Monday, July 19, 2010

The best grilled cheese sandwich I never ate

It was only 11:30 in the morning and it already felt like a day when everything went wrong. Maybe it is because the night before had been one when Oliver didn't sleep much at all, breaking his string of nights slept through. If you have lived that life you know how it feels to be without patience, full of over-wrought emotions and unable to muster more than a fraction of optimism. So when I sat down to my first meal of the day, a veggie burger with tomato and onion salad, all I wanted to do was refuel my body and recharge my emotional battery with a few minutes peace. I was surprised then -- and a bit annoyed -- when Oliver sat down across from me and said in his halting way: "I want a sandwich." He had only woken ninety minutes earlier and had already eaten two servings of baked oatmeal. How could he be hungry? But as you know, if your boy with limited language tells you he wants a sandwich, then by all means you fix him a sandwich. Except when you don't

"Oliver," I said, "you can make yourself a sandwich if you're hungry. Would you like a grilled cheese?" Mostly, I'll admit, I said this because I was just plain annoyed with him -- I had just finished cleaning up from his first meal -- and I thought my offer might stall him a bit so I could finish my burger.

Being a boy of few words he didn't answer me and I watched with curiosity to see what would happen next. After a few seconds he walked over towards the area of the kitchen where we keep the bread and the silverware. He looked around a bit and picked up some random items from the counter and set them back down again. I refrained from saying anything more. Then he opened the microwave, retrieved the bread (we keep it in there to discourage mice) and brought it over to the table where I was still watching, now with a bit of surprise, my annoyance completely faded away.

Let me say, before we go any further, that Oliver has spent a LOT of time in the kitchen cooking with me so he knows where just about everything is kept. But prior to this morning I never really just turned him loose to fix his own meal. Also, as I watched him I felt that now familiar twinge of my heart muscles contracting to realize how far he has come with his receptive language ability. Only two years earlier I had sat in the same chair despairing that he didn't understand the most simple commands like "Turn on the light," or, "Get me the fork."

But back the cheese sandwich. When Oliver handed me the bread I placed it on the table and then turned back to look at him expectantly. I saw the look on his face that registered his understanding that I was still waiting for something and watched as he went to the refrigerator, scanned its contents and retrieved the cheese. This time when he returned to the table I noted aloud that there was another item from the fridge that we would need. Once more he returned to the fridge and found the butter. "Ah ha," I said, "now we have all the ingredients." Upon hearing this and perhaps thinking that he was ready to make the sandwich he sat down and took two pieces of bread from the bag, then stopped and looked at me. I looked back at him and adopted a puzzled look. Then we both just sat there for another minute or so and I held my breath, again struggling with myself to refrain from saying anything.

Finally, after what felt like the longest, heaviest minute, Oliver got up and brought a knife back to the table and got to work buttering the bread, at one point declaring: "I want some help." Because the butter was cold and did not spread easily. He sliced the cheese, he assembled the sandwich and then sat there looking at it.

I told him, "I can help you cook it if you get everything ready for me, Oliver." Then I watched as he slowly -- and thoughtfully -- retrieved a pan and placed the sandwich in it on top of the stove, dragging a chair over there in the process so he could center the bread precisely in the middle of the pan.

By this time I had finished my veggie burger and had begun to feel as though this were a day when all was right with the world.

To help Oliver cook the sandwich, I merely stood to one side and adjusted the heat. He was in charge of the spatula. When he determined that the sandwich was cooked well enough, I carried it for him on the spatula to the table and stood there. "Should I just put it on the table?" I asked. Oliver turned to retrieve a plate but found that there wasn't a clean plate to be had. He stood for a moment, unsure, thinking. Then I watched as he retrieved a towel and spread it at his place at the table.

It occurs to me that I don't write very much any more about what we are doing with RDI. I don't want to beat anyone over the head with it. Plus, it is just so much a part of how we parent both our boys now that I sometimes forget what an important part of our lives it has become. Also, I probably don't make enough of all my uncertainties about how we are navigating this road with Oliver. We do RDI, not ABA. We homeschool. We don't have a team or IEPs or ESY. We only just started with OT (which I will post about soon). We didn't even have speech for more than a year. All of this is, well, outside the norm and I am keenly aware that we do almost everything differently than almost everyone else that we know. For the past three years I have put executive functioning first. Problem-solving, planning, reasoning -- thinking -- this I hoped and prayed and believed was where much of our teaching efforts should go. There are other things, sure, but without executive functioning he could be the most social, verbal kid on the planet and still be in big trouble. Remember this post when I watched Oliver struggle to solve such a simple problem?  That was just 18 months ago. Re-reading my words above and that post from December 2008, it is hard not to feel a bit gratified that I've chosen to follow my intuition even if it means that I sometimes (often) feel like we are completely off the grid.

I know we still have a long way to go, but even though I didn't get a bite of that sandwich, it was the most satisfied I have ever been by two pieces of bread and a little cheese!


  1. Way to go, Oliver, and way to go Mama! This is so incredible. I think you are absolutely correct on the executive functioning.


  2. (I could go for a grilled cheese sandwich right now, BTW!)

  3. I, for one, think you're doing an amazing, A-MAZ-ING! job. That is just awesome. I love hearing about the RDI you do with Oliver too.

    (and hope that sleepless night was just a blip...)

  4. Gah this was so awesome to read! So hard to hold back and let your boy do what he can do!!

    Also, I am reminded of when Kate was about 9 and was complaining about the choices I suggested for breakfast. I got all irritated and said "you can fix your own breakfast then!" And as soon as I said it I was like "huh. She CAN make her own breakfast."

  5. You know I really really love the way in which you have prioritized executive functioning

    Praxis:that most important of all skills

    How well he is doing

  6. I am in awe of that sandwich. Well, actually, I'm in awe of Oliver and of your restraint in letting him do it himself. A good reminder for me to try the same with Nik more often. *sigh*

    And, of course, now I want grilled cheese for dinner! LOL

  7. That is awesome, and you should feel gratified! I'd love to hear more about RDI, too. We've got the whole team and IEPs, and I sometimes forget there are other ways of doing things. I think I could stand to learn a lot from you.

  8. this post made me practically burst into tears. GO OLIVER! and go mama for following her gut and choosing the (obvs) right choice for her boy. I love this. love love love.
    and ... it reminds me I want to start reading more about RDI.

  9. Isn't it funny how sometimes the best parenting moments happen by accident -- not because we choreographed them, but because we're just at the end of our frickin' rope? Well done, Oliver!

  10. AWESOME!!!! I am so happy for you guys (ok, like 90% happy, 10% hungry for a cheese toastie)

    And personally I would LOVE to hear more about the RDI (and the homeschooling too)!

  11. That's really amazing he completed all the steps. We have recently been able to have our son follow simple commands and we try and focus on small tasks for now. Isn't it great to see all of your hard work produce results? Congrats to you and Oliver...

  12. It is so hard not to question ourselves, but in my opinion you are a trail blazer!!! Way to go Oliver:)

  13. Anonymous1:43 PM

    Wow. I am so impressed. And I think your instincts are dead on. Executive function is a huge lingering gap for our boy, and I wish I was more consistent in teaching him to overcome this hurdle. You're right--without it, there's nothing but trouble.

  14. That's so excellent! I love RDI and I think you made the right choice for your son and family...well done!