Saturday, December 10, 2005


Making the System Work for Me!

Okay, so I hate buying from, because nearly every time we have placed an order with them, there has been some sort of annoying glitch. The first time I bought something from them, I did so with a free shipping coupon through PayPal, but they charged me for shipping anyway, and it took me FOUR HOURS on the Overstock help chat line, on the phone with Overstock, and on the phone with PayPal to resolve the issue.

(And before you ask, no, it was not worth four hours of my precious time just to save a couple of bucks; it was the principle of the thing. Having worked for years in the retail and customer service industry during which I continually forced myself to be nice to people much snarkier than I, I can't stand bad customer service, and so when bad service happens to me, I generally try my best to do something about it. Even if that means subjecting myself to even more bad customer service for a couple of hours straight until I finally get a hold of someone who will help me).

Another time when we bought from them, the item was poorly packaged and shipped late, and another time, the item we received not only didn't really match its description on the website, but was also inordinately complicated to put together, on a Byzantine level, and only came with a single poorly illustrated page of instructions, in German.

(If I'd been better friends with Peter Nacken at the time, I might have just scanned the instructions and sent them to him to translate for me, but they were so bad I'm not sure even a native speaker could have figured them out).

So, I am not a fan of But at Christmas time, when the heating bills are high and the extra freelance writing income is low, being a most-unwealthy SAHM, and therefore a serious penny-pincher, I become so huge a fan of low prices as to occasionally be tempted to compromise my principles.

Not so far as to buy all my holiday presents at Wal-Mart on Black Friday or something. But yes, so far as to give it another whirl at Overstock, upon discovering that they have refurbished CD-ROM drives on sale for a really, really good price, and needing just exactly that type of drive for the computer my husband is building for Xmas for my home-schooled 12-year-old brother, who lives on a farm in the middle of nowhere, and has never had his own computer before.

So, reluctantly, we decided to try one more time.

And the drive arrived in short order, in a plain brown box, with inadequate packaging, a bunch of cords, and no instructions. And a cracked case.

And it doesn't work. It spins disks, but it won't talk to any of our computers, no matter how John, the IT professional, tries to coax it. And, being that John knows a lot about how to make computers work, and being that we have four different machines in the house right now, with three different operating systems, and he's tested the drive on each of them, THIS INDICATES A MAJOR PROBLEM.

So, my husband contacted via their live help chat today:

Welcome to Customer Service, you are now chatting with Spencer.

Spencer: Thank you for visiting, this is Spencer, how may I help you today?
You: I recently purchased a refurbished memorex external CD-RW from you, but it does not appear to work
Spencer: I would be happy to help you with that.
Spencer: Could you please provide me the order number and the catalog number of the item?
You: order number [xxxxxxxxx]
You: sku [xxxxx]
Spencer: Thank you.
Spencer: For security purposes, may I ask you to verify the name and billing address on your account?
You: John X at [address xxxxx].
Spencer: Thank you for verifying.
Spencer: Are you referring to 'Memorex External 52x32x52x CD-RW Drive'.
You: yes
Spencer: Please stay online while I forward this issue to thetech support.
You: ok...
Spencer: I have escalated this issue and you will be contacted soon.
Spencer: I understand, and I apologize for the inconvenience this has caused you.
You: contacted how?
Spencer: You will be contacted by email or phone.
You: how soon will this be? this is a christmas present that i need to send to another state
You: also i need to go into work in an hour
Spencer: You will be contacted within 7 days.
You: that's not acceptable
Spencer: I apologize for the additional time this will take, and look forward to a positive resolution.
You: why will it take 7 days?
Spencer: You will be contacted within 7 days.


Clearly, I realized, despite the claim of "live chat," this "Spencer" character must not actually be a real person, but some sort of artificially-semi-intelligent android, with a penchant for meaningless repetition due to limited vocabulary!

Having dealt muchly with Overstock androids before, and being possessed of a much, much more wicked tongue than my dear gentler half, at this point, I asked my husband to allow me to take over and "translate" his sentiments for him, to see if I could get anywhere.



You: this will not be a positive resolution if it takes 7 days to resolve it
You: we will not have time to get the present to its recipient
You: you cannot look forward to a positive resolution under these circumstances
Spencer: I understand, and I apologize for the inconvenience this has caused you.
You: so please cut the corporate script speak and help me
You: before you lose a customer
You: should we just return this?
You: how quickly can you ship a new one?
Spencer: Please accept our sincere apologies for the inconvenience caused to you.
Spencer: I am sorry that you have had troubles shopping with for your previous order.
Spencer: I am confident that such incidents will never happen in your future purchases with us.
You: i cannot accept your apologies until you actually help me
Spencer: I hope you will give us a second chance to demonstrate our commitments.
You: so please stop apologizing and help me
You: are you even a real person?
You: i would like to return this if it is going to take seven days for a tech consult
You: i am a computer programmer
Spencer: Yes..
You: this problem is not on my end
Spencer: You will be contacted soon.
You: 7 days is not soon
You: i need this to be escalated to management immediately
Spencer: I am sorry, however please wait till the time frame.
You: can you connect me to a manager, please? preferably one who is authorized to actually speak to me and respond to my questions instead of reading from a script?
You: i will not wait
Spencer: I understand, and I apologize for the inconvenience this has caused you.
You: you will connect me to a manager or another person who can help me immediately, or i will not shop with you ever again
You: and i will return this item
You: and i will report this entire conversation, which i have been recording, on my weblog
You: and send it to my local newspaper
You: so i suggest you keep our relationship civil by connecting me to a manager
Spencer: May I place you on hold for a minute or two while I research this for you?
You: certainly

[lengthy pause]

Mark: I'm sorry to keep you waiting, John.
Mark: This is Mark, the floor supervisor.



So, here's the handy tip of the day, kids:

If you need to get in touch with a manager on the help chat at, threaten to post the entirety of their ineffectual "help" chat with you on your blog. Then get the manager to actually help you resolve the issue in a semi-reasonable fashion. (Which, after some apparently ritual further ridiculous ado about nothing, Mark finally did. He even gave us a coupon).

