In “Control”

Breaking the routine can have adverse results.

by Fran LoBiondo

Fran LoBiondoHere is a good morning in my life. I woke up early enough to get a shower and pack a lunch for my son, Greg. As he is autistic, he does not like changes in his routine.

I went downstairs with a full laundry bag, passing Greg lounging on the couch. I lugged the laundry to the washer and started loading it in. I had to be careful not to upend the bag, because Greg’s lunch was hidden there in a CorningWare bowl. When we eat one of his favorite meals for dinner, we often save a bowl for his lunch the next day. But if he comes downstairs before we do, we are likely to find the leftovers ravaged and crumbs left over the counter and onto the floor.

So, working together, my husband George will wrap a bowl of, for example, rice and peas, and put it in the freezer overnight. In the morning, he half-thaws it in the microwave, and I will finish it and pack it in his thermos before he gets dressed and comes back. Mission accomplished.

If we find he has already found and eaten most of his lunch, I fall back on graham crackers and peanut butter, which always satisfies him because he ate breakfast and lunch already.

We try to keep up with his needs and wants, but it can be a scramble. He eats to fill a bottomless pit.

His sister, Therese, says we act like we’ve given up sometimes. We don’t do anything fun with him. I keep an open mind when she says something helpful, so after school a couple of times last week, he asked to go to Family Dollar. I put him in the car and asked him to point out which Family Dollar he wanted to go to, and he directed me to the one about three blocks from home.

“What do you want to buy here,” I asked him.

“Hershey’s,” he said.

He has access to the grocery list, on which he can write the ingredients for his favorite dishes, including snacks. He has never asked for Hershey’s. So as we’re walking along the candy aisle, I’m scratching my head. There’s Hershey bars in plain chocolate, almonds and chocolate, cookies and crème, et cetera. What else could he want?

He stopped and pointed. What he wanted was Mom’s favorite: Hershey’s Gold. I don’t eat chocolate, but those blonde caramel crème bars with pretzel bits are hard to resist. I offered him a taste before, but he always looked like he was repulsed, and said a firm “Just leave it,” which we think means “No Thank you.”

Who knew? He has changed his mind before. For instance, Olympia Restaurant’s gyro meat (beef and lamb roasted on a rotisserie and sliced thin) he liked as a kid. He called it “likili.” We don’t know where that name came from, but he always wanted it. These days, we have to bribe him to join us there with French fries and pitas. Likili? Just leave it.

I am only one person and to accommodate Greg I have ended up cooking his choice of meal that everyone else eats. But not every week.

I have for you a conversation with our daughter, Therese, when she was home sick one January day when she was 11. She was bored and a little snappish, and wanted to know why dinners were so routine around here.

T: What’s for dinner?

M: Escarole soup.

T: Again? I’m sick to death of that.

M: What do you want from me?

T: What I want is for you to be in control! Who’s in charge?

M: I am.

T: Who’s gonna make something else next Thursday?

M: Who’s going to tell Greg?

T: You are.

M: Who’s going to incur his wrath?

T: You are. Because you are in control.

Greg could get bearish when it was Thursday with no Escarole and he was looking down the barrel of Pesto Tortellini Salad. He doesn’t get his way much in this life, except at home.

Our other two children did not grow up and leave home with narrow palates, despite my repetitive meals. My husband’s Italian family celebrates food in everyday life, not just on holidays.

My own family is Irish, and of Mom’s cooking, it could kindly be said, “She had other talents.” Like raising six kids while working full time and getting them all through college.

With that background, my kids will eat almost everything.

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