Those who know me are shocked.
But Jenny, how did you get such a prestigious position without a university degree?
Well, this CEO is fairly new in his field, I was at the right place at the right time, and DNA tests have confirmed that I am biologically constructed for the position. Also, this particular CEO has been attached to me from a young age, likely because I carried him in my womb and gave birth to him.
A friend, who also has a challenging son, and I joke that the only difference between being a personal assistant and mothering our boys is that if we were personal assistants we would get paid.
Seriously, though, caring for my ASD son often feels like I am a personal assistant to a high-powered businessman. I have learned to anticipate his needs. I have learned to read his moods in detail. I have learned his particular likes and dislikes when it comes to food, both in what he likes to eat and in how he likes it presented. I have learned when to give him space to brood and when to push him to work harder. I have learned who are good people to bring around him and who are not. I have learned when it is a good idea to bring up issues and when it is better to wait. I have learned to survive his violent outbursts. I have learned how to talk about him in a sensitive way (well, i’m still learning). I’m sure if I talked with real assistants to CEOs that we could easily find common ground.
One of the main areas in which this is true for me is food. Food is a big trigger for E. It is the issue most of his tantrums stem from. I can’t pinpoint exactly when this started. When we first introduced our boy to food at 6 months, he LOVED it! He had this huge grin on his face like he was making the best discovery of his life and couldn’t believe he’d never known about it before. He ate almost everything with great gusto. But somewhere along the way that changed. It started with him crying when food broke, which I thought was just a toddler disappointment, except that it still happens today at 6 years old. Here’s a (non)-exhaustive list of his preferences in no particular order:
- He does not like food to be broken or cut. That granola bar breaks as you’re opening the package? won’t eat it. Cut the sandwich in cute triangles? won’t eat it. A small piece of the banana comes off with the peel as you open it? won’t eat it.
- He only eats egg whites (fried, not scrambled), never yolks. He is a supermodel and needs to watch his figure, it’s just part of the gig.
- Cooked mushrooms, not raw.
- Sauce on the side.
- Food needs to be presented separately on the plate. I dislike cooking, so I love one pot meals that can be eaten from a bowl. This is an insult to E. He wants to be given each option individually and choose exactly what goes on his plate with no surprises.
- Soup, yes. Stew, no. Stew is fine as long as you call it soup. If you bring stew to my house, you better call it soup or else.
- Only round cheese strings, never rectangular.
- Dry toast, no butter. I always considered “plain toast” to be buttered. I’ve been corrected.
- Dry cereal, no milk.
- He doesn’t like chocolate. except m&ms or smarties. If i don’t want him to ask for my ice cream, I just get chocolate and we have no issues.
- No sharing of food from one plate. If we go out to eat and want to order one entree for the 2 kids to share we need to ask for the meal to be divided onto 2 plates in the kitchen and brought out that way. The dividing cannot happen at the table. This may cause the food to be thrown across the restaurant. Or say, hypothetically, that you’re at a summer fair and there is a double decker bus that’s lower level has been converted into a food truck and upper level converted into seating and a well-meaning parent tries to divide a $15 fish and chips meal onto 2 plates for 2 kids in order to save money… fried fish thrown down off the top level onto the ground and at the feet of the people eating across from us. Oh, did I say hypothetical? Nope, that happened last week.
- He wants to choose every single thing that goes on his plate and does not trust others to make that choice for him. Pre-plating is a no-no.
I’m sure there are more rules of engagement but i can’t think of any more right now. The biggest rule is that if any of these guidelines are ignored or forgotten, there will be a huge reaction involving some or all of the following: whining, crying, screaming, hitting, throwing of food or plates (anything on the table is fair game). Sub-rule: these guidelines only apply to me and can be forgiven more easily for other care givers. Eff me.
You may be asking yourself, “But Jenny, do you put up with this B.S.? That sounds crazy!” Yes, it drives me crazy, but do I put up with it? Yes and No. I don’t make him special meals, with the only exception being an egg white in the morning if he won’t eat breakfast because it’s easy and i don’t want him to go to school hungry. Generally, my rule is that if the kids don’t want to eat the meal, that is their choice, but I’m not making something separate for them. Some of it I do go along with though. I understand what it’s like to be a picky eater. There are many foods that I only eat prepared certain ways and feel offended if I am made to eat them other ways (cooked carrots and peas = yuck!) My mom and my grandma would always put a small bowl of raw carrots out for me if cooked carrots were being served and I appreciated that greatly. I try to take into account E’s preferences before I prepare his meals because I want him to like food and I get tired of the table being a battle ground. The amount of times that he has left the table to go to his room and calm down are too many to count, but probably equal to the amount of times that I have left the table crying. Preparing food for my boy and making the table a place of joyful gathering are ongoing struggles for our family and we just keep trying.