Then, post the conversation on your blog anyway, just so all your friends think twice about being tempted by those low prices.

(Hey, I never said I wouldn't).


They should just be happy I'm not sending it in to the newspaper.

(P.S. Sorry for the lack of capitalization and punctuation and for any typos in the chat, but the client they use takes for-ev-er to load as you type, so we were trying to save time).

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

The Starvation Team

I know, I know. Again with the long-time no-posty. Not even to my Fotolog, or Flickr, which as my friends know, is really uncharacteristic! But at least lately I have an excuse, as for the past two weeks I have been sick, sick, SICK with some industrial-grade version of the common cold that has caused me to run a gamut of unpredictable symptoms, beginning with sniffles and a vicious, itchy sore throat of the sort that could tempt you to chug whisky until the pain goes away even though you hate whisky and you're still very occasionally nursing (no, I didn't :P), progressing through chills, fever, body aches, and sinus headaches the size and temperament of New York City, arriving at my current state of 24-hour cotton-headed fatigue and physical weakness spiked with fits of deep-chested coughing that sound so scary the baby will run up to me, put his hands on my chest, and say "NO" very sternly to my ribcage.

And who, you might ask, afflicted me with this disastrous virus? My loving son, Isaac, of course, who expressed his reaction to the illness mainly by waking in the night flushed with fever and refusing to eat more than three bites of food or drink more than a cup or two of liquid a day for FIVE DAYS straight. Which action on his part has caused him to lose a quarter of a precious, precious pound. So, not only have I been very sick; I have been stressing myself half to death watching the dangerously skinny boy eat even less than usual. (Which is probably why I'm still sick, while my husband and son both got over this thing in less than a week).

Needless to say, not so conducive to writing when I don't have to.

But I've been promising for some time now to post about the hospital-administered outpatient feeding program we recently tried with our son, so although I would rather be taking a nap at the moment, here goes.

After a performing multiple tests, including an upper endoscopy (yikes!) on our son to try to discover some underlying physical cause for his poor appetite and inadequate weight gain, only to come up with nothing time after time, a pediatric gastroenterologist we've been seeing suggested that the problem might be strictly behavioral, and referred us to a group of specialists at Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital known as The Feeding Team.

Consisting of a dietician, a pediatric psychologist, and an occupational therapist, this group is apparently known all around town for using a multidisciplinary approach to help children overcome serious eating issues. After some wrangling with our insurance company over how they planned to charge us for seeing three specialists in one visit, we managed to get an appointment.

After months of searching for answers as to why my son has such a serious problem with eating, I was truly, if guardedly, hopeful that these Feeding Team people might finally really be able to help us. After all, I'd known all along that one of my son's major problems when it comes to eating is a serious texture aversion, and after doing a small amount of independent research on this in books and on the internet, I'd learned that a lot of toddlers with severe food texture issues really benefit from a psychological evaluation followed by occupational therapy.

Musing over what I'd read, I imagined that, perhaps, after thoroughly evaluating my son, these magical people called The Feeding Team would finally discover the root of the problem, and come up with some sort of brilliant custom comprehensive food texture desensitization plan, probably involving applesauce, Play Doh, and popsicle sticks, and after that (I fantasized) through repeated theraputic visits and diligent work done at home, one day in the not-so-distant future I would offer my son a plate of, say, macaroni-and-cheese, and, instead of making a face like I had just set a steaming pile of raw sewage on the table, shuddering, and decisively pushing it away, HE WOULD EAT IT.

So, it was with a positive attitude that I entered the Feeding Team office with my husband and son back in October for the first time.

(While we waited to be seen for that first appointment, I couldn't help but notice that the waiting room featured, among an assortment of other kid-friendly amusements to help patients pass the time, a full-length wavy fun-house-style mirror. I remember thinking briefly that that was really sort of a stupid thing to have in the waiting room of a practice that treats children with eating disorders. Perhaps this ought to have rung a louder warning bell . . .)

After we were called in, two members of the team, the dietician, Barb, and the occupational therapist, Jenifer-with-one-N, introduced themselves, and explained that the pediatric psychologist was unfortunately unavailable that day. Immediately I felt a twinge of disappointment, as I'd been hoping that this visit would include an in-depth psychological evaluation. But, I reasoned, if these people worked with a psychologist on a daily basis, surely they would have picked up enough knowledge of psychology to recognize whether a child's extreme picky eating was just that, or a symptom of a more serious underlying disorder, like, say, Post-Traumatic Feeding Disorder of Infancy, or Sensory Integration Dysfunction (which is something I have worried about with Isaac from time to time since in addition to his food aversion, he has difficulty sleeping and has strange reactions to certain loud noises).

The dietician and the occupational therapist asked us a series of questions about our son.

How long had he been experiencing weight issues and eating problems? Ever since he had surgery at eight months to remove a dermoid cyst on his face that was threatening to enter his brain. We also had to move to a new home that same week. It was a very time stressful for all of us, but especially him.

Did he have any other behavioral issues? Aside from being an extremely poor sleeper since birth, and having an unusually high activity level when awake, no. As a matter of fact, I took care to mention, he is particularly well-behaved for a toddler. He is kind to other children. He helps me with the laundry. He says "please" and "thank you," and even "I'm sorry," sometimes completely spontaneously. He listens a good 80% of the time when I tell him not do do things, often the first time I say no.

Was he or had he ever been developmentally behind? No. He crawled a bit on the late side of normal, and walked a bit on the late side of normal, too, but his language development has always been advanced for his age, and his social development also seems to be normal.

Then they asked us what sorts of things he was openly willing to eat (very few), at what times we offered him food at home (three regular meals and two more flexibly scheduled snacks, extras on the rare occasion he should actually tell us he wanted something), where he usually ate (at a high chair next to the family dining table), and how often we all ate together as a family (ever night at dinner during the week; generally breakfast, lunch and dinner on weekends).

