Waiter/Waitress: “Would you like a meal for him/her?”
Parent(s): “No thanks, he already ate before we left home. He’ll share with us if he wants something.”
This is an all too familiar experience for parents with children that either can’t or don’t want to eat. There are a lot of reasons why children might not be able to eat. A common one is aspiration, where things they eat or drink end up partially in their lungs. Aspiration is a silent thing. The child doesn’t appear sick, though some of them do get repeated bouts of pneumonia. This scenario isn’t ours, but the resulting experience is similar.
Our struggle is not wanting to eat. For some reason, and we don’t know for sure why because he can’t talk yet to tell us, our son is uncomfortable eating food to the point he doesn’t eat enough to survive. So, at three months we had a feeding tube, and we’ve had one ever since. Even though our son is allowed to eat by mouth as much as he wants, he frequently will choose not to do so. Everything you give him, 90% or more of it ends up scattered on the floor. It really doesn’t make any more sense to order him separate meals than it does if he couldn’t eat at all.
Unfortunately, the assumption is generally that you’re too cheap to buy your child their own food. Sometimes you get looks of pity. Sometimes you get free items brought to the table that you’re then obligated to let your child smear from one end of the table to the other. In places where you order up front and the food is brought to the table, the person delivering the food frequently asks if they’re missing something and looks at you with bewilderment when you say no.
I’m not going to lie and tell you that any of this bothers me. It really doesn’t. It does, however, bother a lot of special needs parents. I feel the need to share this because I want to end the pain of those who do care what other people think. Even if only one restaurant server reads this, it could allow a family with a tubie a chance to have a meal out where they’re not judged for giving their kid a few chips or french fries and a drink. It may not look like a meal, but the child’s main nutrition is formula. What they’re, “eating,” in front of you is just extra.