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I took my younger son to his 18-month checkup this week. The appointment kicked off, as always, with a rapid-fire list of milestone questions. Can he walk up the stairs with help? Stack three or more blocks? Say between 10 and 20 words?
I was able to answer "yes" to just about every question (with just one "I don't know" response to the one about drinking from an open cup without spilling, because I've never given my 18-month-old an open cup, because are you kidding me?). I remember my older son Noah's 18-month checkup well: There were a lot of "no's."
But one question still gave me a huge jolt: Does he eat with a fork and a spoon?
Well, yes, my 18-month-old does use a fork and spoon pretty well. He has for quite some time, actually.
My 4 1/2-year-old? Still won't. STILL.
I'm sure when they asked that question at his 18-month visit, the response was something along the lines of, "Oh, I wouldn't worry about it. He'll pick it up when he's ready."
At his two-year visit, it was still: "Not a big deal, just be sure to always have one available, maybe try some different foods that are a little easier."
At three years: "Oh, he's starting school this year, I'm sure watching the other kids will fix that pretty quickly."
At four years: "Hmm. Well. Yeah. I dunno."
And now four months away from 5 years old, we have a veritable fleet of experts and occupational therapists who are all completely baffled by his steadfast refusal to eat with utensils, and I'm smacking my head into a nearby wall because OH MY GOD, this was first brought up when he was 18 MONTHS OLD.
The utensil thing, as I've explained to his OT, is kind of a perfect storm of every single one of Noah's "issues" (fine motor, crossing the midline, oral motor delays and hypersensitivity, extreme sensory/texture issues), along with a few garden-variety personality quirks, like stubbornness, perfectionism, and plain-old picky eating. He started rejecting spoon-fed foods well before his first birthday and lived on finger foods for months and months, and we were mostly advised not to press the issue. "Not a big deal," his first OT told us. "I promise he'll pick it up by kindergarten."
Ha. That's not looking like such a sure thing anymore.
Things we've tried: Every utensil style under the sun, kiddie-sized, oversized, plastic, wood, and metal, Thomas, Dora, Lightning McQueen. Training chopsticks. Ice cream. We've tried taking the "food" part out of the equation by asking him to mime using a spoon with pretend food sets, or to stir up cookie dough or instant pudding, or to feed the dog or his younger brother spoonfuls of something. He refuses. I send in pudding cups to his school so his OT can WORK SPECIFICALLY WITH HIM at snack-time, working on his grip and coordination and general tolerance of the feel of a spoon or fork in his mouth. We've begged, we've ignored, we've flat-out ordered.
No luck. He eats with his fingers, making every mealtime incredibly long and incredibly messy.
So I admit that we're moving on to bribery. I set up a sticker chart and told him if he 1) tries one new food every day and 2) uses a fork or spoon at every meal for a week, he'll get a very very very special present.
We're on day three. He has two stickers so far.
So, in a few days, I'm hopefully going to need you to NOT JUDGE ME when I take my child to the Apple store and buy him his very own insanely expensive iPod Touch. (He actually asked for an iPhone, I talked him down to an iPod with some preschooler apps installed.) It's still cheaper than therapy and seems to be more effective. Though I'm not sure "almost-5-year-old-with-his-own-iPod" is more or less age-inappropriate than "almost-5-year-old-who-won't-use-a-spoon," but I've decided not to think too much about that.
Read more of Amalah's column Isn't That Special