After about half an hour of questioning, they gave us a meal to give Isaac (whom we had been instructed to deliberately starve for several hours before the appointment, so he would definitely be hungry), and went behind a two-way mirror to watch him eat and to watch us interact. Since it was mid-morning, they had included breakfast foods: bacon, eggs, fresh strawberries, a cup of milk, and, bizarrely, some sugar-coated colored cereal resembling Fruit Loops. I remember thinking it was truly odd that a medical team led by a dietician was offering my undernourished son Fruit Loops.

The only things the boy showed any interest in, of course, were the milk and the bacon. He wouldn't go near the cereal, I suppose because of the odd color, and the "slimy" fresh strawberries and "squishy" eggs were definitely out of the question. I did get him to touch the strawberries a few times, only to be rewarded with his trademark look of utter, unbearable disgust. Being as hungry as he was having skipped his regular morning nursing and breakfast, he did eat almost a whole piece of bacon.

Then the Feeding Team members came out and Barb the dietician declared that, since he had shown he could chew and swallow properly, our son had great potential. She noted that our feeding technique struck just the right balance, offering encouragement without being pushy or overly attentive. Our son's problem, she assured us, was clearly behavioral.

She went on to explain that our son was simply using food to undermine the family power structure, and, clearly, had been starving himself for the past nine months solely in order to manipulate us.

Then she handed us a photocopy with a list of feeding guidelines, and explained that in order to treat our son's severe behavioral problem, what we needed to do was to cut all of his "preferred" foods-- including especially his favorite food, dried fruit-- and all nutritional supplements completely out of his diet, always eat with him at precisely scheduled meals, feed him only what we ourselves were eating at every meal, and take away his food when we ourselves were finished eating. If he refused to eat at any meal, he would not be allowed to eat or drink anything except water until the next scheduled snack. If he threw so much as a single piece of pasta or french fry off the table, or started crying loudly because he didn't like the food, or tried to shake his milk out of his sippy cup, we were to scold him severely, immediately take away all of his food, and not allow him to eat or drink anything until the next meal. And, counter to the advice of our gastroenterologist, I should wean him completely as soon as humanly possible.

I was shocked. These people, who had never met my child before, had just spent 45 minutes interviewing us and come to the conclusion that for months he had been starving himself into ill health just because he was onery? And this draconian method was supposedly the only solution?

I was more than mildly pissed off.

I will paraphrase a bit of our further conversation:

"I don't believe 17-month-old children are capable of that type of complex manipulation," I said. "He's been doing this for ages, since he was much too young to have any thought of 'undermining family power structure,'" I said. "Aside from this one issue, and his sleep problems, he is INCREDIBLY WELL-BEHAVED!" I said. "He is severely underweight, which is why we were sent here, and you are asking me to stop giving him nutritional supplements multiple doctors have told us he needs, and to remove healthy food he likes completely from his diet!" I said. "And besides," I added, "this whole thing sounds like it's based on physical punishment, which is completely against my parenting philosophy! You are asking me to withhold food from my child because he doesn't like everything I serve to him, or because he misbehaves the way most toddlers misbehave at the table. You are asking me to try and starve my already underweight child into submission!"

"Actually," replied Barb the dietician cooly, "We prefer to call it appetite manipulation."

Jenifer the occupational therapist, who had largely remained quiet throughout our visit, added cheerfully, "There are plenty of days when my 19-month-old goes to bed without having eaten anything at all."

I wondered if Jenifer's son had starved himself so skinny by skipping dinner that, like Isaac, he was off the pediatric growth chart.

I doubted it.

"It's not really starvation," Barb insisted. "You're offering him nutritious food, and he's choosing not to eat it."

"But that's what I'm already doing," I replied. "I offer him good food, and most of the time, he chooses not to eat it. I'm here to try and get him to eat more, not less. If I only offer him food he doesn't like, he won't eat anything at all. Trust me on this. I know him. He is genuinely afraid of certain kinds of food. "

But both women insisted that after just a few days of this treatment, my son was sure to turn around. Some kids take as much as a week, they said, but then nearly all of them get on board. He might lose a little bit of weight at first, but he was sure to gain all of it back in short order once he started eating a much wider variety of food thanks to the program. They had seen tons of little boys just exactly like mine, they insisted. Same age, same problems. All had gotten better after a short time on the program.

My husband and I left in a bit of a huff, and also very confused about what to do next. I didn't know what to think. After months of struggling for answers, we were desperate to find someone who could help our son. And these were professionals, after all working at one of the best-rated children's hospitals in the country. We had been referred to them by a perfectly competent gastroenterologist. All the information I could find about them indicated that they came highly recommended, that they had years of experience, that they had a very high success rate.

The Cardinal Glennon magazine, published on their website, and other sources I found, spoke of brillant success stories. A boy, for example, hospitalized with a severe vitamin deficiency after a year of insisting on eating only chocolate pudding and french fries-- cured. A girl who had spent the entire first two-and-a-half years of her life on a feeding tube due to surgery as a newborn-- weaned successfully to a plethora of healthy solid foods in a matter of weeks.

At the same time, I knew as surely as I know anything that my son wasn't starving himself on purpose, to manipulate us. Aside from the fact that at 17 months I really didn't believe he possessed the level of sophisiticated reasoning required to launch such a serious, prolonged psychological attack on his parents (let alone that he'd had it at EIGHT months, when the trouble had originally started), that sort of manipulative behavior was not at all characteristic of his personality.

Of course, all toddlers try to test boundaries by pushing their parents' buttons, and my son had proved no exception to that rule, but if anything, outside of his food issues, he was MORE obedient and agreeable than most children his age, not less. (I may be a first-time mother, but I do have experience with other children to compare him to-- a much younger brother and younger cousins who had lived with my family when was a teenager, and the children I took care of during the years I spent working as a part-time nanny).

Besides, I had seen first hand, day in and day out, the genuine fear and disgust on his face when I presented him with certain types of food. He was really, truly terrified of even touching certain kinds of food. The kind of reaction I saw in him daily was not the sort of thing a child his age could fake. I knew it was real.

