One of the things I find funny about parenthood is how much time I have spent dealing with things that, pre-parenthood, it never crossed my mind would be an issue.
Case in point in our family: food.
I have learned over the years from therapists, social workers, et al, that many kids coming out of foster care have issues with food. The two most common are hoarding and extreme pickiness. The hoarding is relatively straightforward: Many, perhaps most, foster kids experience periods of food scarcity, and being denied food as a form of discipline is also a common experience. So when food is available? Hoard away. The pickiness touches a slightly deeper nerve: It’s a way for the kid to exert control over one tiny area of his or her otherwise very out-of-control life. “I won’t eat that, and you can’t make me.”
In addition to what I learned from the experts, I’ve had plenty of direct experience with both hoarding and control-based pickiness right under our roof, all thanks to Daveon.
(For the record, Mark eats just about anything, and plenty of it. His dislikes are limited to various kinds of vegetables—no surprise there—as well as, oddly enough, pepperoni.)
Daveon’s food trajectory goes something like this:
- When he moved in, he had food allergies to pretty much everything: beef, dairy, eggs, nuts, and I’m sure many others I am forgetting. He came from a home where he ate lots of stuff out of cans—his passion was Vienna sausages, which I’m almost positive do not technically qualify as food. As far as his tastes went, the more processed, the better.
- Over the years, as can happen with kids, almost every allergy lifted, except for a tiny reaction to peanuts. So “I can’t eat this” got replaced with “I don’t like this.” This list was unpredictable, ever-changing, but always quite long. Candidates included peanuts and peanut butter, butter, mayo, all fruit except apples, chocolate milk, most cheese, eggs, yogurt and frozen yogurt, pie of any kind, tomatoes, cucumbers, celery, any Asian food except Americanized Chinese, sour cream, guacamole, and the list goes on and on. Oh, and any exposed fat/skin on meat or poultry.
- Whatever food he would eat, he took as tiny a portion as I would let him get away with and call a meal—and I’m sure more than one school lunch ended up mostly in the trash. This was the “control” period. It lifted somewhat when we started high school and got more serious about cross-country. He still didn’t go much for quantity—even at 19, his weight hangs right around 100 pounds—but he definitely expanded in terms of variety, so that’s a good sign.
- Also over the years, occasional hoarding revealed itself. On the rare times I dared to venture into his room to clean up, I often found packets of spoiled food in dresser drawers, under the bed, etc. Stuff he had “socked away” and then clearly forgotten about. I’m still not sure how he could ignore the smell.
- Late in high school, Daveon agreed to see a homeopathic/holistic doctor to help with his nasal allergies. After doing some blood work, the doctor announced that the allergies were not, as assumed, really environmental in nature. According to her, they were instead caused by allergies to—wait for it—dairy, eggs, and gluten. So right at the time the kid started eating a broader-based diet, we had to scale it back again, or at least find substitutions. What we learned was: Everything contains wheat or eggs, or both. Luckily we found acceptable substitutes with gluten-free bread and pasta products; soy, rice, and other grain milks (no nut milks, of course); and even a handful of gluten/dairy-free dessert options he likes. We have also learned that a “dairy free” food can contain eggs, so you need to read labels really carefully. And the food pyramid of my childhood is officially dead. (Also officially dead, since the day Daveon left for college: This attempt at a healthier diet. I’m pretty sure he’s back to Vienna sausages on a regular basis.)
Coming from an Italian family, the last thing I ever thought about in relation to kids was food issues—unless the “issue” was, how long till the next meal/snack/treat? Or maybe, what do you mean I can only have four cookies? Further proof that when you venture into having kids on your own, you never can tell.
Next: Dating: Kid Division