food part 2, and Issa in a nutshell.

So, O my friends and friends of my friends, in my last post I presumed to admonish you to give control over their eating TO YOUR CHILDREN.

I have tried to explain my theory to people before, and some have said "but he only wants milk!" or "she will be so HUNGRY, I will feel guilty!" so they give their child whatever they will eat, be it 6 bottles of formula daily at age 4, or froot loops 3 times a day, all in the name of love. And then they have anxiety attacks about the fact that the kid will only eat those things.

People, humans are real resilient creatures. We are like goats, able to survive on whatever we can scavenge. I have seen kids survive on white bread, red soft drinks and cheezees, and grow. If you choose to give your kid junk, they will probably not die, but if you choose to feed them a healthy diet which they will follow all of their lives, it is easy to do. (Okay, maybe not as easy as white bread and cheezees.) Making the change is possible.

We have a distant relation of my husband's, who was born a few months after my Chas. His name is Issa, and I have mentioned him before without many details. When Issa was a baby, his mother became ill and discovered that she had Lupus: a weird disease. When Issa was four, he and Chas both started at the same school and they became friendly, and I met his mother. She was sick and exhausted, and had no help or husband at all for complicated family drama reasons which I will refrain from ranting about here since this blog is read by all and sundry. (hello, family!) I offered to take Issa home one weekend with us after school, to give his mother a break, and Issa fit so perfectly into our house full of boys that he began to spend nearly every weekend with us, the whole summer holidays, Easter break.... He moved in, had toys and clothes, sibling rivalry, a broken toe and serious injuries, haircuts, coughs, homework dramas, "parent"-teacher meetings, and fights over the top bunk. Issa is a bright boy, and a darling. He had been caring for his mother, a situation which she knew was wrong, and she was grateful to have him "be a boy" with his "cousins". Issa would spend school nights with his mother, unless she was in hospital or totally incapable.

When Issa first came to us, he had had very little "parenting". His mother was too tired to cook or discipline, and the boy had been watching unsuitable TV, roaming his neighbourhood till all hours, and eating junk food. He only ate hotdogs, bread and sugar, milk, softdrinks, and plain macaroni, pretty much. So I had a serious think about it. Do I starve him? This kid, who has been through so much? Do I pander to his every desire, because I love him?

I decided to starve him. I am a meanie. Plus, I was not willing to change my family's diet to suit him.

For dinner on the first night of our experiment, I made some random chicken/rice/veg thing, and Issa was not impressed. I explained that he could eat whatever he liked on his plate, but I thought he should definitely try everything cause it's YUMMY! He didn't believe me, and hardly ate a thing. It was all yucky. I did not force the issue or try to feed him.

For breakfast, I served scrambled eggs, whole wheat toast, butter, fried potatoes, mushrooms... Mmm, my three dug in with gusto. Issa made a face, and asked for cereal. "oh, we're out of cereal, sweetie!" I said. (I had cleaned all junk out of the house before hand) "you eat as much as you want" I said.

Issa nibbled a bit of toast, drank some juice and said he wasn't hungry.

Mid-morning, I offered bananas and oranges or something.


By lunch, he was really hungry. I made peanut butter and jam OR cheeze and mayo sandwiches, on whole wheat. Issa asked for a sugar and jam sandwich, and I explained that I was only offering two options, because they both had protein for growing boys.

He ate a cheeze sandwich. Then, I made smoothies with yogurt and frozen strawberries and pineapple, and threw in some calcium tablets and brewer's yeast (vitamin B) tablets and blended them all up with ice. He had a sip, but it was too new just yet, and not sweet enough for him.

For dinner I made a lasagne with veggies cunningly hidden in it. He ate a little, being too starving to complain.

Gradually, over the course of a long weekend, Issa became an adventurous eater. In the months to come, he grew to like my vitamin-packed fruit-sweetened smoothies, and to say YAY, LASAGNE! He is not a fan of salad, but he will eat eggs, fruit, whole grains, and veggies. When he went home to his mother, he ate junk, and when he came to us, he chowed down with enthusiasm. As the years passed, we developed a comfortable routine of trading Issa back and forth. Life was simple. Summers were excellent. Family dramas were kept at a minimum by simply avoiding the dramatic families.

When Chas and Issa were nearly 8, Issa's mother died unexpectedly one morning while he was at school. I had never even thought about the possibility of that happening. I got a phone call from my mother-in-law, and Sean and I dropped everything and went to pick Issa up from school. We took him to say goodbye to his Mom, and then we all went home to wait...

I knew that Mohaz, Issa's mom, had asked her brother to take him and raise him as a good Muslim, and that they were good people and would do the "right thing". But that was a family of girls, and they had never been interested in Issa before.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Issa was holding up okay and my own children were devastated. They kept telling me that Issa was their brother and that I had to be his mother now. I just kept saying that "all of the grownups who love Issa will decide what to do". I felt pretty powerless.

I knew that Issa assumed that he would simply stay here. But as I gradually planted the idea that Uncle Aftab had no son and had loved his sister so much, and would maybe love to have Issa... Issa grew angrier and angrier. I was betraying him, letting him down, sending him off to live with some "real family" who had never wanted him.

A few days later, Aftab's wife Juliet called me.

"We would like Issa to come and live here. It is what his mother wanted."

So. We packed Issa up, and dropped him off "home". In the following year, we kept up our regular weekends, mostly, while the new family gradually became accustomed to one another. Issa gave Juliet hell, and she understood that he was testing her hard. He said to me often "she doesn't love me!" and "I want to come back here." Issa's new family is very unlike ours, and the adjustment has been hard. Juliet has called me to beg advice, since she has three nice, quiet, tidy, studious girls. Throwing a rambunctious 8-year-old boy into the mix has been difficult.

We see less and less of Issa, which is right and good, I know, but the space in our hearts and our home has been difficult to fill. We have an Issa shaped space here.

But the last time he was here, and we went to Brasso Seco, two things were noticeable to all of us: like my boys, Issa will try any food. He was eating whole crayfish, legs and all, and a soup full of weird unrecognise-able stuff. The other thing was the way he made a beeline to the bookshelf with Chas and Sam. The three of them spread out on the floor and read, looked stuff up, giggled and traded books. Kelly said to me, "hmm, looks like Issa loves to read, just like your boys. That's a gift you have given him."

"Issa IS my boy!" I whispered back.


Anonymous said…
Dearest Nan, thank you for this.
Meg said…
Ah, thanks for sharing, Nan
Anonymous said…
OH man.
We had a little Ivoirian girl who became my daughter, but had to eventually go back and live with her grandmother in Abijan. Issa reminds me of her. Except that you still get to see him.
Great post. I enjoyed this series. I'm like you in eating philosophy, except that I tend to be a little more controlling--of the "you must finish your food" type. Still, the kids seem to be turning out ok. ;)
Anonymous said…
OK Nan, enough you are making me cry too much tonight.

How the heck do you get the time to write these beautiful grammatically and spell-checked things I will never know''Thanks

This was in response to your blog about Issa. You know already that I share the same food philosophy as me and jacob loves to tel me that his tummy is talking to him and he is listening!!!

love Diana