A month and a half has gone by since Avery decided that eating was a waste of time. I went through terrifying mental storms of wondering if she was showing very, very early signs of an eating disorder, which were calmed in the moments when I was able to remember that she is three years old. And if there is one thing I’ve learned about three year olds, it’s that they will do anything in their power to ruin a parents’ sanity. Just ruin it. They’re creative, too. Sometimes it’s something as simple as reverting to baby talk, sometimes they’ll shove their hands down their pants in public and announce that they’ve just tooted, or sometimes they’ll strip all their Barbies naked and carpet their bedroom with the discarded clothing. Other times, when they’re in the mood to take it to the next level, they’ll decide they never want to eat again. They’ll declare that they hate anything that looks like food and that they’re not hungry, despite not having eaten so much as a single Cheerio in hours. They’re cruel, they’re creative, and they’re also relentlessly stubborn. No amount of pleading, or threatening, or bartering will waver them if they’ve got it in their minds to destroy their mothers and fathers from the inside, out. If they’ve decided they’re not going to eat ever, ever, ever again, then they won’t. Not for the magic word, not after a time-out, not for the promise of a favourite television show or a cookie for dessert. They don’t like cookies, remember? And they certainly won’t be listening to any of that “if you don’t eat you’ll die” talk. What a bunch of balony. Of which they will also not eat.
I had weeks ago realized that this hunger strike was not a reflection on her self esteem. She’s a beautiful little girl with a brilliant mind, a sweet, open heart and a wicked sense of humour. All of which she is told every day of her life and has repeated back to us. She knows. No, this hunger strike is and was nothing but a pre-emptive strike in this war we all fight with our parents over control. They’re ordered about day in and day out (albeit, the orders come politely and in the form of a Regular Daily Schedule, but they are orders, nonetheless) to dress a certain way, to behave how adults want, to sleep, play, eat when they are told. And so, if we insist on controlling all of these aspects of her life, she will make it as difficult as possible. In fact, we can tell her when it’s time to sit at the table to eat, but we can’t force her to open her mouth and eat what she’s given. She may starve to death in the process, but she wins that one battle.
Her strategy was flawed from the get-go. She forgot to factor in two things: 1) she may be stubborn, but she has a lot to learn from her mother. I. Don’t. Budge. We eat dinner right before bedtime, so if she’s not going to eat, then she going straight to bed. And she did. Night after night, she would refuse what we gave her (which was never anything she hadn’t previously eaten, voluntarily and enthusiastically), so she went to her room. She could come out if she was going to eat. A few nights she tested us and did, in fact, go to bed without dinner. We were not being cruel – this was her decision. There was always, always, a plate of food that she likes ready and waiting for her to eat. She decided she didn’t want to eat it, so she went to bed. However, more often than not, she’d throw her fit about not wanting to eat, she’d go to her room, and a while later, she’d creep down the stairs sheepishly and whisper that she was ready to eat her dinner now. And she would, with the look of a very tiny, very angry, very defeated soldier.
The second flaw in her strategy was 2) Easter. Chocolate and the adults who control it. Here she is now with mountains, and I mean MOUNTAINS, of delicious chocolate just sitting there waiting to be consumed, but there’s the obsticle of having to eat a healthy meal before she can have some. Or, more honestly, any meal, really. Eat your food first, and you can have some chocolate for dessert. Well, shucks. If there’s anything that can weaken the knees of even the most battle-hardened soldier, it’s the sight of chocolate waiting to be eaten.
I’m knocking on wood and crossing my fingers and toes and rubbing a lucky rabbit’s foot (still attached to a rabbit, of course – I’m not cruel) as I type this, but I think Easter has broken her. She ate every last scrap of her two Easter dinners. She’s eaten every bite of lunch for the last five days. She’s become a breakfast hound, asking for seconds and thirds yesterday, and today skipping the wait of a refill and simply asking for “one giant bowl of Corn Pops, so it doesn’t waste time”. She’s snacking on bowls filled with crackers. Her hunger and her desire to feed that hunger is back, with a vengeance.
In that month and a half of eating less than an infant, she hadn’t, by some miracle, lost any weight, but she’d grown taller and she hadn’t gained, so her pants were just falling off her body. Her face was pale and her hands felt miniscule in my own. She was irritable and emotional. She wasn’t herself. I missed her little pot belly. I missed her easy laugh and her adrenaline-fueled squeeze-hugs. I don’t know if that brief phase is over, or if this is just a psych-out to gain mental ground in our undoubted 18-year war, but I’ll take the reprieve. We have family dinners again that don’t include regular temper tantrums. We didn’t falter and cave to her demands, yet she came around in the end. We won this battle. It was for her own good, as most battles are, but I feel like I’m the one who won.
If this really is the end of this stage, I can look back and honestly say it was hard. Not the most difficult thing we’ve had to go through in our short time as parents (I’d reserve that title for sleep training), but it was hard. She isn’t back to 100% of her old self as she still claims some of her favourite foods are offensive (homemade pizza? really? NO ONE doesn’t like homemade pizza), but she’s eating enough, more than enough, and I’m no longer afraid of her not thriving.
Parenting is the hardest job in the world and I will fist fight anyone who tells me otherwise.