Early Signs, Revisited

Blueberry mini muffins
Blueberry mini muffins: A rare treat (for me), but not for Ryan.

I always enjoy coming home from work on grocery day. With kids in the house, and a daughter with a sweet-tooth to rival my own, I never know what new treats I’ll find in the pantry.

Plus, Riley is not big fan of sharing her desserts, but when the cookie package is relatively full, it’s easier to steal one or two without her noticing (sorry, sweetheart, but you didn’t come of that love of sweets by accident).

Roaming the kitchen for something to snack on a few evenings back, I stopped in my tracks after seeing something Veronica had bought earlier that day: a package of a blueberry mini muffins. Not the Hostess six-to-a-bag kind, but rather the plastic-carton-from-the-bakery-section kind.

What’s so special about a package of blueberry mini muffins, you might wonder?

For one, I don’t recall seeing one of these packages in our house for probably seven or eight years. For another, they used to be a staple of Ryan’s (extremely limited) diet.

As soon as I saw the package, the memories came flooding back. As a toddler and young child, Ryan ate mini muffins by the dozen, but ONLY blueberry. We’d give him one of those child-safe plastic bowls with the handles, full of two or three unwrapped muffins. He would mash them to near-molecular granularity, pressing his little fingers into the bowl to pick up every last sticky morsel. He’d work and work to get every crumb out of the bowl, and yet when he was done eating the place where he’d been sitting always looked like someone had intentionally dumped crumbs all over it.

Every trip to the grocery required the purchase of two or three dozen blueberry mini muffins from the bakery. I recall doing the shopping one week (an extreme rarity, but it has happened) and being horrified to find no muffins in their typical spot. I stopped at the bakery counter to ask and a friendly employee searched the back before he found them, just delivered and not yet even marked for sale. He quickly readied a few packages for me.

Why the urgency?

Ryan’s diet is still limited but it’s a cornucopia today compared to what it was then. He ate maybe four or five foods. Attempts to get him to try something new led to gagging, even vomiting. We read all kinds of books. We took him to see specialists. In retrospect we should have known we were wasting our time when Ryan threw open the door at the center for feeding disorders and announced to the waiting room, “I’M NOT EATING NO NEW FOODS!”

We mostly gave up trying to alter his diet. His pediatrician agreed that he was healthy. We were fighting so many battles at that time. Sleep, language, communication, meltdowns, socialization, defiant behavior (looking back, probably often caused by our attempts to alter his routines). We didn’t have the patience or the energy to fight at every meal. Besides, watching your child touch a single pea to his tongue in anticipation of a promised reward, only to retch and promptly vomit, will tend to change your idealistic approach to healthy eating.

We settled on the idea that Ryan’s extreme dietary restrictions were one of the ways he applied order and control to a chaotic world in which he struggled to communicate his needs and find comfort. We resolved to revisit the issue when he was older.

Most of those four or five early food staples — plain waffles, NIlla Wafers, chicken nuggets, turkey bacon — are still part of his repertoire, augmented today by pizza, hamburgers, even grilled chicken, pork chops and steak.

But not blueberry mini muffins.

I can look back today at the reason he stopped eating them and laugh, but then it was a near tragedy. When your child eats only a handful of foods and suddenly drops one, well, that’s a problem. I recall it being a major source of stress in our house. I can’t place the exact time, so I don’t know how far we were past Ryan’s initial diagnosis, but it was one of those moments that helped confirm that something was different about Ryan. We knew this, of course, but we were still years away from full acceptance. Therefore, every incident that helped confirm his differences was immensely painful.

So what happened to sour him on mini muffins, you might be wondering?

Our grocery switched brands. The packaging was similar, but they came from a different baker. The taste and texture were sightly different. Still delicious — to me, anyway — but different. Ryan got one taste of the new ones and pushed them away. There was no changing his mind.

We inquired at the grocery. We tried other stores. We even tried fishing an old package out of the recycling bin and putting the new muffins in it. As a baby, Ryan refused to eat Veroncia’s homemade baby food until she thought to try serving it to him out of one of the Gerber jars he was used to. But we had no such luck this time. Mini muffins were off the menu, for good.

We survived the crisis, obviously. But seeing that package in our kitchen brought it all back. The worry, the fear, the frustration of that time in our lives. Every mole hill a mountain.

We are in such a better place today.

Oh, and those blueberry mini muffins? Veronica sent them to work with me.

Ryan won’t touch them.


5 thoughts on “Early Signs, Revisited

  1. My daughter couldn’t bite, chew, and/or swallow food until she was almost 3 due to complications from prematurity and to her sensory issues. She lived on toddler formula and a few purees. It was incredibly stressful watching her weight linger just off the growth chart. If there was any additional texture in her purees, she would vomit. Every meal was a struggle and we had all these distractions to get her to take each bite of food – singing songs, playing games, watching movies (we let her watch a single scene from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory over and over and over again, because she would watch it in fascination and we could sneak spoonfuls of food in). I remember being really upset when she’d stop eating one of the purees. It took a small army of therapists to get her to learn to eat and to recognize her own hunger, and now she still only eats a handful of foods, but she’s on the weight chart now and I’m done fighting with her about food. She can eat pizza or mac and cheese every night for all I care. Here, have another cookie!

    There is so much frustration wrapped up in that whole experience that random things can take me straight back. Like seeing Willy Wonka on TV. 🙂 Kind of like your blueberry muffins.


    1. Megan – I had no idea you dealt with feeding issues that severe. I like your attitude. Over time, you just learn to make peace with certain things, which is hard to imagine when you’re in the thick of it. Thanks for sharing.


  2. I worry a lot about my sons diet. I talk about it a lot in my writing too. But as you said, you can’t fight at every meal and the doctors say he is healthy. We are still at the stage where Jay only eats 4 or 5 things. None of them have any nutritional value. And whereas he used to eat Chef-Boy-Ardee ravioli everyday, he will no longer go near them. We never figured out why but it made me very sad. That was one of the few things he ate that was “real” – aka, Not cheese doodles or popcorn. I hope we get to a point where Jay will eat grilled chicken and steak. He will now eat McDonalds chicken nuggets (sometimes) and take a bite or 2 of pizza so that’s a major step.


  3. Great post. I was very disappointed when my son stopped eating pasta of any kind – it is such a versatile staple. Great description of how the single glimpse of one item sent you down memory lane.


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