When Kirstin was about four years old, she started doing something that left us wondering what we, as parents, were in for. Every time we dined at a restaurant, Kirstin would wait until we were all finished eating before she began her meal. At first, we wouldn’t notice, everyone was talking and not really paying attention to Kirstin. Later, we tried to encourage her to eat, but because she was stubborn or for reasons of her own, she wouldn’t eat. The rest of us felt like we were being held hostage by a small child, as Kirstin slowly consumed her meal with all of us watching. It was pretty obvious what Kirstin was getting out of it. She was calling the shots and controlling her whole family. Now she had our undivided attention.
Because she only weighed about twenty-two pounds, we were reluctant to have her go without eating. That put us in a difficult situation of learning to live with Kirstin’s stubbornness, force-feeding her, or taking doggy bags so she could eat in the car. Afraid that this could become a pattern, I decided something had to be done. The next time we were dining out, Kirstin sat as we all ate our dinners. We tried not to notice, and just carried on a normal conversation. When we were all finished, true to form, Kirstin began slowly eating. I stood up and announced, “Well, we need to get going.”
To this, Kirstin responded, “I’m not done.”
“Too bad,” I said. “You should have eaten while you had the chance.” Then we took her by the hand and left the restaurant, leaving her uneaten meal behind. To our relief, we only had to do that once. The next time we were dining out, Kirstin ate her meal with the rest of us.
We learned a few things from that experience. First of all, we learned how easily we could be manipulated by this tiny child. But we also learned that she could figure things out for herself. If we remained consistent in our expectations, Kirstin would be able to make good choices, and life would be better for all of us.
From This Little Light of Mine, a woman with Down syndrome shines brightly in the world, Chapter 4 “Living with Bratinella.” This book is available at amazon