My Preemie Is Now Four And Still A Picky Eater
It’s a role no one wants to play – the Mother Of The Picky Eater. The nagging character who is hated from the beginning of the story, despite being right.
Today’s breakfast ended in tears for both of us. “Ended” may be the wrong word, as it never really began. According to my four-year-old, Whole Foods brand oatmeal smells different than Quaker Oats oatmeal. So different that he wouldn’t even try it, despite the fact that he ate Whole Foods brand every single day for two years. He sobbed for oatmeal, but not that oatmeal. It was the only oatmeal we had, and no amount of explanation could console him.
Our life is a continual loop of Green Eggs and Ham, and I am the reluctant Sam-I-am. It’s a role no one wants to play – the Mother Of The Picky Eater. The nagging character who is hated from the beginning of the story, despite being right. You face fifty-two pages of protest before you convince him to take the first bite. Fifty two pages weeks a year of nagging him to just, please, try it.
Unlike in the book, your stamina is waning. You’re exhausted before 9 AM, having already made two full meals, both of which he asked for and neither of which he ate. So you give in and give him chocolate milk because at least it has calories and you know he’ll drink it. You rearrange your afternoon plans so you can take him directly home after school to eat. Sometimes you cancel your plans altogether because you know if you’re gone during meal time, he won’t eat at all. He only eats with you.
Your purse is full of fruit snacks and Teddy Grahams and containers of peanut butter because you never know if he’s going to eat the food that’s being served and because those are the only items he’ll eat at room temperature. You sit at the table, nagging your child to take another bite every 10 seconds because you know the moment his pasta drops below a certain temperature, the meal is over. You apologize to the waiter as you ask if he could possibly bring a side of peanut butter because you forgot to pack any, and he just decided that peanut butter is the only thing he wants to eat. Straight out of a bowl. With his fingers. You cringe as other mommies debate wheat bread versus white bread while you worry about your child losing any more weight because he won’t eat anything at all.
You do not like them.
So you say.
Try them! Try them!
And you may.
Try them and you may, I say.
You were told in the NICU that feeding could be the biggest challenge of his life, but no one warned you that it might be the biggest challenge of yours. You had no idea that one day, your mood would be determined by whether or not your baby ate. That getting two meals into him would become the definition of a successful day, even if you accomplish nothing else. Including getting dressed.
You shop at three different grocery stores to get the right brand of whatever food he’s eating this week/day/hour because if you get the wrong brand, see: Oatmeal v Oatmeal. You apply for him to attend an out-of-district school because your district is peanut-free and peanut butter is your only shot at him ever eating lunch at school. Sunflower butter is laughable. Even you wouldn’t eat that. He definitely isn’t going to.
You decide to serve ice cream sandwiches instead of cake at his birthday party because you cannot possibly watch him, for the fourth year in a row, refuse to touch a cupcake. You will never have the first birthday cake smash photo, a photo you never cared about until it became the symbol of your failure to provide the most basic need for your child – cake.
You plan outings and vacations around his meal schedule. Everyone thinks you’re crazy. Maybe you are. Maybe this has driven you to edge. Feeding envelops your every day. Your every morning. Every night. Until one day, you turn the page and,
I do so like
green eggs and ham!
Originally published April 2019.
Jessica Butler is the co-founder of Raise, stepmother of two, and adoptive mother of one. Prior to Raise, she was a writer on USA’s "In Plain Sight" and TNT’s "The Last Ship." She and her husband, writer/producer Warren Bell, co-created the Nick at Nite series "Instant Mom," based on her life as a stepmother. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and six-year-old son, Levon.