It was Sunday night. Even though we are safely inland in the South, the wind is being fueled by Hurricane Sandy outside of my window. I hear the weather undoing all of the work my husband and I put into raking our yard today. The news keeps warning of the possibility of downed trees and power outages overnight as the winds rage on and the temperatures plummet.
All the while, I could really care less. It’s not that the nightmare storm that is bearing down on the Eastern seaboard isn’t significant – it is. It’s that a nightmare of epic proportions has occurred in the Reinventing household today, one that only a parent with sensory challenges can truly feel and appreciate.
My son has just a handful of foods that he’ll eat willingly (with no coaxing, pleading, etc.). Of those, there are fewer that he can self-feed with prompting. I can name them – cereal bars, Cheerios, and Trader Joe’s Cinnamon Schoolbook Cookies. Those cookies have been a staple for a while in our house and they appeal to my boy on a few levels. First, sensory-wise, the crunch of the cookie is very appealing. It helps him sense where the food is in his mouth, which also helps him chew and helps trigger a swallow. Second, the cookies are shaped like letters, which are Jack’s thing. I know you get that, right? Letters have been the one and only love of Jack’s for over a year. Finding a food that is a letter with a texture that he loves to give him input that he needs is – well – priceless.
With the winds barreling down, I looked in my pantry to take stock of what we had in the way of provisions. That’s when I saw it – the plastic tub of Cinnamon Schoolbook Cookies was nearly empty. Jack expects these cookies every night for a snack. It’s another piece of the oh-so-reliable that he needs to make his world make sense. Knowing that we were dangerously low on this staple, I gathered up my keys and headed to the store.
If you’ve never been in a Trader Joe’s, it’s easy to get lost in there. The wonderful shelves of delicious, seasonal foods appeal and beckon you. Needless to say, my cart was filled with plenty of pumpkin-flavored goodies for this mama before I reached to aisle with the cookies. I could probably find these cookies in my sleep for as often as I have visited this very spot, which was why I was taken aback when the letter cookies were replaced by animal crackers. I stared for a moment, looking at the spot where my son’s beloved cookies should rest, before turning around to see if they were simply placed somewhere else.
They weren’t. I couldn’t find them. I even looked at the tags on the shelf to see if they were simply out, but they weren’t. There was no place for them anymore.
I went into panic mode. I found the nearest Trader-Joe’s-t-shirt-clad person I could find. I begged – “Do you have any Cinnamon Schoolbook Cookies in the back?” – and got only a negative. Now, Trader Joe’s has been famous for carrying goods that I adore only to stop carrying them just as I get addicted (I might not have popular tastes), but no longer carrying my boy’s favorites is more than just an inconvenience – it’s a crisis. It’s a loss of a food on his “good” list and a loss of calories in his day. I wanted to scream “what do you mean that you don’t sell them anymore…don’t you know how important this is?!?”
The problem is that I’m not sure that he does. Most people aren’t. You speak to other parents of preschoolers and they will echo your thoughts and claim understanding. The problem is that this isn’t just pickiness. This is much more than that. How many of us have been told to just offer our kids what we are eating because eventually they’ll get hungry enough and eat it? How many of us have found that to be true? Not many other autism/sensory parents that I know have claimed success with this method. Our kids aren’t motivated by the same interoceptive sensations that other kids are. My son won’t just eat because he’s hungry. He doesn’t feel “hungry”. When you spend time worrying over growth charts and food lists, when you count up your child’s calories in a feeding log, and when you struggle day in and day out just to get your child to eat something without gagging, you understand just how important a tub of Cinnamon Schoolbook Cookies can be.
I did what any semi-rational special needs mama would do – I called my in-laws and begged the last container of their cookies off of them, to which they gladly obliged. My next phone call was to another Trader Joe’s in my area. When they told me that they did have Cinnamon Schoolbook Cookies, I pleaded with them to put 4 tubs of them on hold for me to pick up the following day. I must have sounded pretty desperate, because the lady on the other end of the phone line was very understanding and willing to help.
And I was desperate. I didn’t want to see my son’s diet shrink. I wanted the universe and all of the food manufacturers in it to keep a sort of homeostasis with their production lines. We’ll make a pact – you keep making what you make and I’ll keep buying it. I promise my boy only eats your brand, so you have a customer for life!
Luckily, I have my “stash” of cookies, which will be rationed for the next several months in hopes that Trader Joe’s sees the error of their ways. Otherwise, we’ll be on the lookout for a close substitute to start introducing in the near future with hopes that he’ll take to them faster than the last “new” food. In the meantime, I’ll start hoarding cookies and pray that they have a very long shelf-life.
Do your children have foods that are “essentials”? Have you ever been driven to hoarding a particular food so that your child doesn’t do without?