Chickadee’s been home for a week and a half, has successfully managed two half-days at school (and is attempting the whole day today), and while life stubbornly refuses to stop or even slow down while we find our new normal, over here, I am rediscovering the healing power of frozen dairy confections.
The list of things I can control at this point would probably fit on a post-it, with room to spare. The list of things I CAN’T control (but desperately wish I could) is a lot longer. Go figure! On any given day, I sandwich small stints of actual work between doctors’ appointments and carpool and play rehearsal and just plain sitting down with the kids a lot more often than I did B.C. (that would be: Before Crisis), just because my priorities have shifted.
My sanity has remained loosely tethered on getting Chickadee to eat and gain weight. The doctors have to go do their thing, I get that; but I’m her Mama, and I can fatten her up. Right? Maybe? Looking at her will hurt less when she no longer looks like a strong wind might snap her in two?
At first it was, “Anything you want. We can go out and get something, or I’ll cook, ANYTHING. Just tell me what sounds good.” But after a couple of requests for french fries (most of which were left on the plate and later snarfed down by the dog), it became clear that there was no one food that could reliably tempt her. What she ate yesterday “tasted funny” today, and a dish that she usually loves might be pushed aside while she tried to reassure me, “It’s good, it is, I’m just… not hungry.”
We baked cookies. Friends brought her brownies, cake, even candy. I found her one day, standing at the kitchen counter, glaring at all the plates of goodies in frustration. “They LOOK good,” she said. “They SMELL good, and I WANT to eat them. But then my stomach hurts.” We had a lot of conversations about how after you haven’t eaten much for a while, your stomach has to get used to expanding, again, and it can take time, and the only way out is through… and I would think, every time, how stupid I must sound to her. She feels like her body has turned on her and everything is out of control, and I’m chattering on about peristalsis and how protein provides necessary building blocks for everything her body needs to fight the bad stuff. She’s a saint, this kid. She hasn’t punched me even once. Not when I’ve launched into a nutrition and digestion lesson, and not when I’ve begged her to just eat a little more, just a bite or two, c’mon baby, you can do it.
The saving grace in all of this came from the freezer aisle. Ice cream, it turns out, is the neutral zone. Within a few days of her homecoming, we got into the routine of just handing her a bowl of ice cream half an hour or so before bedtime. “Snack!” Otto or I will announce, and for whatever reason, she just… eats it. No arguments, no protestations. Maybe it’s because she’s sleepy, or maybe it’s because her body recognizes that she hasn’t had enough to eat that day. I really don’t know. All I know is that she’s eating it. (And it turns out that a couple of scoops of ice cream added to Ensure makes a decent milkshake for breakfast, too.)
Monkey became suspicious within a few nights. “Hey,” he’d say, spying an ice cream bowl in the sink the next morning while dropping his cereal bowl. “Who had ice cream? I want ice cream!” Is it terrible parenting not to give him ice cream every night, too? I tell myself that part of the reason she’s eating it is the delight in knowing her little brother is sleeping already and not having any. Desperate times, and all of that.
I take her to the supermarket with me. “Pick out some flavors,” I say, and she darts in and out of the cases, asking me what flavors I like, while I tell her to pick what SHE likes, and eventually we return home to replenish the stash in the garage freezer.
Progress is slow. At the last appointment where a doctor referred to her as “malnourished,” I winced. It feels like a basic parenting failure, not being able to plump her up on command. She eats her ice cream while I sit with her and try to eat my worry.
This week I’ve been gone for rehearsal most nights, and now the show opens tonight and I’ll be gone another four nights in a row. I worried about leaving her with Otto—not because of him, of course, but because worrying is what I do and I’m concerned she feels abandoned with me gone so much. Last night I ran out of time to eat dinner before I had to leave, while Otto promised the kids tacos from our favorite Mexican hole-in-the-wall. By the time I got home, I’d gone beyond hungry into “I’m too tired to eat.”
“Did she eat any dinner?” I asked, braced for an unhappy answer.
“She ate two tacos!” Otto replied, and the mini-celebration that followed would’ve been perplexing to anyone who hasn’t spent the last ten days trying to stuff food into a reluctant kid. “And she had a big bowl of ice cream before bed, too,” he added. I did a little victory dance.
And then I had a bowl of ice cream.
It was delicious.