Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Not being a burden -- food

Is there anything in your life that it is difficult for you to do, even though you know that you don't have any rational for avoiding it? Maybe you can even explain why you hate it so much, but that doesn't make all the resistance go away?

Well, Gary has some complex stuff that all centers around not wanting to be burden to us. Some of it is conscious, but that doesn't make it go away. Some of it is less than conscious.

The less-than stuff includes food. He doesn't seem to be able to be hungry in front of us. I don't think he is feeling hungry and denying it, I think he stops feeling hungry. Now part of this is the result of institutional living when he had to eat on a schedule. Dinner was a six and if you didn't eat then you went hungry until breakfast. He hated that. I think he hears, "It's time for dinner" and he has some level of anxiety and just doesn't feel hungry.

If I tell him that I really want him to sit with us at dinner he will and he will be nice about it. He won't put much on his plate though, because he isn't really hungry and he doesn't really know why. Half an hour after dinner he will be loading up a plate in the kitchen. If I announce that dinner is cooked and available and people should just serve themselves and yes, you can eat wherever you want, then he is hungry, although he generally won't come into the kitchen until I am gone.

Now part of this may be the "being a burden" thing and part of it may be that he is embarrassed about the amount of food he puts away. He's a teenage boy and he works out hard at least four evenings a week. He needs food and lots of it. He doesn't really want people commenting on the piles of food he eats. It isn't just that though. I really believe that he is just not hungry when he has to eat in front of us.

If I am not feeling like cooking and we decide to go out for fast food (something we do less and less) then he really isn't hungry. Sometimes he insists that he would rather stay home.

When he does eat out with us, he orders the least expensive options and claims that is what he really wants. I still remember one of the first times he ate with us. We had Evan along. We went to a bagel shop, got sandwiches and Gary was turning down all the extras, things like chips or cookies. Evan said, "Come on dude! It's FREE FOOD. Eat!" Gary said, "Free? Oh!" and he grabbed as much as Evan did. Gary of course didn't realize that Evan meant that it was free because I was paying.

Anyway, this is on the list of things that I just accept. I've moved to serving buffet style, eat-where-you-want more often than not, and when we do eat as a family I don't comment on Gary's lack of appetite. I also leave the food out for a while so he can come back later for seconds. I think it is getting a little better since I have learned not to say anything about how much he is eating. If I don't seem to notice one way or the other, his appetite slowly returns.

It occurs to me that all this could have been a real problem for me in the past. I like family meals and I like to see people eating and appreciating what I cook. Having someone refuse to eat what I cooked and then sneaking off and eat it behind my back might have felt like a personal insult. Clearly it wasn't the food he disliked, so it must be me, right? I would have felt hurt that Gary couldn't allow me to feed him. I might have experienced his behavior as rejections of my attempts to love him. Just think of all the posts I would have written. "Would it be so hard for him so hard to just eat with the family?"

If I had decided to make a big deal of it, to tell him that in this family we eat together and I expected him to sit with us and eat what we ate, the whole thing could have escalated. Gary has trouble with authority, with being told to do something. So that would have been ugly.

I probably would have decided that this wasn't a battle I should fight. I would have eventually decided that I wasn't going to make a big deal about it, but I still would have struggled with it, felt bad about it. It would have been hard.

Now though, it isn't hard at all. It is a little sad, but that is just the way he is.

I don't experience it as having anything to do with me at all. I'll just make sure the food is there when I am not. He will eat. Slowly I hope he will feel safer and when he actually starts feeling hungry when dinner is served, I will be happy.

But I won't comment on it.


  1. You are a smart cookie!

  2. I would like to hope that someday I might possibly maybe in an alternative universe full of goodness and light and self-control where I've been studying from birth with the Dalai Lama and live on an organic apple farm in full connection with my village and am totally at one with peace and life and the wholeness of being be as good at this as you are.

    I don't hold out much hope for it, but it's nice to have a goal, you know?

  3. Anonymous9:16 PM

    Hi Yondalla, I know this is totally off the subject, but have you heard anything about how Anne is doing?

  4. Anonymous10:21 PM

    you know, yondalla, there have been many times where i want to leave a comment but am not sure what to say. it takes a lot of intelligence and thought to be able to think through the post and leave a meaningful comment on these really insightful posts!

    so i guess i'm just saying right now that i enjoy reading these really insightful and sensitively-noticing-things posts that you so often make. i hope that i can grow in my own maturity and sensitivity. in the meantime, it's nice to read posts like this, hearing your thoughts think through things in real-time. the fact that you are doing so about right-in-the-moment things you face everyday makes me hope that maybe i, too, one day might be able to face oncoming circumstances in life with half the maturity and sensitivity that you've manage to develop in yourself.. .

    keep writing, yondalla!

  5. Slugger and I had food battles when he first moved in with me. He doesn't have the same concern as Gary, but there were other issues. It took me months and months to figure it all out. 1) Slugger isn't hungry at all until his ADHD meds start to wear off. We have to have dinner later -- 6:30 or 7:00. 2) When I asked Slugger's f-mom to send me some recipes of Slugger's favorite meals, she ignored me. It took me a while to figure it out, but they eat predominantly frozen and canned foods. She doesn't cook. And Slugger's previous adoptive parents got take-out more nights than not. So Slugger wasn't used to home cooking and here I was cooking foods that would be challenging for most kids.

    I fought and bargained and pleaded with Slugger and it just made everything worse. When I finally figured out 1 & 2 above, I made concessions. We now eat dinner later and, while I still cook, I make less challenging meals. Now he does great with home cooking. He's willing to try new things and eats quite well. But it took time and it took my learning to ignore it and make some concessions.

    I think your post is an important reminder for all of us. Sometimes working through an issue doesn't require confronting it... sometimes all it takes is a little flexibility on our parts.

  6. I agree with Tandy up there, above me. I read you every single day, but don't always have a comment, or know what to say.

    I don't really know what to say here, either, except that I hope I am as intuitive, gentle, kind and damn SMART as you are one day!

    You inspire me, not just as a foster parent, but as a human being. Thank you.

  7. Thank you all for such kind comments. I'm not convinced that I am so smart -- if I was I would have figured some of this out earlier!

    You are all very sweet.

  8. Okay, how about wise? And learned. It makes me feel sad for Gary to think what in the world happened to him that makes him not want to eat around other people. Such a simple thing, breaking bread together. Thank goodness he has you guys. You are a wonder, really!


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