We don’t go on many vacations. We make a yearly summer trip back to Iowa to visit family and to soak in a small-town summer celebration. Being away from home with two little ones is hard enough, throw in a child with a limited diet and a tendency to melt down at mealtime and spending a week at a hotel sounds like a recipe for disaster.
This weekend we threw caution to the wind and piled in the car for a short drive to Great Wolf Lodge in Colorado Springs. We had heard wonderful things about it from friends and family and thought it would be a great way to spend the weekend. It didn’t hurt that a portion of the weekend was funded by a Christmas present.
We packed plenty of snacks for between meals and went on the assumption that a family friendly place like this would have plenty that Charlotte would eat. We have also been working really hard on approaching new foods and how to solve food problems. With this optimistic outlook we arrived in the early evening, excited and looking forward to a great weekend. We spent the evening in the pool and cleaned up for dinner. We decided to bypass the buffet and try one of the nicer restaurants, as it was still early in the evening, so no one was melting yet and the menu looked like everyone could find something. After sitting down and peeking at the menu, that familiar worry washed over us. “What are we going to order for Charlotte?” Nothing on the kid's menu would be acceptable. “Pizza burger? What is that?” Charlotte asked. After some discussion and some reassurance from our waitress that it was similar to Kraft, we decided on the mac ‘n cheese side.
If you have a problem feeder I bet you can imagine what transpired next. A beautiful, piping hot dish of cheesy mac appeared on the table and guess what, it looked nothing like Kraft. Charlotte worked very hard to power through a few bites, she tried it with a french fry, with trout from her Mom’s plate and with her eyes closed tight. I think she made it through about 6 bites before she gave up. Don’t get me wrong, it was delicious, it just didn’t work for Charlotte, but trust me when I say I could have eaten much more, and I ate a fair amount trying to coax her to take more bites. This is a fairly typical event, so we weren’t too worried about the rest of the weekend. After all, there were plenty of other choices and certainly, we believed, there would be something that Charlotte liked.
The next morning Charlotte devoured a sugared jelly doughnut from Dunkin' Donuts and we headed off for a morning spent on water slides and in the wave pool. All was well until lunch time. Standing at a quick service lunch counter and studying the menu, Charlotte was clearly having issues deciding what to get. A hamburger that wasn’t the same consistency as McDonald's wouldn’t do. She does not care for chicken fingers and for some reason, a hot dog seemed unacceptable. She finally decided on a Caesar salad, which is one of her favorite foods at home. The issue with this particular salad was the dressing. Unfortunately, this particular dressing wasn’t the exact brand we have at home so it was quickly pushed aside and a few bites of plain salad was consumed. To top it all off, of our entire family was perched atop four bar stools overlooking the mini golf course, with postural stability out the window and a huge amount of external stimulation rendering lunch less than a success.
At this point, a familiar feeling began to settle in. It isn’t exactly panic, or fear, it is worry. Not just for today or tomorrow, although that is a lot of it. It is worry about the future. What will it be like when Charlotte grows up? Will she be able to find foods that work for her body? Will she be able to consume enough to stay healthy, while still eating a variety of foods? These are the same feelings that washed over me as I sat with Charlotte watching other kids eat their lunch one day while she was in preschool. I share more about this in “A whole banana”. We have come a long way since that day, but that worry still creeps in from time to time.
The afternoon was busy, but uneventful, with no meltdowns, and that worry slowly faded away. As we began planning dinner we considered our options. The buffet seemed like the best choice in order to, hopefully, get Charlotte to consume some much-needed calories. We stopped by the host stand to ask what was on the buffet line and maybe ask for a peek so we could be sure it would work. We waited for a while to speak to someone, then Kari noticed a manager close by and asked to speak with them. Monique, the Food and Beverage manager was more than happy to discuss Charlotte’s struggles, mentioning that she herself had a very picky 16-year-old and understood our dilemma. Within a few minutes, we were introduced to Matt, the Executive Chef, who began to ask questions about Charlotte's preferred foods. He told us about the food on the buffet and after we stated that those things would be hit-or-miss, he asked what Charlotte would eat. We rattled off some of the types of things we would make at home, plain rice, noodles, plain chicken thighs, the things that make mealtime easy and he simply stated: “we have all of that.” He asked when and where we would be eating and both Monique and Matt assured us that they could make a dish Charlotte would eat. Cautious optimism replaced worry. Did we really just meet the right people, simply by chance, who could help us get through at least one meal?
We sat down for dinner and were greeted by Amanda, another manager that had already been filled in by Monique. Before too long, Matt appeared at our table to start creating Charlotte’s dinner menu. We were amazed how much time he took to understand even the smallest detail and together they settled on shrimp, no pepper, but maybe a little salt, and plain buttered noodles. The rest of us ordered off the menu and waited. We ordered a charcuterie platter as an appetizer and before long, out came a slate piled with meats, cheeses, and pickled vegetables that would have been enough for an entire meal. Charlotte grabbed a pinkish pickled cauliflower and made quick work of it. Off of that tray she ate a little smoked salmon, blue cheese, some hard meats, and a few other pickled vegetables. The variety of food she will eat still amazes me.
Dinner was everything Charlotte had hoped for. A big plate of buttery spaghetti noodles, and several beautifully butterflied shrimp (no grill or sear marks in sight). She finally looked up and said she was full, which for the first time in several days was believable. Charlotte asked our server to pass along a thank you to Matt, but before we could leave he reappeared at our table for a heartfelt thank you from all of us. We all rode the elevator to our room with full bellies and full hearts. Monique, Matt, Amanda and the rest of the staff went out of their way to make sure Charlotte had a filling meal that wasn’t stressful. That chance meeting at the host stand changed our entire weekend.
We woke up early the next morning and quickly made our way to the breakfast buffet the girls still in their pajamas and all of us thinking about pancakes and bacon. Charlotte loves anything with syrup and can nearly eat her weight in bacon, so this should have been a good start to the day. Wrong. According to Charlotte, the bacon was "too thick," the eggs were "too cold," the strawberries were "too mushy," and the chocolate pumpkin bread was "too chocolatey" (as if this is even possible). Charlotte proudly carried a package of Lucky Charms out with her as we made our way back to the room.
The rest of the morning passed with little to report. Arcade games, “mining” for gems, a little more magic, as well as some candy and ice cream (it was a vacation after all).
We are home now, and it is amazing how quickly one settles back into home life. The girls are playing, there is some wonderful smelling soup on the stove and life seems normal. Tomorrow we will be back to our normal routine, Charlotte will have peanut butter and jelly for lunch (since it is Monday and that is what’s for lunch on Monday) and dinner will be something we can all agree on.
Our lives do involve a lot of planning around food. We work hard to introduce new foods and Charlotte works hard to learn about them. We plan meals that are easy when needed and mix in some more challenging meals to keep her moving forward. I don’t think as parents we thought this would be the way of things, but it is our normal. I know neither of us would give it up for the world.
Even without the amazing support we got from Monique and Matt, our stay at Great Wolf Lodge was outstanding. The entire staff was amazing, the water park was so much fun, the food was great and the staff is friendly and helpful. We all had a wonderful time and I know we will be going back sometime soon.
P.S. We do have a younger daughter as well and I thought I would share how her food experience was while we were away from home. She ate, like normal. For the most part, if you put food in front of her, she will eat it. She is a two-year-old, so it can be messy but for the most part it was just uneventful.