So, I knew with total certainty that their diagnosis of my son was wrong. Still, I reasoned, even if their methodology is totally off, did that mean their method was entirely wrong? They claimed to have cured so many children with more severe problems than his.

I decided to call the gastroenterologist and explain my concerns to him.

"Try it for a few days," he reasoned. "It does sound counterintuitive, but a few days won't hurt."


For the first two days, Isaac ate next to nothing. On the third day, he began asking me what I was cooking, at every meal, and then, (learning several new words instantly), began begging me for whatever it was I was making, crying, screaming, throwing himself against the gate to the kitchen until the food was finished. Then, when he sat down, he would put a bite or two in his mouth, smile a sad, game, little smile, and take the food back out of his mouth and politely set it back on his plate, and stare at it forlornly for the rest of the meal.

On the fourth day, he began trying to eat crayons, and paper.

Frantic, I called Barb the dietician. Despite her assurances during our first appointment that we could call her anytime to discuss problems we were having the the program, I quickly discovered that there is no way to actually reach her directly during the day, because her number does not connect to a live person, but a recording that instructs you to call 911 in case of emergency, or otherwise leave a voicemail message for the person of your choice. I was only able to leave a few urgent messages on her voicemail. I then managed to get through to Jenifer the occupational therapist, who seemed sincerely concerned, but she told me that she would not be able to advise me on anything until she spoke to Barb. Finally, at the end of the day, Barb called me.

"You said he would turn completely around by the end of the week," I said. "He's barely eaten or drunk anything in days besides cow's milk; he's hungry and cranky and crying all the time; he's waking up three or four times a night and begging for food, and now, he's started trying to eat things that aren't even edible!"

"Has he done that before?" Barb asked, sounding slightly alarmed.


"This is normal," Barb assured me, after a silent pause, her calm demeanor restored. "He will be better by the end of the week. Just give it a little more time."

Finding no satisfaction with her over the phone, I decided to talk to another sort of expert, a good friend of mine who, as an adult, has a severe phobia of trying new foods, and eats only about 14 things.

"Do you think this will make him hate me forever? Will I just wind up making him worse?" I asked my friend after explaining the program to him.

"No," my friend said. "You should force him to eat new things. The only reason I'm willing to eat peanut butter is because my parents sent me off to camp for a week one summer, and if I hadn't learned to eat something new there, I would have starved."

Then I called the gastroenterologist. He, too, suggested I continue with the program.

So, we gave it a few more days. On the fifth day, I had some encouragement. Isaac tried fresh banana. BANANA! Quite possibly the slimiest food on earth! And he liked it, which is really no surprise, since he's been obsessed with dried banana for months, and as part of the plan, we had cut it completely out of his diet. (He liked the fresh banana, I should say, enough to eat it while starving. But he still winced every time he put it in his mouth). The next day, he tried applesauce, which he had actually eaten with gusto when younger, but had been refusing to go near for months. The next, fresh apples. And later that same evening, he tried a bite or two of apple pie.

Maybe this will work, I began to think. My son is beyond cranky all day, and he is waking up all night, and I know he is really freaked out and scared about all this new food being forced on him all the time and I know he is in physical pain from not eating, and I feel absolutely awful about this whole thing and it doesn't seem right to me at all to be doing it, but maybe it will work, and if I can get him to eat enough food to be healthy, in the long run, all this will be worth it. That is what I thought.

Besides, every single person I asked about it kept telling me to try it for a little longer.

So, we decided to stick with the program. We went in for another appointment with The Feeding Team. The psychologist, mysteriously, still wasn't there. They weighed Isaac. He hadn't gained any weight, but he hadn't lost a significant amount, either. This is when the turnaround happens, they told us. "He's tried four new foods already-- that's fantastic!" they said. He will surely start eating more regularly any day now, the told us and then he will start gaining weight.

During the second and third week on the program, he did not start eating any more new foods. He stopped eating apple pie and apple sauce. And he went day after day, for days at a time, not eating a single bite of dinner.

He continued to wake up multiple times each night, crying piteously for food. He began showing an intense level of separation anxiety regarding me that I had never seen in him before. If his father went in at night to try to comfort him back to sleep, which he had previously been accustomed to and fine with, he would begin screaming "Mommy!" at the top of his lungs, over and over again, crying and gasping for breath, for up to an hour, until I came in the room. My son's father has given him most of his baths since birth, but suddenly, my the boy began screaming in fear every time his dad said the word "bath," and insisted on having me within sight at all times at bathtime. During the day, he attached himself to my hip, crying franticallly every time I got more than 5 feet away from him.

Mind you, my son sees me ALL DAY LONG. EVERY DAY.

His body was trying to grow during that time, and managed something along the lines of an eighth to a quarter of an inch-- enough to make all of his size 12 month pants noticeably too short. But he didn't gain an ounce; with the upward growth, he lost girth; his now too-short pants began falling off his waist, and his ribs and shoulder blades began to stick out even more clearly through his skin.

In the middle of all this, we had a scare: one morning, Isaac had a severe allergic reaction I hadn't seen before. His face swelled up, and his cheeks broke out in hives. We had given him less than a teaspoon of peanut butter for the first time two hours earlier that morning. I was terrified that he might have developed a peanut allergy. We couldn't get in to see an allergist for four days. In the meantime, our family doctor got us an Epi-Pen, and I called The Feeding Team to tell them we might have to modify the program until we could find out what my son was allergic to.

Barb the dietician, when I finally was able to reach her, asked me why I thought I needed to change things just because of an allergy.

I explained that both our family doctor and the allergist we were waiting to see had told us to avoid every food that might possibly contain or have come in contact with peanuts until we could see the allergist, and that we needed to stop introducing him to new foods for the time being in case the allergy was to something else, and only feed him things we knew would not cause any reaction.

Barb replied that I should really calm down about this whole thing, as even if he did have a peanut allergy she was sure I would be able to find a "comfort level" with it eventually, and that really it would probably be safe to go ahead and feed him foods containing peanut oil before we saw the allergist, because most people with peanut allergies are just allergic to peanut protein, and not all peanut oil has protein in it.

