This morning I followed a trail of broken, dry, Top Ramen noodles down the hall, across the living room and to the garbage can where the empty plastic wrapper lay crumpled on top of the garbage. Yesterday it was an entire package of Coconut Dream cookies, bought for a trip. Before that, eight granola bars in one sitting and last week, a case of Pop Tarts from a siblings room. Not a package…a case.
Fingerprints in the cinnamon bowl…half boxes of dry cereal…entire family size packages of crackers…wrappers in the bathroom garbage…whatever comes in a package…gone in the night.
There’s a food thief in the house, waking in the dark of night and slinking through the kitchen stuffing food in as fast as he can. Neatly throwing the packages in the garbage can with no attempt to hide them and then creeping back to bed.
And when asked, ‘Did you do this?’…the child never denies. An honest thief who neatly disposes of his trash…what to do with that?!
But this is not a child who is hungry. This is not a child who lacks anything at the moment. He is not devious or ‘bad’ or trying to get away with something. This is not a child who is malicious or even…I think…really wants the food.
This is a child who has had no control over any part of his existence which for a long time, was a fight or flight, eat or die, every child for himself…life.
So do I blame him? Of course not. Do I get mad…never. But do I want it to stop? Yes, I do.
The problem is, you can’t discipline such behavior…not really. You can’t threaten him in to stopping any more than you can tell a person not to breathe or to stop their heart from beating. It is primal survival mode …not stealing for the sake of stealing.
And though he knows there will be food there tomorrow and the next day…his instincts wake him in the night and send him, against his own free will, searching for some control over his own life. And he finds it in a package of dry Top Ramen.
And so I’ve sought answers because even with all the things my kids have done over the years, this is a fairly new one to me. At least to this extent. Billy was a food stealer in his younger days, but never to the point of repeatedly, night after night, shoving in as much food as he can. Billy would pocket a cheese stick or hide Gogurts under his bed…but eating 8 packages of Pop Tarts in a few minutes time…this seems more deep rooted and serious.
The experts…and by experts I mean other parents who have been down this road…tell me it’s about control. That if I offer him unlimited food anytime day or night, eventually he will stop. And my parental defensiveness pops up and says, “But I don’t restrict his food…he gets plenty!” I reason that he has a large dinner, always fills his plate, usually has popcorn or a snack before bed and never goes to bed hungry. Logically, he shouldn’t be getting up and eating. And yet…which part of any of this is logical? It’s not about that.
And so I expect I’ll have to listen to the experts and try giving him a bottomless snack drawer. He’ll go through several Costco sized boxes of food, at first, they tell me…and then it will even out when his subconscious knows there will always be food for him and he’ll never be truly hungry again. It will take time…they say…lots of it. But some day he’ll stop.
And the control freak mother in me wonders if I can relinquish control over MY life in that way…any more than he can let go of his controlling nature. Perhaps it’s a battle, of sorts, to discover which of us has more control issues. Some days, I’m betting I’d win. Or lose, however you want to look at it.
Meanwhile, somewhere deep inside the boy he is hurting. And he is being soothed by filling his mouth…and filling his emptiness…with food. My job is to find a way to fill that whole with trust and nurture….so my pantry and the boy will both be filled and satisfied.
Wish me luck.