I don’t always wear mascara and eyeliner, but when I do I’m probably headed to a parent-teacher conference. I already have a lot of kids, I don’t attend PTA meetings, and my children aren’t always the most studious. I figure I aught to at least look awake. I’m representing my team, so I like to look as sane and put together as possible when I enter the classroom.
Today was my preschoolers day. She’s the youngest of the crew at just 4 years old. She was placed with us at age 2. She always seemed to be the most “on-target”. And most days, she’s the most appropriate child in the house. She follows directions, likes helping, and always gives great hugs. Unlike some of her siblings, she’s too young to remember much of her life before coming to us, so she doesn’t randomly spurt out traumatic memories like they occasionally will. This little one is “on-target”.
(Random Fact: Teachers and Social Workers love the words “on-target”.)
As I sat down for what I anticipated to be one of the few good parent-teacher conferences I would have the pleasure of attending this year, I was feeling pretty amazing. Like a Good Mom.
After a few minutes of the teacher telling me how delightful my daughter was to have in class, and how she is “on-target” in most areas, she then dropped and unexpected bomb.
“Is everything okay at home?”, she asked. “You’re daughter seems hungry all of the time. Is she getting enough to eat?”
“What the (I don’t curse…out loud)?!” BAD MOM ALERT! BAD MOM ALERT! The alarms went off in my head. Did this teacher just imply that I’m not feeding the troops?!
Not this again. I recognized this. But, I thought the struggle had missed her. My little girl was struggling with an issue that her 6 year old brother is tormented by daily.
Because of the neglect in their past, her brother seeks food all day and all night. His whole day is surrounded by his quest for food. He cannot focus in school, play, or do anything without thinking about the next bite to eat. Last year when he was in preschool he told the teachers that he was only there to eat breakfast and lunch, and he would throw terrible tantrums if second portions were not offered to him. He was obsessed with getting the portions that he’d gone without so many times in the past. And he wasn’t just trying to fill his belly, but also a gaping whole in his soul created by neglect.
Now, my little girl was showing the same signs. As the teacher told me how my daughter became visibly anxious at meal times, and would ask for seconds of a food that she didn’t even like, I felt a heavy sinking feeling inside my body. How could she be affected by this, too? She’s been eating 5 to 6 times a day on schedule since she was placed with us at age 2. How could she too be haunted by the inconsistency of her past?
I felt pity for her. No matter how much I had given her, all the home cooked meals, all the granola bars passed out on in the car, none of that had shaken off the obstacles she had suffered even in infancy.
I explained the situation to the teacher, as I have done with other teachers in the past. I assured her that my children are all well fed and asked her not to over-feed my daughter by continuing to give her a third portion of food.
I left the meeting still feeling joyful that this child was more “on-target” than many others I have loved, but still saddened by the weight of the internal struggle that I cannot rescue her from. Children, like my daughter, who come to us through the foster care system often attempt to fill a void for love, consistency, and security with food.
I know that over time, with prayer, love, and consistency she and her siblings will be delivered from this food demon. It’s not just the food that they are seeking. It’s security. They need to know that the food will be there. They need to know that our family will be there. They need to know that there is security with US. So while I can’t magically take away the pain, or cover it up with home cooked meals. I am confident that our prayers, consistency, and love will start filling those holes.