I told her I was not going to try any new foods or anything with peanuts in it until we saw an allergist, and hung up the phone, indignant. Who was she to contradict our family doctor and an allergist?

But still, avoiding peanuts, we stuck to the program as best we could; a few days later, we got in to see an allergist and found out, thankfully, that our son was not allergic to peanuts, and had probably reacted to a household cleaner, so we were able to proceed as before.

We went in to see The Feeding Team for yet again (still no psychologist). I told them of my son's lack of progress after three weeks on their program. They were nonchalant.

"It takes some kids a month to catch on," Barb assured us. "He'll get there. Besides, he's still not losing any weight."

[You may recall that at our first meeting, they had told us most kids only take a week, not a month, to turn around on this program].

"But he's not gaining any weight," I countered. "He is already severely underweight for his age. Our family doctor is very concerned about it. That's why we brought him here. He needs to gain weight. When we brought him here, we had finally gotten him gaining again, just not enough. Now his weight has completely flatlined. What does it matter if he eats a slightly wider variety of food if he's still not eating enough? His height has already dropped from the 90th to the 25th percentile in the past few months. His weight problem is stunting his growth."

At that point, Barb insisted to us that she really thought the height thing could really just be a natural correction toward our son's destined final height, since, after all, my husband and I aren't all that large.

My husband is six feet tall.

And I myself am no shrinking violet at 5'7", two inches above the national average for women.

We're both well above the 25th percentile for height, and always have been. Since birth. As we had noted on the family history we filled out before joining the program.

I gave her a look.

"Maybe you should start allowing some of his preferred foods back into his diet for a while, " she then suggested, rather lamely.

It was at this point that I came to a realization: Barb the dietician did not care whether my son gained weight. Barb the dietician did not care whether my son started growing again at a normal rate, and caught back up to his growth curve. Barb the dietician did not care whether my son was physically miserable because he wasn't eating enough to sustain himself; she didn't care if I was stressed out about it; she didn't care if our entire family life was falling apart because of our attempt to stick to her extreme set of recommendations.

All that Barb the dietician cared about, at the end of the day, was promoting her stupid program.

And if it failed with my son, and we dropped out, I realized, all she had to do was say we hadn't followed it properly, and voila: no blemish on her oft-reported "stellar" success record.

But did I get up and run out of the office right then? I am ashamed to say, no. After all, I was desperate. It had taken us months to get a referral to these specialists, and I knew for a fact this was the only group in town who regularly took pediatric feeding disorder cases, because for the past week, in my frustration with The Feeding Team, I had called around to multiple different pediatric doctors and hospitals trying to get information on someone else who might help us, and everyone I'd spoken with said that they were sorry but they couldn't touch psych-related Failure to Thrive with a ten foot pole, and then cheerfully suggested I see The Feeding Team at Cardinal Glennon.

So, I didn't run from the office and slam the door behind me. Instead, I told Barb and Jenifer that I wanted to see the psychologist.

It was at that point that we were informed that the reason we had never seen The Feeding Team's psychologist was that our insurance wouldn't cover her, as this much-touted "expert" on child feeding issues had been in practice for less than five years.

Jenifer (who, despite her seeming utter deference to Barb and her initial unsettling comment about how often she forced her son to skip dinner, I actually do sort of like, because she does seem to genuinely care about my son) then offered to run a Sensory Integration survey test on Isaac.

Why it did not occur to anyone to do this in the first place given his clear texture aversion symptoms, I have NO IDEA.

The only catch was, we would have to come in to see them one more time to drop off the Sensory Survey.

So, we filled out the survey, and dropped it off at our next appointment (delayed for a week, of course, due to the aforementioned family illness), where I basically told them I had no interest in continuing to pay for their advice if they could tell me anything that would actually help my child.

I have no idea whether or not to trust whatever results we get back from that survey.

But, in the meantime, we have completely stopped following The Starvation Team's feeding program. We have gone back to our old scheduled-flexible way of eating, feeding Isaac when he's hungry, whether or not he misbehaved at the last meal. We've gone back to gently encouraging him to expand his diet instead of demanding, giving him lots of things he likes to eat, alongside new things and foods he's been offered many times but never touched. I have started nursing Isaac occasionally again, although after coming so near to complete weaning, I have almost no milk left.

In short, we are slowly trying to regain our son's trust when it comes to food. He is still really cranky a lot of the time, and he's still waking up at night, and he's still crazy-clingy, and lately he's refusing to eat couple of things he used to be relatively okay with, before he went a month without eating them because we'd been advised to cut them out.

But he is very, very happy that his dried apples and bananas are back.


Sunday, November 20, 2005

Worst Birthday Evah

Well, not really. This was probably like third on my list of worst birthdays.

(You don't wanna know about the other two).

The night before my birthday, my son kept me up all night, as he's been doing a lot lately, ever since we put him on a month-long doctor-recommended special feeding program that has failed miserably (more on that in my next post). Not only did he wake up multiple times in the middle of the night; he also decided it was morning a half an hour earlier than usual, which completely foiled my husband's attempt to surprise me with breakfast in bed.

John took the boy and told me to go back to sleep, and went ahead and finished making me breakfast anyway even though it wasn't a surprise anymore, but when he went in to get me, he couldn't wake me up for almost 20 minutes. So by the time I got around to eating my special no-longer-a-surprise-breakfast, it was ice cold.

Then John left for work, early. My son was clingy and cranky all day because he'd hardly slept the night before, and chose to express his annoyance at his self-induced exhaustion by wailing like he'd just been orphaned every time I got more than five feet away from him.

One of my best friends from high school called midday, not to say Happy Birthday, because he didn't remember it was my birthday (although I can't hold that against him, because this year I forgot his), but to tell me that another friend of ours from high school has cancer. The whole time I was on the phone with this friend, I was trying to mash up chocolate cookies to make a crust for a birthday cheesecake that I was making for myself because no one else was going to make me chocolate cheesecake, and my son was so angry about not having my attention that he threw every single toy he owns over the baby gate into the kitchen as noisly as humanly possible, and then sat down and threw a five alarm tantrum because he couldn't reach any of his toys.

