bites at a time, in a bowl with a rim for his left hand to hold on to, out of the action, while his right hand scoops the food up with a spoon. The theory is that he can push the food against the side of the bowl instead of the side of his hand, and maybe keep his mitts clean. The theory has flaws, but it's holding up. It's either this, or put a trough in the corner of the kitchen and let him just stick his face in and go at it. Honestly, there'd probably be less clean-up with that.

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