About a year ago, my daughter Ellie was having trouble holding down her feeds. She was exclusively tube fed at the time and every three hours, her dad or I would sit in front of her big, purple, offensively expensive, special medical foam feeding chair armed for battle knowing that the odds were stacked against us.
We’d pour the blend of formula and medicine down into a giant syringe and let gravitational force send the cocktail down the tube and into her stomach. It never failed, about 30 minutes later, she would throw it back up onto anyone or anything in her path.
We tried holding her upright after feeds. We tried distracting her with toys, books or songs. We tried venting her tube so that there was less of a buildup of gas. We tried feeding her slow. We tried feeding her fast. We tried feeding her with a pump. The nurse at school tried her tricks. Nothing helped.
It went on for months. It was gross. It was stressful. It was messy. It was inconvenient. But we had no choice other than to keep trying every three hours. The laundry piled up. We took three, four sometimes five showers a day. The floor had to be mopped all day long. It was awful. Truly awful. It was a low point in our lives that we will never forget.
Her brother Jack, who was two years old at the time, had gotten very good at picking up on when she was about to get sick. At even the slightest hint of a cough, he would run and find a place to hide.
It occurred to me one day that this whole feeding ritual was probably pretty strange for Ellie. She would watch her parents faces turn from cautious and hopeful to frustrated and disgusted while hearing words with a tone that probably sounded pretty discouraging. Once I realized this, we worked hard to be more aware of how we reacted to something over which she had no control.
The result that I did not anticipate from all of this was the colorful language Jack would add to his repertoire of words. One night after bath time, heard me sigh in the bathroom and came in to ask me why I was mad.
“Oh, I’m not mad. I’m just tired. I have to get the bathroom picked up and then clean out the tub. Ellie pooped in it,” I said, standing in a puddle of soapy water surrounded by piles of towels, bath toys and wash rags.
“Again?!?,” he asked. (We call her the Bathtub Pooper because nine baths out of ten, Ellie’s gonna poop.) “Let me see.” He toddled over to the side of the tub, looked down and said, “Ugggggh. Gog dannit.”
I stood there slack jawed as he turned his little, naked self around and walked out of the room as if nothing was out of the ordinary.
I hadn’t stopped Jack or punished him because I was so caught off guard. I had misplaced my parenting handbook and couldn’t remember what the chapter on cussing toddlers said to do – draw attention to it or ignore it?
But the damage was done. After a year with his nose in the corner and soap in his mouth, he hasn’t stopped but instead he just to tries to hide it from us better. He has dropped the ‘gog’ but I can still hear him whisper “dannit” when things don’t go his way.