There was an incident with a peanut butter sandwich.
I packed it for his lunch.
Normally, I pack cold stuff – a yogurt tube, a cheese stick and a Babybel, a piece of fruit (apple, banana, or grapes), a crunchy snack (of the orange and salty variety), and a juice box. I pack this same lunch for him every single day.
Every. Single. Day.
But on this day, he went on a field trip and needed a brown bag lunch. He needed a completely disposable lunch that didn’t require a cold pack. I thought a peanut butter sandwich would be a refreshing change.
I was wrong.
As soon as he opened his brown bag and discovered a peanut butter sandwich inside, he bolted to the garbage can and threw it out. He threw out a perfectly good peanut butter sandwich. I know this because I chaperoned the field trip and witnessed both the disposal of the sandwich and his tear-filled (regretful?) (embarrassed?) (scared?) eyes after he did it.
Sidebar: I can now add “big yellow school bus filled with screaming Kindergarten children” to the list of things I’m afraid of.
Here’s the thing. My sensory kid doesn’t like food much and he doesn’t like much food. But he does like peanut butter. I know this because he occasionally has a peanut butter sandwich for dinner when he’s bored of eating macaroni and cheese, bagels and cream cheese, and plain spaghetti. I thought the peanut butter sandwich for lunch was a clever idea. It wasn’t. Here’s why.
There’s a reason he eats the same lunch every single day. He thrives on the structure. He depends on it. My intentions were good but unwise. Good because I want nothing more than for him to love food and enjoy eating it. Unwise because I should’ve known that springing an unexpected food on him at school was going to turn his familiar order of things upside down. (And what was the upside of that?)
A few months ago, I had a tearful conversation with his OT about camp this summer. For the first time, he’s going to “big kid” day camp (vs. pre-school summer camp). It’s going to be a big and adventurous experience, and he’s going to meet new people, try new activities, and visit new places. It’s going to be an amazing summer, and I know in my heart that he’s ready for it.
But, here’s the thing. I can’t pack his lunch. I’m not allowed. How’s he going to get through the summer if I can’t feed him? If I can’t save him from spinning in an abyss of fear and anxiety in a lunchroom filled with unpleasant smells and food he won’t eat?
Hence, the tearful conversation with the OT.
You’ll be relieved to know that she talked me from the ledge. She reminded me that he needs this push. That he has to move forward. That he can and will find his way. That he will eat. I also found out from the camp administrator that regardless of what’s on the lunch menu each day, the kids can always choose from an alternative menu that includes – you guessed it – a peanut butter sandwich.
So, I (selfishly) sent a peanut butter sandwich to school in a brown bag lunch as a test.
It failed. The sandwich ended up in the garbage can before it ever came out of the plastic bag in which it was packed.
He failed. Instead of eating it or staying calm and saying, “No thank you,” he panicked.
I failed. I failed the most. I should never have done it. My attempt to get him to eat a peanut butter sandwich for lunch by surprising him with a peanut butter sandwich for lunch was the equivalent of yelling at a crying baby to get him or her to stop crying. It wasn’t going to work. I set him up for failure and then had the audacity to be angry with him for his inappropriate response. (Yes, “inappropriate” is the word I used when I quietly confronted him by the garbage can. I regretted it instantly.)
Sometimes my actions aren’t meant for the child I do have, but for the child I think I have. (Or wish I had?) If that sounds harsh, it’s because it is. But, it’s the truth. In my children’s beautiful flaws, I have the opportunity to see and face my own.
I know now (but should have known before the incident with the peanut butter sandwich) that introducing him to the lunch menu at camp must be a slow moving, delicately handled, and unsurprising process.
Isn’t it funny what chokes and humbles us as parents? Of all the real and imagined things that have kept me up at night – and there have been many – I never thought in a million years the thing that would render me so completely unsure of myself as a mother would be a peanut butter sandwich.
What’s your peanut butter sandwich?