Monday, February 25, 2008

Eating Issues

This morning I came downstairs a few minutes after 7:00, just like I do most every weekday morning. When I reached the bottom of the stairs, Haley was sitting at the empty kitchen table. She looked up at me and said, “Mom, can I have breakfast?” I heaved a sigh.

A little girl in a flannel nightie asks for breakfast. Not a bad way to start one’s morning, right? Grrr. Our morning routine is pretty solid: After scripture study and prayer, Mark or I serves Haley breakfast. In fact, we do it every morning without fail. And yet our little Haley doesn’t trust that breakfast--or lunch, or dinner--will occur without extra prompting from her. On a regular basis she says things like: “Mom, are we having lunch today?” or “Mom, are you making dinner?” When we sit down to dinner and Mark and I begin serving food around the table, Haley is on pins and needles, she watches with eagle eyes each spoonful served onto each plate. And though she can see us passing food liberally all around, she can’t help but asking, “Can I have some?” And since it has happened, now, hundreds of times, I’m afraid I find it very irritating.

Yesterday before church (we’re on the 11 to 2 schedule--when are you supposed to eat?) I called, “Everyone come for a snack!” The boys trotted in, seated themselves around the bar and table, and nonchalantly continued their conversations while I began distributing graham crackers. I looked up from my rounds to see Haley’s black eyes following me intently. I could read the tension in them--and the question: “Will I get one?” Of course you’ll get one, crazy girl! Would I ever, have I ever passed out food to everyone else and left you out? Would I ever, have I ever let you go hungry? Would I ever, have I ever just skipped breakfast or lunch or dinner? Our household doesn’t operate like clockwork to be sure, but for every single blessed one of the 760 days she has lived here, we have delivered three meals. The pressure of those black eyes was grating. How many days must pass before she can relax and trust?

We don’t know a lot about the day-to-day life Haley lived as a baby and toddler. We know drugs and mild domestic violence were involved. We know we mother loved her and doted on her--at least sometimes. And from incidents like these, Haley’s persistent anxiety about food, her unceasing vigilance about monitoring who is eating and when, I think we know that in her baby and toddler years she was not at all sure food would appear on cue. Her mother must have forgotten sometimes. Or tried to make up to Haley after the fact by plying her with extra food. Or maybe Haley’s constant worry about physical sustenance is a substitute for a deeper, scarier worry about emotional sustenance. Maybe after shuffling from loving but messed up mom, to loving but over-indulgent aunt, back to mom, then finally to foster mom Haley’s black eyes are watching to see if she’ll get her fair share of the love and attention she sees passed out to everyone else.

“Mom, can I have breakfast?” she asked this morning. I stifled the irritated sigh, tried to keep my voice light and positive. “Of course, Haley. Do you want frosted mini wheats or Grape Nuts?” I set the bowl in front of her and continued feeding Jesse, checking my email, fixing a bowl for myself. Twenty minutes later, I looked over and there sat Haley, her untouched bowl in front of her.


  1. That is sad. Some day she will stop questioning your love I'm sure. But I think part of that may be just normal toddler-hood. Naomi asks me questions like that sometimes. Lately she has been shouting "don't forget me!" as we get out of the car or walk into a store or something with great alarm. I have never forgotten her anywhere for even half a second - so where does this fear come from? I always stop and take the time to say "Naomi, I will never forget you." But she still hollers it the next time too. She also sits down at the table in the morning, and as I am pulling the Cheerios out of the pantry she will ask "can I have some Cheerios?" I admit that sometimes I say "no" just to see her reaction, then teasingly say "yes, of course." I think they are just insecure.
    I mean - I'm sure Haley's is exaserbated by her early life - but don't blame it ALL on that. Blame some of it on her being a normal, healthy little girl who loves her Momma.

  2. Well, I don't know if it is normal but as I read your post I shed two tears for all the little children of the world who know what hunger is.
    In all my days I have never gone hungry without the ability to eat at will. Maybe Haley has and for that I think she gets a pass. Just love her. I know you do.

  3. I feel for you. Kids really do know how to take little normal things to the next level. Our kids always ask for a serving of the other while we are still dishing out the first. "Of course you can have some, just hang on."
    Of course, when they start bugging me on stuff lik this, and I get annoyed enough, I'lltell them that from now on, if they ask while we are serving, they will have to wait a few minutes before they get theirs.
    Of course, that will only help with the actually intensifies the watchful eye and anticipation. But that is short term. If they aren't saying it, eventually, they won't be thinking it.
    So, why didn't she eat???

  4. Nanc, I know some of it is normal toddlerhood, but I'm pretty confident that for the most part it's not. I mean, this has been a persistent thing for two years, not a stage.

    Joe, why she didn't eat is the question. She begs for food but then just sits with it. She'll nurse 4 frosted mini wheats for a full hour. She wants the food, she doesn't want to leave the table, but she doesn't eat--or eats very, very slowly. I think sometimes she's not all that hungry. And sometimes I think she likes the feeling of having food available so she just draws it out.

  5. It is so much fun to have conversations like this! I love blogs!

  6. I'm no psychologist, but it sounds like this is just going to take a long, long time, Ang. You're a great mom. You two are going to learn a lot from each other.