anxiety,  autism,  high school,  sensory processing,  teen years

Is this normal?

Last night we had lasagna for dinner and spaghetti and “meatballs.” I don’t usually make two dinners in one night but the Costco lasagna wasn’t vegetarian, so I warmed up some spaghetti and frozen “meatballs” for W and me.

As the kids filled their plates, J grabbed the serving utensils and smiled as he reached for the pot, announcing: “Spaghetti AND lasagna!”

“No,” I said. “The lasagna is for you and dad. The spaghetti is for me and W.”

“No, I want both,” he snapped.

“J,” I sighed. “The spaghetti is for me and W.”

“Shut up. I want both.”

“J, you can have as much lasagna as you want.” (Because there was an entire tray for just Steve and J).

“Fine. I want both for breakfast tomorrow.”

“J–“

“Shut up!”

“J, it’s JUST FOOD,” I snapped back. That’s my “snap out of it” cue to give J some perspective again. I have to use it a lot and I mean A LOT. There are a lot of fights over food in our house. J seems to feel like he never has enough to eat. And there’s a lot of Angry in that Hangry. “Shut up!” is almost always his reaction when I tell him “no” on food. It is always accompanied by the shakes. I’m not sure if it’s “shakes because I’m hungry” or “shakes because I’m angry.” That’s a really blurry line.

I’m pretty sure that’s the reason why the lunch ladies don’t want to get involved when J fills his tray up at lunch time. This year J’s been overdrawing his account A LOT. We are constantly getting messages that J’s lunch account is in the red and yes, I do get paranoid that everyone in the lunch room thinks we must be “one of those families who can’t pay for lunch,” because I’ve seen a lot of stories in the news about angry politicians and people getting livid that kids have lunch debt and that their parents can’t pay their debts. People have opinions about school lunch and school lunch debt. People get just as passionate about school lunch debt as J does about food being there or not there on his plate. I just hope they just don’t have opinions J’s lunch situation. Really, we’re not trying to be negligent parents. Keeping track of J’s lunch account is just one of the million other J things we’re trying to keep track of.

Steve called the school up this week to see why the heck J’s lunch account is constantly empty and it turns out that J spends up to $5 a day on lunch. Hot lunch costs $2.70 per meal so that means J is blowing the other $2.30 on “extras” cookies, chips, juice, anything else he can fit on his tray. And I’m 90% sure that he’s eating most of the things on his plate. J got super stressed out right before one of his last XC meets because the boys were eating a “small lunch” of bagels and bananas in a classroom before boarding the bus and to avoid a huge meltdown, I took J to the cafeteria instead where he loaded up his tray with lasagna rolls, peas, and some fruit and he ATE IT ALL. (Miraculously, the kid didn’t barf at all during his race. In fact, this kid eats before he runs all the time at home, and no barf, no stomach issues, no nothing).

I could think of a lot of places I’d be willing to spend $5 on lunch. School cafeteria food isn’t one of those place.

I’ve had a lot of people tell me that this is a “teenage boy thing.” Sure I get that teenage boys eat a ton, but I know J and this isn’t just a “teenage boy thing.” This has been a thing since J was born.

In fact beyond the “feeling like I’m starving feeling” he’s had since he was a baby (despite being in the 90th percentile for height, weight, and head size for all of his infant and toddler years). Food has been the biggest motivator for us to get J to do anything. It’s how his speech therapist was able to get him to sign his first words (by bribing him with French fries) and use the muscles around his mouth properly (learning how to drink with a tiny Capri Sun straw). It’s how we get him motivated to run his best times for XC–if he runs really fast he gets to earn a Gatorade. Food speaks to this child.

For some reason, these past few months food have been a larger than normal stress trigger for J. J is getting more hangry panic attacks. J not only has been getting super stressed out about the frequency and amount of food on his plate, he’s also getting worked up about what kind of food that the rest of us have on our plates. J won’t come down the stairs or come near the kitchen until W has finished her Kodiak waffles. J will ask me to leave the kitchen if I’ve made myself avocado toast for lunch. He will comment every 2 minutes if one of us has eaten an orange that “he hates the way our hands smell.”

These are the things that make me feel like it’s more than a “teenage boy thing.” I have so many questions. Is this a typical autism thing? Like do most autistic kids think that they’re starving all of the time? Is this a hormone thing? J’s refusal to be in the same room as the foods the rest of us eat almost always come down to the fact that “he doesn’t like the way they smell.” When I was pregnant my sense of smell was heightened by a million so is it hormones? Is it a medication thing? (maybe? although like I said, he’s been this way since birth and he wasn’t on anti anxiety medication until he was 5 years old).

J happy and content with his Dole Whip in Hawaii

I don’t know, but I won’t lie. J’s stress over food stresses me out. The continual harassing me about when we’re going to eat next. The continual hounding of “what’s for breakfast?” when we’ve finished dinner and “what’s for lunch when we’ve finished breakfast.” The first thing he asks me when I pick him up after school is “what’s for dinner?” The emotional mood swings that come with not having food immediately when he feels like he needs it are super stressful. The need he has to control what everybody else is eating in the house isn’t fun either.

Is this totally normal and a “teenage boy thing?”

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