Then, the moment I hung up the phone, my sister called and complained about how my phone had been busy for over an hour and scolded me for the ten billionth time for being too much of a cheapskate to pony up the extra cash for call waiting and then explained that the reason she hadn't been answering or returning any of my calls for the past month and a half was that for a the past couple of weeks she had been on a cruise to Costa Rica and Jamaica and Panama, and, no, it hadn't really occurred to her to mention to me that she was going out of the country for a few weeks before she left, and anyway before she left on the cruise she hadn't been returning my calls because she was still mad at me for getting snippy with her on the phone one night when she called my house at 12:30 in the morning. And then she said "Happy Birthday."

And my son wouldn't eat lunch or his afternoon snack, and the cheesecake I baked for myself because no one else was going to bake me a cheesecake took way longer to cook than usual and turned out a little wonky, even though as anyone I've baked a cheesecake for will tell you, I am the CHEESECAKE MASTER.

And my husband took me out to dinner at what used to be my favorite Indian restaurant, which we hadn't been to in months because since we moved to our current place it's just seemed too far away, but shortly after we began our meal, my son, who normally behaves quite handsomely at restaurants for an 18-month-old, began an incessant low-level keening and refused to even look in the general direction of any sort of food, not even the bread or the cookies we'd brought for him. After about 20 minutes of the boy's continuous distressed noisemaking, the wait staff, who in the past have always been exceptionally polite to me, both because I am a regular customer and because I speak passable snatches of Hindi, slapped a to-go box on the table and strongly implied that we should get the hell out of their establishment.

Even though there were three other babies in the restaurant.

And then I woke up the next morning with food poisoning. (And I can assure you it wasn't from the cheesecake. That restaurant is now totally off my favorites list).

But we had errands to run, so I got up and running as best I could despite the food poisoning and put the beautiful new watch John had spent too much money getting me for my birthday back in its box so we could take it to the store to have it fitted. My old watch had broken two months ago, but I'd put off getting a new one because we've been spending so much money on taking our son to various doctors lately that I felt like I couldn't justify the expense to myself. And then John grabbed the watch box and the diaper bag and dragged me out the door, and we went off and ran a bunch of errands, and when we got to the store where John had gotten the watch, we opened the box and the watch was gone.

We searched the car and the store parking lot and then we went home and looked everywhere, but it wasn't anywhere we looked. And I had fit resembling a nervous breakdown, because I was sick and tired and my birthday present which my husband had carefully picked out and spent too much money on was gone, and I kept saying it was all my fault even though John had been carrying the box the whole time.

And, for the sixth year running, my mother didn't call me.

Friday, October 21, 2005


My husband and I are NFOE.

That's right:

Not Fans of Elmo.

We began watching Sesame Street as tiny tots in the days before Elmo. The days when the intro to the show was not "enhanced" with computer generated graphics and the folksy lyrics of the opening song were not set to watered-down faux hip-hop or imitation electronica. The days when each show followed a single coherent, well-written plot, interspersed with beautifully constructed live-action, muppet-action, and animated educational "commercials" that related in clever ways to the content of the show as a whole. The days when the show offered a range of interesting characters with realistic personalities and dealt with the full spectrum of human experience-- when a pathologically shy Telly, a spooky Count, and a cranky, abrasive Oscar the Grouch (my favorite!) made regular, in-story appearances alongside the cheerful and optimistic Big Bird and the bossy, outgoing Prairie Dawn-- the days when an entire episode could be written, for preschoolers, about death.

For us, the saccharin-sweet, adorably speech-impaired, unbelieveably hyperactive Elmo, as he rose from new character to principal character to Star of the Show to Unstoppable Commercial Juggernaut with His Own Lengthy Eponymous Segment at the End of Each Episode, came to symbolize the growth of a disappointing malaise afflicting a once-beloved series.

Sure, maybe part of it is just that the show's writers and producers simply started to run out of good ideas after the first 20 years. But it seems to me that Sesame Street has really been more a victim of its own success. Tempted by the promise of growing commercial tie-in revenues, and forced to compete with a steady stream of new educational children's shows entering the market Sesame Street had pioneered, is it really any surprise that eventually the people in charge of Sesame Street might end up commercializing, post-modernizing, and politically over-correcting the franchise to the point of absurdity?

The storylines, once well-written and morally fraught, have become less coherent; the action, more frenetic, while the format of the show as a whole has become dullingly formulaic, with repetitive segments like "Journey to Ernie" and "Elmo's World" taking up large chunks of the time that used to be devoted to original storyline. Potentially controversial characters, like the socially-challenged Telly and Oscar, have been pushed to the sidelines in favor of brighter, bouncier creatures that talk less, jump more, and are always friendly. The newer commercial-style educational shorts have become an ADD-medication salesman's dream: louder, faster, flashier, and, it seems to me, often less educational.

(And who does the computer animation for Sesame Street these days, anyway? An eighth-grader with a Dell? They did a much better job achieving realism back in the '80s with hand-drawn animation and muppets.)

Basically, Sesame Street, though by no means terrible as children's programming goes, does not strike me as being nearly as good as it once was. And, whether a symptom or cause, the rise of Elmo seems symbolic to me of the show's decline.

(Not to mention the fact that I just find Elmo so damned annoying. I have the same reaction to cloyingly cute, bouncy, hyperactive, constantly fake-happy muppets that I do to cloyingly cute, bouncy, hyperactive, constantly fake-happy people: I want to slap them. And my husband feels pretty much the same way).

(This may be because we are both quiet, lazy, anti-social pessimists).

(But nonetheless).

We are NFOE.

And so, we have a bit of a problem.

You see, our son loves Elmo.

In fact, you might more accurately say he's become totally obsessed with Elmo.

A few months before he was born, I bought him a Sesame Street DVD entitled Kids' Favorite Songs. I bought this DVD, in fact, in an attempt to introduce him to the joys of Sesame Street without exposing him to an overdose of Elmo. It was an older title; not being a regular episode, it was sans-Elmo's World, and none of the reviews I read on Amazon mentioned a heaping helping of Elmo as a primary feature of the program. So I thought it would be safe. Maybe an Elmo scene here or there. But not Elmo-mania. Right?

