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?
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.
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.