Want to insult a Jewish mother? Turn down a second helping of dinner.
While other moms fret if you don’t make your bed or fold your laundry, Yiddishe mamas only want to make sure you are well fed. A Jewish mother whose child won’t eat properly goes into anxiety overdrive.
Food has become a big issue in our home. Shaina eats french fries, “chippies” as she calls them. There’s nothing wrong with that- who doesn’t like fries? Yeah, well you know that “everything in moderation” concept? Shaina doesn’t. Her dietary routine reminds me of the joke where the guy walks into MacDonalds to order fries, and they ask him, “Would you like fries with that?”
Shaina loves playing chef in her play kitchen. She offers us imaginary menus that include a healthy balance of protein, veggies and dessert. Her real-life food choice, on the other hand, is one item- and it’s pure carbs.
We’ve tried camouflaging carrot sticks between the chips or swapping her fries for yam alternatives. She doesn’t flinch, munches on the potato variety and deftly tosses the rest to the floor. She makes no apologies. If we catch her in a good mood, she’ll deign to eat a baked potato. We’ve learned that she is also willing to slurp up instant noodle soups. Ah, the nutritional value those provide.
Naomi remains determined. When Shaina briefly allowed us to feed her bean soup, Naomi shredded meat into the mix to smuggle in some protein. I’ve unsuccessfully tried the old aeroplane into the mouth-hangar trick umpteen times. Shaina doesn’t love candies- she’ll lick and then chuck a sucker- so sugar-coating healthy foods wouldn’t do the trick. Occasionally, she’ll pick salmon or chicken off our plates, and we’ll hold our breaths to see if she’ll eat more than a spoonful. On the off chance that she does, we applaud like she’s just solved the Rubick’s cube.
It’s a battle of wills where we consistently blink first. Experts tell us that we should just not buy chips and she’ll realise that she’ll need to eat something else. Yeah, right. Tell a Jewish mother to starve her child- that’s gonna work wonders. When the power goes out, as it often does in South Africa, we explain that there’s no electricity and no way to bake her chips. Half the time, she has us frying them for her on the gas stove.
The neurologist says it’s common for these children to fixate on one food only. She warns us that it could change at any time- and we could find ourselves pining for the good old chips days. The occupational therapist thought Shaina had a sensory issue and attempted a programme to teach her to eat other textures. She still eats chips.
The upside is that it’s easy to please her. Put chips on her plate, and she’ll be your friend. The downside? Well, we don’t have to detail that. Chips, chips and more chips can’t be good for anything. During Shaina’s most recent hospital stay, we tested her protein levels and they were desperately low. No surprise, considering her diet.
We haven’t given up yet. Today, I think she ate six mouthfuls of scrambled egg, and I’m sure she swallowed a scoop of avocado last Thursday. We’re not ready to force-feed or starve her, but we’re not prepared to give up either. When she’s not on oxygen or in the hospital, she still keeps us up at night worrying about nutritional wellbeing. That’s the thing about kids with rare conditions, there’s always something to worry about. In a Jewish family, worrying about how well your child eats is no joke.