I didn't let him watch it until he was about a year old. And that's when I found out: I was wrong.

The DVD would have been more accurately titled: Elmo's Top Ten Countdown.

And my son loved it. (Except for the part with the singing pigs, which for some reason at first seemed to scare the bejeezus out of him, but he's used to it now).

Not only does he love the DVD we now call Elmo's Top Ten Countdown; he also loves the "Elmo's World" segment on Sesame Street. Which we now let him watch every morning while he eats breakfast, because we've recently discovered that he eats more readily while watching TV (Before you judge me on creating a lifetime of bad eating habits, please read my previous post entitled "Failure to Thrive").

And a couple of days ago, while we were at Target picking up household essentials, my son started screaming "Elbow! Elbow!" at the top of his lungs like someone who'd just spotted a long-lost lover the moment I picked up a bulk-sized box of diaper wipes. I turned the box over to see a large grinning portrait of none other than our favorite red monster. My son refused to stop yelling until I let him clutch the box, which must have weighed five pounds, on his lap in the shopping cart, and he cried piteously when we had to hand the box to the clerk at checkout.

As I positioned the box carefully next to my wailing son's car seat so he could see the picture of Elmo clearly on our way home, I said to my husband, "Do you think that maybe we ought to get him an Elmo doll?"

"No," my husband muttered, gritting his teeth, "We are not getting him an Elmo doll. What's next? Barney?"

But the next day, as I watched my son watch the Elmo DVD, I saw something that took me by surpise. As Elmo counted backwards from ten to one, my son began repeating the numbers. Flawlessly.

I have been counting to him at least once a day, every day, since the day he was born, in three languages, and he's never repeated more than a couple half-garbled numbers back to me.

That's right. Thanks to Elmo, not me, my 17-month-old can now count. BACKWARDS.

Even my husband was pretty impressed.

We may have to put in a call to Santa Claus about that Elmo doll after all.

Monday, October 17, 2005


I am convinced that if mothers of small children ruled the world, there would be far less war, exploitation and famine than there is now, because anyone who can teach a four-year-old to share could certainly enlighten delegates at the U.N.

However, I do not believe mothers of small children will ever actually get around to ruling the world, because they simply do not have the time.

Most women who used to be mothers of small children and are now liberated mothers of grown children are currently enjoying a much-needed and well-deserved rest from teaching four-year-olds how to share, and therefore have no interest in running the world.

Which brings me to another thought.

Back before I had my first and so far only child, I often used to wonder why it seemed that, until very recently in recorded history, so few of the great achievements of art, literature, science, and architecture that have moved human societies forward have been attributed to women; why nearly all of the greatest artists and scholars whose names have come down to us through antiquity seem to have been men.

Being a woman myself, and fairly confident in my mental abilities, I was much more than reasonably certain that the noticeable lack of female names on the list of history's intellectual giants didn't have anything to do with a lack of intelligence, drive, or ability on the part of women of the historical past.

Of course, even then in my pre-motherhood days, I understood-- come on now, my mother was a Women's Studies professor-- that for millenia women have been oppressed, repressed, controlled, corralled, and exploited by men who cleverly created an exceedingly unfair and uncalled-for system of widespread gender-based discrimination by leveraging the natural male advantage of greater physical strength and prowess against the natural female disadvantage of needing someone around to help out with bearing and raising of those remarkably tough-to-handle little creatures known commonly as human children.

But, I reasoned, like all human beings, women in general are remarkably tough, and and crafty. And it seemed to me that, being remarkably tough, and crafty, despite all attempts by men to keep women from achieving their full potential or take credit for women's ideas and women's work, more women of history ought to have found a way to circumvent the system and get their names and their masterpieces on the books. It seemed a puzzle to me, then, before I was a mother.

And now, it doesn't.

On a typical day in my life as a SAHM, I wake up at 7:30 in the morning and work vigorously all day until my husband gets home at 5:30, without any genuine breaks to speak of except to use the restroom or eat-- doing laundry, folding laundry, washing dishes, cleaning counters, sweeping, dusting, putting things away; cooking; mending clothes; keeping my toddler from ingesting dangerous foreign objects, or climbing on bookcases, or drawing all over the walls, or breaking important things; making sure to change his diaper regularly, keep him in reasonably clean clothes, and feed him something nutritious every couple of hours; all the while SIMULTANEOUSLY trying to teach a very small, codependent, and impatient person manners, numbers, the alphabet, and how to be a reasonably decent human being-- only to discover at the end of the day when my husband comes home that I forgot to call the doctor and the insurance agent, one of the side dishes for dinner is burnt, and somehow the house still looks like a small group of Vikings came over for lunch and decided to practice their looting and pillaging skills for ten minutes or so while my back was turned.

So often I find myself feeling defeated and exhausted, wondering, where did all the time go? And when will I ever find time to get around to start writing down that novel I've been knocking around in my head for, oh, the past year or so?

I have only one child.

And I have a dishwasher! A clothes washing machine! AND a clothes dryer. I don't grow my own food; I buy it at the supermarket. I've never touched a spinning wheel or a loom in my life; I don't even own a sewing machine-- the clothes my family members wear all come pre-made and ready-tailored on plastic hangers. I don't have to draw my water from a well or carry it in buckets from the nearest stream; it comes hot and cold on my whim with a flick of the wrist from FIVE FAUCETS in three different rooms in my apartment.

No one has ever bound my feet, or fitted me with a rib-crushing whalebone corset, or told me I couldn't work, or go to school, or forced me to bear him 8 children before the age of 25.

Compared to most Women of Recorded History, my life is dream.

And I STILL can't seem to get around to writing the Great American Novel of the 21st century. Heck. I can't seem to even get around to trying.

Compared to most Women of Recorded History, I am a major wuss.

And so, I think I owe you ladies a big apology. I wondered once where thousands of years of feminine intelligence and drive had been spent. I don't wonder about it now.

