Pack Rat or Hoarder… When to Worry

May 23, 2011 Eileen, hoarding, orphanage behaviors 0 Comments

We have a small, antique table that sits next to our front door in our entry foyer. Except for displaying a canister of eucalyptus branches and being a dropping off point for mail, it’s largely unused.

For the past couple of weeks, the stool that normally lives in the downstairs powder room has instead been placed next to the little table. I’d never given it a second thought; with five kids, things are rarely where they’re supposed to be. I just always moved it back to the bathroom. This table has deep storage compartments on either side. Since they’re rather awkward, we’ve never used them to store anything.

Over the weekend, I noticed our XiXi, standing on the stool at the little table, with the side lid up, rummaging through the storage compartment. I went to take a look and gasped. It was filled to the brim with food and water. Bananas, oranges, apples, carrots, chips, peanuts, and no fewer than eight mini bottles of water. There were also a smattering of Hot Wheels cars and some chess pieces.

I felt like the Jennifer Connolly character in the movie, “A Beautiful Mind”, when she discovers her husband’s secret shed, filled floor to ceiling with newspaper clippings, circled with his “secret codes”. She’d previously thought everything was fine, but then knew that it wasn’t.

And yet, things do seem fine. At the end of the week, we’ll mark two months since we met our son in China. He’s a complete and total joy. He gives and accepts affection freely. He’s kind and considerate and one of the most self-sufficient three-year olds I’ve ever met. We love him dearly. He lived in an orphanage for the first 3 years of his life, then with a foster family for about 8 months, and then was back in the orphanage the week before we came. When we met him, my initial thought when I first saw him was, “He’s so big!” He’s just above the 75th percentile in weight on the U.S. growth charts and he doesn’t look malnourished in the least. He also doesn’t seem frantic at meals and doesn’t typically over-eat. In China, the very biggest tantrums we saw came when someone touched his water or his noodles, but that was the case with toys and other possessions as well.

Our daughter was 11 months old at the time of adoption. When she first came home, she could never seem to eat enough. She’d out-eat her father, which is quite a feat. I honestly think she would have eaten anything offered to her on a spoon–mud, weeds, garbage–you name it, I think she would have eaten it. In just a few months, she went from somewhere below the 5th percentile in weight up to the 50th. We spoke to our International Adoption doctor about her eating and she said that it was very common behavior in a child who’d known hunger and that we should continue to offer her as much healthy food as she wanted and that she’d eventually learn that there was always going to be more. She didn’t have to stockpile it all in her bulging tummy. If she’d been mobile, I’m sure she would have been a food hoarder.

So, back to our son. I showed my husband his stash and he just kind of shrugged. Our oldest biological daughter had been a pack-rat at that age. We’d find little stashes of toys and papers and “Lucy junk” in locations all over the house. Was this any different? my husband wanted to know. Well, I think that it is. And yet, I don’t want to over-think it either. He’s doing fantastic.

I took the perishable items out of the table and dumped them in our compost pile. I kept his chips and crackers and water bottles where they were. Is that the right move? Should I put a stop to it completely and tell him that his days of food storage are over? I’m sure this is something the rest of you have dealt with.

I’d love some advice.

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