It’s been three years and one month since I stood in the Civil Affairs building in Zhengzhou and took the sweetest boy into my arms. It was the end of 13 long months of waiting, and the love I felt for my son during all those agonizing months was nothing compared to the explosion that took place in my heart the moment I finally held him.
Like all adoptive parents, my husband and I completed the required parent training to adopt from China. We learned many valuable lessons during those hours and they prepared us for some of the challenges that we might face once our son was home. But learning about those challenges is nothing like seeing them firsthand. From the first time I fed my son, he acted like he had never seen food before. And as a baby with a cleft lip and palate that was responsible for holding his own bottle and feeding himself while the orphanage nannies took care of the younger, less independent babies I know that he had probably never experienced having enough food.
Through the years, we’ve had to overcome many “orphanage behaviors” but the hardest one for my son to let go of was his struggle with food issues. It’s something that was a gradual process. First letting him have all the food he wanted, whenever he wanted. Making sure that all the food was in place at the table before he sat down to a meal to avoid a meltdown. Telling restaurant staff that his order must be the first one brought out. Warning preschool teachers and church volunteers that if someone else is eating and he doesn’t have food, it could cause a problem. Then less, and less, of those moments. Small little battles that became very large victories through the years as he became more and more secure in the knowledge that his tummy would never know the pangs of hunger again. But always, he is the last family member at the table…eating all of his food and sometimes even a second helping. There has never been anything about him that indicated even the slightest bit that he is a “picky” eater.
But this past week, that changed. Cold weather and a flu epidemic sweeping through our home prompted me to make a batch of homemade chicken and noodle soup. Like always, the bowls were in place when the kids were called to the table. And after we blessed the food, my sweet Caden pushed away his entire bowl of soup and said, “I don’t like this.” He had eaten it before without complaint, but this time something was different. This time he knew he could reject it and still not go hungry. It took three years for him to reject a meal. Three years to develop that deep level of trust that his tummy is safe with us. Long after the angry outbursts were conquered and anxious attachment became healthy attachment, it was the one thing that continued to break this mama’s heart over and over again. My baby worried that I wasn’t going to feed him.
I have a confession to make. Normally, when my kids reject food or insult my cooking I don’t take it too well. I even have a playful sign in my kitchen that says “Today’s Menu: Eat It or Starve” to head off complaints from my more particular kids who make a habit of turning up their noses at dinner. But when my sweet boy pushed that bowl of soup away, I wanted to cheer. Because it was one more giant leap forward in this journey we call “adoption”. A journey that lasts a lifetime and brings new challenges with it along the way. A journey that will never be mastered or perfected. But a journey that definitely makes an impact…even if the results are slow coming.