It’s Thanksgiving week in the US and if there’s one thing that’s certain, it’s that the day will revolve around food. I’m here for it, body image be darned. I show love by feeding my people.
Let me explain.
Many of my children were “food insecure” when they joined our family via adoption. Some were very malnourished and a couple were starving. (Think the size of an average 3-month old but at 19-months old.) Many had never been “full” in their lives. They didn’t know what that felt like and the instinct to stop eating when full had been erased.
One of our girls came from a Russian orphanage where they were given scalding hot tea for a snack. For one-year-olds. When I was able to take her from the orphanage, I took her back to the apartment where we were staying and started to feed her the toddler snack food I had brought with me. She ate and ate and ate. I was astonished, actually, at how much food she could pack into a tiny body. And then she started to gag. She actually ate so much, she literally could not swallow another bite, which is when I realized she had no idea what it felt like to be full.
Another of our children came from Africa and people commented on her “beautiful red hair.” With a few exceptions, people of African descent do not have red hair unless they are so malnourished from lack of calories and protein that they cannot produce normal levels of melanin. Her hair color changed back to a rich, gorgeous black after she began to eat a healthier diet.
When our kids got old enough to leave their rooms at night, I began to find food in odd places. Hidden under their pillows, or their beds. Cans opened with screwdrivers and hammers, contents eaten, then placed back on the shelf. Yes, we have can openers and if they asked if they could eat something, my answer was always yes unless it was a specific, limited ingredient for a meal that week – and then I would offer an alternative. There was food now. There might not be in the future, so before they even had words to talk about it, they learned to “prepare” by hiding and hoarding food.
It ripped my heart out. I never, ever wanted our kids to be food insecure again, so we always (and still do) have food in abundance at our house. We’ve never used food as a punishment. I couldn’t send mixed messages to kids who had literally been through periods of starvation. So – there has always been food in our home.
When it comes to traditions in our family, like most of you, ours revolve around food. Those traditional foods represent comfort and safety. They helped create the social bonds that bind our family. We came together in unconventional ways, and many of our children were old enough to consciously remember life before they became a Richardson. Those traditions include food from my children’s countries of origin, with certain foods at holiday time (can’t have Christmas without homemade caramels!), birthdays, etc.
Come Thanksgiving (and Christmas, Easter, Halloween and just plain ol’ Sunday dinner), it’s all about the food. I’m not Italian, but I’d make a great Italian grandma if I were: “Sit! Eat! I cook for you!” If the kids want to bring friends, no problem! There is always enough to feed another – and another and another. We’re always happy to set an extra plate – or add an extra table.
I’ll spend hours on my feet in the kitchen this week. My back will hurt and I will probably grumble about not enough help with the dishes. But, the food will be made and served with love. Lots of it. I hope they all can taste it.