T is a slow eater. Painfully slow. To the point where I rush him through the end of his meals far more often than I’m comfortable admitting. He talks nonstop and takes small bites. Which, is good. When we read Thich Nhat Hanh before dinner, the excerpts often embody T’s slow, mindful, communal eating that’s laced with gratitude.
Lately, he’s been more prone to mindlessly shoveling food into his mouth. Several times I have had to remind him to slow down and actually chew his food. The other day he even started coughing and choking when he inhaled a bite so fast.
It’s very uncharacteristic.
So when I walked back to our table at a local restaurant recently to find him sitting there chewing with his eyes closed, I waited for him to look up before speaking.
“Are you making a point to eat mindfully, buddy?”
“Yup, Amy! I’m the picture of health right now.”
“Yeah. Calvin said that once. I thought it was funny. Don’t you think that’s funny? To say: I’m a picture of health.”
“Well, you’re right that eating mindfully is healthy. So it’s a good connection to make.”
“Plus, Amy—I was thinking about the pig. I hope this pig had a good life. I hope the farmer treated it well and it was happy. It is a pig, right, Amy? Because this is a pork taco?”
“Yup! You’re totally right. Pork comes from pigs. Thanks for choosing to be mindful of what you’re eating, T. That’s really important.”
Obviously, parenting is a long game. But, with foster care, it’s more like you’re blindly running a serious of quick plays, hoping you’re able to keep the ball in play. Or maybe it’s more like tossing noodles at the wall, hoping one of them is done enough to stick.
On the screaming, stomping, food-shoveling days—it feels like I haven’t gained any ground. It feels like all the noodles are falling right off the wall. Which makes me all the more grateful for the days I am able to remember that I’ve given T space to grow. He’s learned what it feels like to have consistency and structure. He now knows what it means to mess up and still be loved. He gets grace. He gets mercy. He knows he doesn’t need to be perfect to be accepted. He’s a completely different kid than the one who walked in my door, endlessly swaying side-to-side-to-side two and a half years ago.
And while not every lesson will stick, I can choose to trust that some of them will continue to simmer, eventually settling into the core of who he chooses to become.