When I peeled back the tiny clementine mandarin, bright orange soft skin closed around the fruit, I should have considered the beauty of its opening. My capable thumb’s nail pressed through the outer layer. How I moved through the movement of pinching and separating the protective cover from the goodness within, quick strips pulled clean, set in a pile on the counter. How wondrous it is that however many years ago, long before this season of motherhood, the neurons fired up and organized themselves into my brain’s ordered circuitry, teaching me to peel a tiny orange fruit without once considering what I’m doing?

It was 6:52. My seven and four year olds were dressed for school and slurping up their cereal, even though I’ve tried (I’ve tried! I’ve tried!) to teach them not to slurp and drip their milk on their laps. My baby was in his high chair staring at—not eating—his dry cheerios, waiting for me to offer him something else. I peeled the fruit without once considering its glory. I separated two perfect quarter moon slices. (I’m sure that when God created bananas and oranges, he was thinking of moms and thousands of years of nature’s built-in snack containers.) I set the two slices on Ace’s tray before moving back to August’s lunch:

I lay the turkey on his bread. Sprinkled Fritos (his invention). Sipped my coffee. Ate a bite of my avocado. Glanced up at Ace. Back to August’s lunch. And on and on.

Glory gets lost in there doesn’t it?

clementine_GT

That was three weeks ago, when Ace was still nine months old, the day after the doctor suggested I consider adding one more therapy to his regimen. He wasn’t eating well. Three months of my setting him before his collection of beautiful purees I’d home cooked and blended, freezed and bagged. Yellows and browns and greens, the colors of the food rainbow, mashed up and dished out on a spoon for my baby’s nourishment. And that little boy wouldn’t even open his mouth. Weeks and months of forcing spoons through tight closed lips. I added butter and oil, and still at his appointments, there he was, my tiny one: first percentile in height, first percentile in weight.

Food therapy, my pediatrician said. And I added it to the growing collection of therapies. It had been three months since he began to sit in his high chair, but nine months since he first arrived in this world, cuddled into my arms, and assured me that though the prenatal diagnosis of Trisomy 21 was indeed certain, his sweet little pumpkin face and extra capacity for gentleness and love would make his life more glorious than I ever imagined for my third baby.

But the daily work of pushing through his challenges? Sometimes it feels like I’m taking the usual tasks of motherhood and pressing a magnifying glass against them. The physical therapist wants to know if he’s moving his toy from one hand to another at his line of vision. We’re working on getting his knees under him so he can learn to rock back and forth in crawling position.

Honestly, I have absolutely no idea when my older boys—both in the 95 percentile in height and weight at nine months— passed toys from one hand to another at the line of vision. When did they rock? How did they learn to get their knees under them? It was all so miraculous what their bodies could do without training, without prompting, and I never noticed. All those tiny moments. I didn’t notice.

clementine_closeup_GT

I came back from that doctor’s appointment, determined to call the occupational therapist who comes to our home once a month and ask for her thoughts on food therapy. When should we start? What can I do at home?

And then that next morning I peeled Ace a clementine slice. I’ve been reading about the brain. How it learns something new by building more myelin and clumping it together. How the more you do a task, practice it and practice it, your brain makes new roads, new circuits, to travel down. How did Ace’s brain make the road that tells him eating is good? Was it every breakfast, lunch, and dinner when I forced food between his tight lips?

Or was it simply that morning when I threw two slices on his tray before moving my older boys from breakfast to the bathroom. Brush your teeth, wash your face. Is your backpack packed? Jacket and shoes ON YOUR BODY?

At some moment I looked up and he had closed his rolly fist around that quarter moon slice. And he’d realized he could suck it. The juice he swallowed lit the places in his brain that said: Food is good! Food is good! And he took more. And more. I offered slice after slice, which he dropped onto the floor beneath him, into his seat, into the neck of his pajamas.

And the brain-circuit had been built. Suddenly, without fanfare or declaration, Ace began opening his mouth for the spoonfuls of pureed spinach and salmon/sweet potato mix. His little fingers began to grab for the cereal on his tray. Amazingly, he started eating. Three weeks ago, he started eating.

Yes, glory gets lost in there. But sometimes our circumstances offer us the grace to slow it down, to notice what the exact food was that taught a lovely tiny human to eat. It was a clementine orange mandarin slice in the fist of my baby. One glorious piece of fruit, grown and picked and colored orange by the sun.