You spent it raising humanity.

Thank you.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Failure to Thrive

My son, who just turned 17 months old, is an astonishingly picky eater. I know, I know: eighty percent of all toddlers are considered by their parents to be astonishingly picky eaters (The other twenty percent, I have deduced through casual observation, are generally considered by their parents to be walking garbage disposals. There is very little appreciation for the concept of moderation among toddlers; they tend to take nearly every preference to some sort of extreme).

But my son is so astonishingly picky when it comes to eating that, despite having started off happily and healthily in the 25th percentile for weight at birth, he has, in fact, managed in recent months to starve himself entirely off of the pediatric weight chart.

When a child falls that far in his weight-gain curve, they have a name for it: Failure to Thrive.

This has lead to several weeks of visits to various expensive and elaborately titled specialists who have poked my son with myriad pointy plastic and metal instruments, taken several vials of blood from his skinny quivering arms while his father or I held him down, and, on multiple occasions, instructed me to tape plastic bags to his little private parts and force-feed him water or fruit juice until he peed.

(None of this has improved his fear of doctors, which he developed after being subjected to "minor" craniofacial surgery to remove a benign but brain-threatening tumor on his skull at the tender age of 8 months. Can you blame him? The doctors don't believe he has a fear of doctors, though. When my normally extremely friendly baby starts screaming uncontrollably at the sight of a white coat, they ask me if he's always had such "separation anxiety issues.")

After weeks of testing and investigation, the experts have, amazingly, concluded something I could have told you three months ago:

My son is skinny because he doesn't eat.

It has become something of an epic quest in our household:


The battle plan for achieving this lofty goal is constantly under revision. Aside from mother's milk, which he of course likes, and luckily still gets twice a day with the blessing of a GI doctor (despite our family doctor's continued odd and misinformed insistence that breastmilk after one year has no nutritional value) there are a few foods that he actually seems to consistently enjoy, in small amounts.

Dried fruit, for instance.

Dried coconut.

Apple juice.

And Breyers vanilla ice cream.

Actually, that's it. That's all he likes. Dried fruit, dried coconut, apple juice, and Breyers vanilla ice cream.

That's not to say that's all he ever eats. Well before my son was born, I vowed not to be the sort of overly indulgent parent whose children wind up living entirely off of Coca-Cola and cheese doodles. Nor am I generally person who gives up easily, especially when the health of my child is at stake. So we constantly offer him a variety of good foods in a valiant ongoing attempt to try to wake his sleeping palate.

He drinks cow's milk in small quanitites-- he'll drink more of it if you add vanilla to it. Sometimes he'll eat a chicken nugget, or a french fry, if you cut it up small enough, and use a paper towel to dab off any extra grease. Once in a while he'll go for for a piece of thin-sliced honey-flavored deli ham, if you remove the edges. If he's hungry enough, he might eat a particular kind of fried vegetable chip that can only be found in the bulk section at the Whole Foods Market one hour's drive away from home. If he's in the mood, he'll eat white-bread toast with butter if you cut the crusts off, fold the toast in half so he can't feel the butter's greasiness on his fingers when he touches it, smoosh it flat, cut it into 1-inch pieces, and eat an identical piece of toast in front of him while smiling encouragingly and saying "Mmmm." He has been known, on occasion, to sample a bite or two of a homemade pancake, if it's taken off the griddle just barely cooked and served fresh, but not hot, with the slightest hint of butter and syrup (but by no means SLIMY or GREASY).


But he doesn't actually seem to enjoy any of these foods. He eyes them suspiciously. He picks at them. He frowns at them. He rolls pieces of them back and forth across his lips without actually opening his mouth. If he's really, really, hungry, he will eat a bite or three. But he quickly grows bored with such things and starts banging the tray on his high chair and moaning "Down, down, down," like a mournful church bell. The only things he is willing to eat in any quantity with a smile on his face are dried fruit, dried coconut, apple juice, and Breyers vanilla ice cream.

We've tried expanding on the known likes. For instance, we tried once for a whole week to get him to eat Ben and Jerry's premium organic vanilla ice cream instead of Breyers (It's organic, we thought. And it has lots more fat. Which is actually good when you weigh less than 20 lbs). It sure tasted good to us. But every other bite of this luscious fatty ice cream that entered his mouth was unceremoniously spat onto the floor. We've tried to get him to drink grape juice, or orange juice, or fruit punch, now and again, for variety. But after a few thoughtful sips he generally dumps it out in disgust. Coconut-flavored cakes, bread, and cookies: tried; no dice. Apple pie. Vanilla soy milk. Banana shakes. Wheat toast with apple-flavored jelly. Blueberry pancakes. Vanilla-flavored Pediasure. Fruit-flavored Pediasure.

No, no, no, no, no.

Lately, we've resorted to lying when introducing new foods (or, more often, reintroducing old ones that he's never actually given a worthy try). "Did I say that was turkey? Oops! I'm sure I meant ham. White ham!" "Dried sweet corn is EXACTLY like dried apples." "Try it! It's a . . . a new kind of french fry. Really."

However, my son, who, despite his nutritional issues, is frighteningly smart for his age, can generally tell when we're trying to pull one over on him. He has also rather precociously mastered a non-verbal way of instantly letting us know the gig is up: an artful look of withering sarcasm, of the sort more usually seen on teenagers.

So, we slog on, trying new tactics, with little progress, counting halves of ounces of weight gain. We worry, and worry, and see new doctors who tell us to worry some more, though, as all their other tests of our son's health come back normal, they can't tell us, specifically, why. "Poor progress," we hear. "Failure to thrive."

And all the while, my friendly, funny, bright-eyed, active, off-the-growth-chart-skinny son runs through life like a toy tornado, building towers and knocking them down, jumping, climbing, dancing, banging on the electric piano, practicing his alphabet with the magnets on the fridge, seeming to learn five or ten new words every day, making friends with every baby he meets at the mall, attacking his mother and father and sometimes casual acquaintances with baby bear hugs and lovely slobbery kisses.

It sure is hard to tell he isn't thriving.