Shadows in Adoption, part 2: Food

A while ago I wrote a bit about those “shadows” that you find in adoption.  I was not, and am not, talking about those big monster issues that sometimes are part of the whole adoption process: RAD, or serious attachment issues, and such….rather I’m talking about those remainders that snag here and there.  I want to shine a light, again, on those little flickers of shadow that cross our days or behaviors here in our house with some of our kids.  Because I suspect that they might well have flickered across a few of  yours as well.

So, this post is going to address that gnarly issue that so many of us struggle with: food!

Ah, food issues.  They are legion, no? Yes.  For so many of us, myself included, food has issues.  Some good, some bad, some snarly, some prideful and snobby.  It’s all over the map.  But for our adopted children, especially our children who might have been adopted a bit older (or a lot)….those food issues can be complex and run DEEP.

When we first brought our Gabey home he was 18 months old.  And he had the standard food-transition issues.  First he wouldn’t really eat, only wanted bottles of milk. So many many bottles of milk.  It was total comfort food and we were happy to provide that. In fact we did, and took him BACK to the bottle so we could cuddle and rock and feed him and have that eye contact as much as possible.

He dug it.  But, soon enough he decided that real food was appealing too, and quickly branched out.  He impressed us with his instant taste for spicy salsa (but, hey, he’s Ethiopian, we figured he had some exposure…) and his happy joy in smearing ketchup and gobbling fries and pasta and all the usual toddler  yummies.   After about six months, he seemed very much just like any toddler, some days picky, some days voracious, always up for a cookie.

So, we didn’t pay too much attention to it for awhile.  I mean, he was a busy busy toddler, seeming to be tracking on all counts.  Language?  Yup, gaining at warp speed.  Gross motor? Yup, very fast agile busy little guy; could keep up with big brother, no problem.  Fine motor? Yup, paid attention to tiny details and was in normal zone for a toddler.  Cognition? Oh my, very very sharp, figured things out fast and great memory.  No worries.

But one thing was a little skewed and it was his eating.  Over the past few years, his drive to eat has gained momentum.  And that is an  understatement.  This boy is DRIVEN for food.  He is kind of fixated on it.  Not to the exclusion of everything else.  He loves to play and go wherever someone else is  going, he wants to be in on any activity.  He will follow his uncle around like a puppy; hoping to  help with those cool tools and be allowed to use that wrench or drill or oh any tool he can grab.  But, if he’s not distracted by some fun, if any whisper of boredom hisses, he is begging for food.  Relentlessly.  And when he eats, he will eat to bursting if we let him, asking for seconds, thirds, fourths…. Unless it is green veggies or carrots. No problems there…gross.  Don’t get all shocked, we cut him off -but by redirecting the urge.  

This evolution into this obsession with eating, more more more, initially had me presuming he was simply,  um….gorging.  Then I realized that it’s more than that.  Deeper.  It’s as if his “Off” switch is broken.  Or at least gets stuck.  It is as if he is impossible to fill.  Sometimes, now and then, he will say, “I’m full.”  But not often.  Watching him ask with such need and such a push to the request has sounded a tiny bell in my head.

This boy, my boy, I think he was hungry.

I don’t know.  Not for certain. I don’t have documentation of his being hungry and I don’t want to project drama or be unfair.  But, I think he was hungry.  Not starving maybe.  But the hard facts are that he was unable to be raised by his family.  He is an orphan.  And, the government orphanages and even the best care centers aren’t exactly overrun with funds for the abundance of every nutritive need.  It doesn’t work that way.  And my boy, well, my mama heart has to wonder.  Was he hungry?  Just some? Enough that now, way deep down, he might worry about being hungry again?  Even though we have, thankfully, an abundance of food and no one goes hungry in our house (unless they are putting on a hormonal girl drama, by their own choice and standards of Oscar worthy merit).  

So, what to do? I don’t want him to become obese or unhealthy.  And, truthfully, he is getting really stout.  But I want  him to know, for now and for ever, that he will not be hungry.  Even if he doesn’t know that he needs to know, now.  He does, it seems.  Karen Purvis says, “Never deny food.”  And so, I won’t.  I can’t.

So how do you provide the security/food your child needs and requests while at the same time keeping them healthy?  Well, here is what I’ve got, so far.  [If any of you have other brainstorms, please let me know in the comments!]: I do NOT deny him food.  And yeah, go ahead, tell me to only offer him celery.  Right.  Look at that face and tell me again. 

Ha.  Rather, what we say is “You bet.”  But we also say, “First, finish your dinner (not with extra helpings).” And we also say, “Let’s count, have you counted five fruits today? Or veggies? How many? Two? How about an orange? ”  We go for fiber and produce to fill the need if we can coax him into it.  But, honestly, some days, as he comes home from school and asks for a cookie I just say, “Yup.

Because if I have to pick, I’ll pick attachment and bonding to this boy.  Easy choice, slam dunk.  That security in our love and his safety here in our family is more important than “husky” size pants.  Will I encourage him to move and run and jump and play sports? Yes!  Will I encourage him to eat healthy choices? Yes!  But will I also withhold food when he tells me his tummy is hungry?  No.  I will not.

It’s a shadow.  But one that I think is best to see in the light.  And maybe, with time and yes, good healthy cooking, this one might fade away.