Adam’s voice is the best sound in my day.
This week, I had the longest sustained conversation I’ve ever had with my son in the (nearly) nine years of his life. And it was about supper.
Early in the morning, I thawed some chicken and mixed up the ingredients for some aptly named “chicken delicious.” Then I flipped the crock pot on “low” and spun my way on to a thousand other things. All day, as that chicken simmered, it smelled just the way it would later taste: delicious. And when supper time came, all I had to do was make a little salad, cook some whole wheat penne, and roast a little sweet potatoes to go with it.
As we sat down to eat, Adam scowled at his plate. I had substituted three strips of yellow bell pepper and two baby carrots for the salad. He’s eating almost everything the rest of us eat now but still getting used to textures, and I didn’t want to push my luck with lettuce leaves just yet. I had also included three little pieces of roasted sweet potato beside his little pile of penne and his saucy chicken, which I had cut into bite-sized pieces for him. He did not think my chicken delicious looked very delicious.
I watched his brow furrow into a frustrated wrinkle. “I don’t like it peppers! I don’t like it peppers,” he said to me.
“I know, Adam, but you have to eat them anyway. And they’re yellow peppers. Yummy.” Inside, I’m shrieking with glee, thinking, “A complete sentence!!!”
Exasperated with me, Adam sighed, the wrinkle deepening. “I don’t like it yellow peppers! I don’t like it carrots! I don’t like it potatoes!” He said, pointing at each thing on his plate. He stopped at the penne, not sure what to name it.
“I know you don’t like it, Buddy, but it’s good for your body. It helps you grow tall. Don’t you want to grow tall?”
“No,” he said, without hesitation.
Riley, who had been listening intently to all this, strapped on her big sister boots, latching on to the helps your body grow theme.
“Adam, do you want to be small?” she said, tilting her head in that patronizing way older siblings live to perfect. Clearly, she had seen an opportunity to show her advantage.
“Yes,” he said, locking eyes with her.
Then he turned back to me. “Mommy, I don’t like it peppers. NO eat! I want…I don’t like it peppers.”
“I know, Adam. I understand. Eat your peppers. They’re good for you.”
“No,” he scowled, reaching for a strip of pepper. He nibbled the tiniest possible bite off of one end and put it back down on his plate. “Daddy.”
Kevin, who had been exchanging chuckles with me and reassuring Zoe, missed the mention of his name. Zoe kept trying to tentatively suggest that we relent with a deliberately cautious, “But…But if he doesn’t really like them…”
I turned to Kevin. “I think your son just said your name.”
Kevin smiled, turning his attention to Adam. “Yes, Buddy?”
“Daddy, I don’t like it peppers,” he said, pointing to the peppers. It was all I could do not to laugh out loud. I guess Adam had decided that if I could not be convinced, perhaps Dad would appreciate his argument.
Riley started to speak. “Adam, the peppers are…”
Adam jerked toward her, lifting his hand in the air in the exact same gesture Riley had used before to show how tall Adam would grow if he ate his peppers. It was the gestural equivalent of, “I know exactly what you’re going to say. But please, just hush.” “I don’t like it peppers,” he said to her, as if she’d missed his position.
Finally, realizing we would not be moved, Adam ate his peppers, carrots, sweet potatoes, and the rest of his supper without complaint. Unfortunately, he hasn’t yet figured out the verbal difference between “I don’t like it” and “I don’t want it,” but I know the difference in his reactions. He definitely doesn’t like tomatoes, but most other things he just doesn’t want to eat. Still, we’ve turned a major corner, and the fact that I’m hearing full sentences now means the rest will eventually come too.
At one meal this week, Adam actually verbalized something I’ve known for a long time, that he suffers anxiety about feeling different textures in his mouth. The “I don’t like it” conversations are becoming more common, and a few days ago, he added, “I don’t like it scared,” to the debate. If you’ve never had difficulty discussing things with your children, you might not realize how huge it is to be able to do so. For us, discussions over the most practical and ordinary things are an enormous cause for celebration. Once Adam initiated this discussion, I was able to encourage him and reiterate that while I understood, there was nothing to fear.
And food is not the only topic about which Adam lately seems motivated to speak. Every week, our kids compete to be the one that gets to ride home from the church building with Kevin after our Wednesday night Bible classes. In fact, this competition had gotten so dramatic (tears flowed) that we instituted a turn-taking system. So, two Wednesday nights ago, when we announced that it was Riley’s turn to ride in the truck, Adam took offense.
“Adam’s turn truck!” He cried, heart-broken. It was actually the first Wednesday night we’d all been there since the holidays and the kids’ trip to Mom and Dad’s, and so Kevin and I had just started the turn cycle over.
“No, it’s Riley’s turn tonight. It’ll be Adam’s turn to ride in the truck on January 19,” I said, as Adam and Zoe climbed into the van with me. I repeated this to be sure that he understood, and immediately, Adam’s mood changed. Message received and noted.
So, this past Tuesday morning, as Kevin greeted Adam with a hug, Adam said, “Adam’s turn truck. January 19,” in friendly reminder. And Wednesday night, I teased him, fishing for some words.
“Hey Adam, want to ride with me in the van?”
“It’s Adam’s turn truck,” he said, simply, firmly, and COMPLETELY.
And the other big surprise, is that this year, for the first time ever, Adam is able to tell us that he’s looking forward to his birthday. I’ve had at least three conversations with him about his birthday in the last week. He loves to go over to our calendar and look at the pictures Kevin put in of him celebrating his birthday last year. Over lunch one day this week, he initiated, “Adam’s birthday.”
I smiled. “When is Adam’s birthday?”
He rattled off the month and the day with a huge grin and then added, “Jumping Beans.”
What a surprise! Jumping Beans, for those who don’t know, is one of those places with great inflatables on which the kids jump (and we jump:)) until their knees are weak and their cheeks are flushed. Our Jumping Beans has a great room that can be reserved for birthdays with it’s own private inflatable adventure and tables and chairs for those who prefer not to jump or need a rest. Adam loves Jumping Beans so much that he hardly leaves the inflatable the entire time we’re there, so the surprise was not that it was Jumping Beans that he mentioned but that he had mentioned anything he wanted to do for his birthday.
“You want to go to Jumping Beans for your birthday?” I asked, knowing the answer.
“YES!!” He said, giggling. Then he made eye-contact with me again and said, “Cupcakes.”
“You want cupcakes for your birthday too?”
After that, the girls and I started asking him who he wanted to invite for his party. I just pushed for every word I could get, wanting to continue the conversation for as long as Adam would remain invested. Typically at our house, big parties are a “5’s and 0’s” thing. So, technically, Adam’s not due a big party until next year. Still, I pointed out to the girls, we skipped Adam’s 5 year-old party because he seemed uninterested in friends and hardly interested in groups of any kind at the time. And, just between you and me, when our communication-challenged children start making the effort to speak, we are willing to do anything and everything we can to encourage them to continue making the effort. So, the skipped party helps me with the “fair police,” but I’d probably have done it anyway, just because my son is finally able to tell me what he’s hoping. Unfortunately for Adam, the anything and everything clause also means that I have one more reason (in addition to a healthy diet) to dish up delicious foods he’d rather do without.