Micha Boyett / Posts / Blog
Micha (pronounced "MY-cah") Boyett is the author of Found: A Story Questions, Grace, and Everyday Prayer. She's passionate about monasticism and ancient Christian spiritual practices and how they inform the contemporary life of faith. She writes about prayer, motherhood, and her new journey with Down syndrome at michaboyett.com. Follow her on Twitter or Facebook, and Instagram.
  • Amy Lee
    Amy Lee
    http://sunsteepeddays.com

    I don’t know why this moves me so deeply… perhaps because these beautiful words remind me of all I have to notice and be thankful for around my own table. Hurray for Ace! — and for the Creator who surely knew this moment as the first built-in snack of a clementine formed. Thank you for this gorgeous story.

    March 14th, 2016 1:44
    Reply
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  • Sarah

    Simply beautiful. 🙂

    March 14th, 2016 7:45
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    I am in the room with you. Thank for the tender telling, the invitation and the whispers of hope.

    March 14th, 2016 9:53
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      November 5th, 2016 9:52
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  • Diana
    http://www.thehealthydancer.blogspot.com

    Thank you for sharing this…I found myself tearing up as I read it. My son was diagnosed with autism in second grade, simple things confounded him. I will never forget the day – when he was nine – after multiple OT sessions – he tied his own shoes for the first time. I was so very excited by that small thing that before I’d always taken for granted. He is 12 now and has come so very far. Please hang in there on the tough days and don’t lose your faith. There will always be tough days but it makes the brighter days absolutely brilliant.

    March 14th, 2016 9:55
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    • Micha Boyett
      http://michaboyett.com

      Thanks so much for sharing your story, Diana. So happy to hear your son has come so far! And thanks for the encouragement.

      March 15th, 2016 1:14
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  • Lindsey Toms

    Brilliant!

    March 14th, 2016 13:18
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  • Lori Harris
    http://loriharris.me

    Gloriously beautiful.
    Oh, to live in the constant tension of awe and wonder.
    So grateful for your voice here, Micha.

    March 14th, 2016 13:53
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  • Deb

    We love beautiful AceFace–so happy to experience this first with him!! Thank you for sharing and illuminating it with your words.

    March 14th, 2016 13:53
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      November 5th, 2016 10:04
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  • Emily

    I love this message and your beautiful writing. Thank you for sharing.

    March 14th, 2016 14:00
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  • Jess

    I can so relate to this. My lil guy, Grayson, is 11 mo old. He also has Down syndrome. He is also my third. So far I’ve learned that it’s a journey, a long one at times. But Ive also learned to celebrate, so deeply, the little things! My guys first finger food was a banana flavored wafer. Lol! A far cry from the all natural, homemade, organic stuff I did with my others. But it worked for him! It appealed to him. I’m grateful for that!

    March 14th, 2016 14:16
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    • Micha Boyett
      http://michaboyett.com

      Girl, there are plenty of flavored wafers in this house as well! I’m just lucky his first finger food was so wholesome so I could write about it. 🙂 Much love to your Grayson. (My Ace is also 11 months old now…I wrote this last month!)

      March 15th, 2016 1:16
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      November 5th, 2016 9:39
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    This is so incredibly beautiful. And encouraging. Thank you for noticing.

    March 14th, 2016 14:37
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    Deliciously beautiful! I love this post, Micha for multiple reasons. Thank you for sharing this.

    March 14th, 2016 16:03
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    • Micha Boyett
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      Someday we’ll have to talk more about your story, Mary. Thank you. xoxo.

      March 15th, 2016 1:17
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    Profoundly beautiful.

    March 14th, 2016 16:36
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  • SimplyDarlene
    SimplyDarlene
    http://www.simplydarlene.com

    Despite the lack of fanfare on earth, I bet the heave lies were rocking with excited joy. Than you for sharing this piece.

    Blessings.

    March 15th, 2016 14:05
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      SimplyDarlene
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      March 15th, 2016 14:06
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  • Karin Alexander

    My six-month old T21 guy, Judah, is in the “swish and spit” food stage. This gives me hope that he will soon enjoy clementines too.

    March 15th, 2016 16:08
    Reply
    31
  • Katie Noah Gibson
    http://katieleigh.wordpress.com

    So lovely, Micha. Hooray for Ace! And for clementines!

    March 15th, 2016 19:05
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  • Danielle

    My brother’s beautiful foster-baby (we pray one day he will be able to adopt her), my little foster-niece also has so many therapies, also learns at a “different” pace.
    They’re such miracles, aren’t they? When people ask how she is, I know they expect to hear about all of the appointments and delayed goals, but all I ever want to say is, “She’s the best one. Of course she is.”
    What wonder, what grace that we are allowed to experience life with them, isn’t it?

    March 23rd, 2016 15:51
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