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.

>Toddler Adoption: Remnants

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Even in the easiest adoption, I see remnants.  
Or, as my dear friend Jen calls them: hiccups. 
What I mean is that, there are often (Possibly even always…but who am I to extrapolate out so far? Hush now, I don’t always do that……ssshhhhh) little or big issues that crop up, develop, linger…even years down the pike.
As with any kid, the trick is to figure out what is going on and why, and sometimes you’ll figure it out, sometimes  you won’t.  But if you have a child that was adopted, it might be worth reminding yourself that “hey, this might derive from way back in the beginning.”  That said, however, another trick is NOT to attribute every single hiccup to being adopted too; that’s hardly fair or accurate.  But sometimes, especially in those adoptions that really do go so smoothly, the easy ones where adjustment is short and seemingly smooth..it’s easy to forget that even later there might be things that crop up that still harken  back to the beginning.
How’s that for  vague?  Sorry.  What I mean to say is that this has all been on my mind lately.  Our Gabey, adopted at 18 months old, and the easiest smoothest adoption we’ve done out of five, is now a wild and crazy and wonderful three and a half year old.  He is funny and energetic and happy and thriving.  But even so, this summer we have noticed a few “hiccups.”  
Remnants, I think.
Gabey has something of a hard story; as do most if not all of the children adopted from Ethiopia (By definition, it comes with international adoption, that hard history).  
It was never stated that he suffered from malnutrition, and you wouldn’t guess it to look at him, ever.  However I gotta wonder if my sweet baby boy was hungry.

Because even though when he first got home he wouldn’t really eat solid food much – I”m sure it was too strange, everything was literally strange.  He relied and craved a bottle of milk (We took him back to bottle to get him that cuddly imprinting time of bonding tucked into our arms and cradled close – he ate it up on all levels).  That was his main source of calories for a bit, until he relaxed enough to be able to try regular chewing food as his mainstay.  But we knew and expected that process.  It didn’t surprise us and we went with it for the few months it took to adjust.  No big deal.  
But, this summer, we have realized that this boy has no real “full” switch.  
He will eat, if he likes it, and keep eating until we stop him.  He is “hungry” all the time.  If he gets a tad bored (And what kid doesn’t?) he comes to me asking for food.  He asks for his next meal as soon as he is done with his first.  And I have decided that this is a remnant.  It is also, surely, a favored activity if he’s bored…but he will ditch his trucks to try to find food.  That’s significant; this boy loves his cars and trucks.  But it is not because he is hungry – I think it’s something else.  He can almost eat as much as his big brother Anthony – now that is really saying something.   I don’t think it’s because he is just a glutton – he’s three; he can’t be that yet.  
I think it’s because he was  hungry.  
Not IS.  
Was. 
Really really hungry and even if he was getting fed, enough to sustain him… 
I think when he was tiny enough to not understand; 
he got hungry enough to feel that hunger that doesn’t quit.  
Thus, now, he has an impulse to eat.  
A remnant.  
You could say that I”m projecting, I have no way of knowing.  You’d be correct.  I am.  I don’t.  But my mom’s heart and mind says this rings true.  I think it’s a primal behavior.  I think that he won’t get it through any explaining; not only because he’s young yet, but because it is almost subconscious.  It is not a part of his higher reasoning that is firing – it’s deeper, down to a more primal/survival level.  And yeah, he’s been home more than two years…he should know we will never let  him go hungry.  But  you know, those deep down imprints from those tiny days….they impress deeply, long, lasting on a level you don’t get to with words or even a bunch of days.  You need time upon time it seems.  
Happily, we have all the time in the world. We have a lifetime of dinners and lunches and breakfast with this happy boy.  We will  help him learn, gently and consistently, that food is available here, always. But we can help  him learn to moderate that need, to redirect it, and to let it go with time and trust.  Those are the real issues, no??   
Always in adoption, even the early ones: time and trust.  
It all comes back to those, one way or another.  
It’s the Einstein formula: “t squared,” “time x trust.”  
T squared equals love, safety….family.  

 Up the subway escalator in Siena, fun ride!
And it’s the only equation to help sweep away the dusty remnants.

>"Can I go with you?"

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Lately, Gabriel has developed a new intensity.  Some of that is just standard issue three year old boundary testing.   However, it occurred to me, today (because I am a slow study) that part of this intensity is actually different from my other kids when they were three.  There is an undercurrent of intensity to his relentless pursuit to “go.”  He wants to go.  Everywhere. Nothing makes him happier or can get a grin and a jig out of him faster than being told, “You bet, let’s go.”
We’ve all been thinking that it is just “going” for the minor adventures that are “going” places in our busy days.  But, as I drove today to Sarah’s school for a class project (Living museum, very cute), I was stewing about Gabey and his kind of desperate begging to “Go with you.”  Especially when it comes to myself and his dad, Gabey is desperate to go.  With us.  Anywhere.  Everywhere. 
Today it finally dawned on me, and you could argue that I’m overstating it, but my gut thinks otherwise.  Knows better.  Gabey IS desperate to “Go.” He has a much more intense need to go with us, beyond your standard three year old desire to go and be with their parents.  His is different.  His is, after all, an adoption remnant.  It’s very easy to think that he’s been  home two years now, and thus he is over all his adjustment.  I know better.  But even so, daily life sweeps a lot of latent stuff off the radar.  That’s just how it plays…until it smacks you upside the head or you run into a wall.  {Well, in  my house, that’s how it plays…we’re a fast moving place.}  
This need has a root. 
Gabriel was left.  
He was left at eleven months. 
It wasn’t just being left on the side of the road.  
But he was taken to an orphanage, in a planned relinquishment by his great uncle.  
Goodbyes were said.  
And he was left.  
And he was old enough to not understand. 
Not even a little. 
But old enough to be confused and scared and missing his family.
And I can see in his pictures from that time how closed his face was. 
The immediate shock of that event is submerged by those pics, maybe, but it still shows.  
 
It’s so easy to forget that he experienced that. And it imprinted.  And it’s deep and it’s primal.  A primal scar.  And sometimes, I see a glimpse of it, when he cries out in his sleep, “Don’t leave me!” Or, when, now, every day, he clings and grasps and holds on and says, “Can I go with you?”  He will say it twenty times in a row, he does not want to take no for an answer.  Sometimes we have to say no. 
But now, as I realize what is under that relentless questioning desire and need, I am saying more often, “Yes. You betcha.”  
And then I get this, the sweetest smile on the sweetest face.  
And my heart swells right up to my own grin.   
 “Yes, my Gabey, you can go with me.  Forever.”