Sunday, November 9, 2008

Salad Fork Days

My parents were both British. What is more, they were both university profs. What is more, they were both brought up in working class British homes that lived in horror of being confused with the undeserving poor. So for my parent's children, table manners were not optional. "If you want to learn how to eat like a lorry driver," they would say, when a knife was raised too high or a fork turned the wrong way, "you are welcome to study it after you have mastered conventional manners."

While I don't fully share their enthusiasm, it is true that life is easier when you know how these things are done.

But with MK, the straight forward approach taken by my parents didn't work that well. First of all we had years and years of that sort of advanced picky eating known to all those with kids on the spectrum (foods must be white or golden brown, no two foods must touch each other, no one food may contain two textures, etc.) . That meant that our definition of a successful mealtime was one at which MK ate. If we were succeeding in getting food into him, we were not going to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory by bringing up the question of how the food got into his mouth. Then there was the question of extreme sensitivity to being corrected (we are talking deep sadness and tears in response to something like, "It's best not to put your elbows on the table, Buddy."). Then there was the whole mechanics of manipulating anything held in the hand, which applied not only to knives and forks, but also pencils and scissors and glue sticks (but not, of course, to game controllers). And last, but not least, there was the whole communication thing. At the age at which most kids are getting the fundamentals of table manners, we were still doing the you/me confusion thing. If you've never done it, you cannot imagine the hours of entertainment that come with a phrase like, "Pick up your knife," when your interlocutor has "your" and "my" reversed. (By the way, it is impossible to explain you way out of this reversal. If you attempt to do so, you will find yourself in an ad lib recreation of "Who's on First." )

And so it is with great pleasure that I announce my latest finding in the science of child rearing: these things can be learned even at the ripe old age of thirteen. We now have our ducks in a row. MK's favorite foods now include escargots and mussels. The sensitivity is at a level where composure can be regained in a matter of seconds after a helpful suggestion. MK can tie his shoes and color within the lines. And, so long as I am willing to substitute "truck" for "lorry," he has no trouble understanding standard instructions regarding table manners.

Just today he managed to eat his whole meal with his fork in the proper, inconvenient, downwards orientation.

Good things come to those who wait.


Niksmom said...

I know I've said this in the past (if I haven't, I certainly meant to!!): Your posts about MK's progress give me such a good feeling not only for you and your family but for the prospects for Nik.

At nearly 5 yrs old, we're still struggling with the mechanics of getting food into the mouth with any reasonable facsimile of quantity; we're not picky about the how. But it's nice to know that it's never too late for fine tuning! :-)

VAB said...

It certainly is not ever too late for fine tuning, as my mother still tries a little bit now.

With the leaps and bounds Nik's making these days, it makes sense to get yoruself ready for great things.

Angelo said...

Wow! that means we have still nine years to teach It to eat properly. As far as now, it's a big success if we can get him to eat. Period.

Anonymous said...

Awesome! Escargot? I won't even eat that. Very cool.

M has always had pretty good table manners because she is so into the rules. However, she does often insist she needs to have one leg bent up so her knee is against the table. I know it gets some looks but we had to pick our battles. Now, she is finally open to changing that habit.

There was a long period of time when M would only eat orange things. Our food challenges continue but they have improved with time.

You give me hope about the shoe tying!

M is super sensitive to constructive criticism as well. It is even worse when other people correct her.

VAB said...

MK likes to remove his shoes and kneel of the seat. To each their own.

Our success with shoe tying came by getting thick hiking boot laces and tying one to the fridge door so that the two ends were hanging down. Then we just asked him to tie it a few times a day ("You can play your game when you've tied the lace.") It seems a lot easier if it's up high and attached to something that doesn't move around.

VAB said...


The Irish have a saying: when God made time, he made plenty of it. It certainly has a lot of it before him. Mind you, for spaghetti twirling, it doesn't hurt to have a little extra time available.

Siamo stati in italia la settimana scorsa. Abbiamo mangiato benissimo e MK a deciso che e' il suo paese preferito nel mondo, perche gli'italiani ridono sempre e possono mangiare la pizza ogni sera.

Andrew Lehman said...


I'd like to post "Different Ways of Seeing Things" on the blog

Please email me if this is OK.

Thank you,

Andrew Lehman