I wrote this piece for my writing class at The Decatur Writer’s Studio. The Christmas I write about was 2010, I believe. I’ve never been good at remembering years. Addy has had an eating disorder for over 10 years now. And I can talk about the disease and her recoveries and our lives with the disease and I will. This is a start. February is Eating Disorder Awareness Month and I didn’t post about it for the first time in a decade. I am overwhelmed with my dad’s death and my almost two year old divorce. My mom told me on the phone today, if you don’t deal with the first grief then the second will bite you with anger. I’m dealing or not dealing with three griefs. I guess I’ll keep writing.
My cousins visit made the holiday bearable and even fun. Chad became younger while they visited. My accent got thicker. The kids were watching the adults with anticipation not the usual preteen disdain.
Headdress, tom tom drum and coon skin hat were the kids Christmas gifts bought at the giant Tennessee Alabama state line fireworks store. And at the truck stop, the Aunts and Uncles who are technically cousins, got my kids a trucker hat in perma glo orange, a rainbow hacky sack, and a box of Goo Goo Clusters.
Niki brought her husband Drew and Mesissa brought her Johnny. Chad and I had six kids and at 38, we were just three years older than Niki and Drew. They worked in the music industry. They were effortlessly cool and could easily be the fun uncle and aunt.
Mesissa and Johnny were easy too. Give them beer and a bed and we were all good to go. The youngest adults, they could hardly be called adults at all.
There was a lot of beer. I don’t drink. I can’t decide if that increases my Mr. Rogers identity or if it makes me the ultimate aware mom and easygoing wife who can always drive.
I assumed they came to Atlanta for the holidays to avoid their divorced parents. And everyone wants to be around kids for Christmas, which is exactly what Chad and I had plenty of. Or maybe Niki and Mesissa needed some family to be around and they loved us.
There was talk of snow.
My panic took over. We had to have additional food. Over and above the extreme holiday faire. Feeding Addy so that her anorexia was kept at bay was my first priority.
The only grocery open on Christmas day was Patel Brothers. We all went. Yes, the 11 of us went to the grocery store in an Indian strip mall. I’m guessing at least 5 of us went in search of alcohol. I went in search of whole milk. Addy was losing weight rapidly. Her anorexia had a stronghold on her food intake and her personality.
Neither milk nor beer were found. We rampaged the store. The kids were in new Christmas get ups. We did not look like any of the customers- except for Baby Mim. Her birth mother is from India. People stared and offered help. The uncles found woven hammocks with fringe and swung the kids too vigorously for a grocery store. I felt foolish for looking for whole milk in a Hindu grocery and I felt furiously fearful that Addy was nowhere near the recommended calories for the day.
We ordered Thai. The cousins and I plotted strategies to get nourishment in my oldest daughter. She couldn’t possibly know the calorie counts for Thai food and we imagined her eating lots or at least enough to not wake up tomorrow and see her two pounds smaller.
That fall and winter I had watched her shrink. Twelve year olds grow. She got smaller everyday. This world of opposites I had been dropped into was repulsive for a mother.
To feed your child is a biological drive and my child was dying because I couldn’t make her eat.
We ate dinner at the kitchen counter. We fed the little kids pizza. Addy hadn’t had pizza in over 6 months. Teenagers eat pizza.
The snow was falling. Addy stood near me eating pad thai. I grinned at the cousins without Addy seeing and they watched Addy behind my back spit out her chewed egg noodles into a napkin- bite after bite.
Niki and Mesissa gave me the bad news when she went back to reading Twilight and the fire. I sunk further, but I pretended I knew and that anorexia hadn’t outsmarted me.
We played outside in the falling twilight with the kids. Wearing them out so that an early bedtime could allow for Santa prep. Addy was too cold to come out. We put Mim in her new coat sent from her birth parents in Brooklyn.
It was Fubu- a shocking jade green satin puffy coat on my non walking two year old. We held her hands as she leaned on my legs for support and walked her in the light snowflakes. The street lights lit up the falling snow and Mim’s shiny coat.
The four healthy kids ran around in a blur. No coats- they were warm from the high holiday activities of the tipsy uncles and their dad and the excitement of Christmas.
I hid my disdain for Chad drinking too much. I hid it so well. I hid it from myself. Allowing him this needed outlet with extended family that didn’t have the responsibility of 6 kids and a dying daughter seemed like my best option.
She was smaller the next morning.
She had been diagnosed in October. I knew in August but doctors are dumber than mothers. In October, they prescribed therapy once a week and don’t police her food. When your twelve year old looks like death, you know when doctors are wrong.
Outcomes for this treatment protocol are dismal. For girls ages 15-24, anorexia is the leading cause of death- higher than cancer. These outcomes were unacceptable.
I had researched anorexia treatment extensively- after the baby’s therapy during her nap and right before school pick up and soccer practice.
I found the Maudsley Method out of London. The gist of it is be a mother dolphin. Never let your young one out of sight. Gently circle and guide and stroke and insist on staying with mama and coming to nourishment. There is no life beyond that for this season of life. The mother dolphin never leaves the baby or takes a break or throws the uneaten plate of casserole in the baby dolphins face. The mama dolphin quietly insists and loves and welcomes the baby to food without taking any other answer. Life/ food is the only choice. There is no other out.
By Christmas, I was going this approach without support from doctors and therapists or a psychiatrist. No one knew enough about this newly proven method from London, but I was committed and single minded in my drive to keep Addy alive.
Atlanta Center for Eating Disorders programs used the old idea of anorexia treatment that moms were forcing daughters to be anorexic by being over involved in the child’s life and too controlling. Girls were anorexic to get control. They took control of their food intake and weight because they couldn’t control their own lives because of their overbearing mothers.
The dolphin approach looked to Emory hospital doctors and old male psychiatrists like I was the president and CEO of the overbearing mother club.
I feared everyday that Addy would die and that it would be my fault because I had not been able to pull off the dolphin method well enough. I feared that even Chad thought I had lost my mind.
My husband was in mental health research. He was a behaviorist. I should not pay attention to the not eating and the hallucinations about being fat or the talk of self hatred or the rapid weight loss and to allow her to continue running because it was the only thing that lifted her mood. She was happy when she ran and so they ran together. He was reinforcing her happy mood and polite behavior when running by giving her attention when she ran. He saw my methods as incorrect. I was giving her attention when she had a panic attack in the bathtub.
Fully clothed she screamed in the tub full of water. She had a hallucination that she had drank lemonade. My 12 year old was in agony because of lemonade. Her lemonade was other’s people’s spiders or snakes.
I lifted her from the tub. Soaking both of us. Easily cradling her starving body. I laid her in her bed and pulled off her wet jeans and flannel shirt- which were heavier than my girl. She shivered and her teeth chattered louder than a jack hammer. Her body held no heat anymore and she wept. I rocked her and dressed her in the I Love Lucy flannel pajamas.
I soothed her by rubbing the line where her hair meets her forehead. I sat her by the fire wrapped in blankets still shivering. She read Twilight- a series of fat paperbacks like this all winter. Twilight was the only thing she had in common with her peers at this point. They were twelve and drinking lemonade without a second thought.
Chad, Drew and Johnny did behind the scenes assembly for Santa- a basketball goal was the main difficult item. It is so hard to read directions in the dark while drinking more beer. To the majority of the world, these three are the life of the party- cute, charming and charismatic. (Apparently my cousins and I have a type.) They are entertaining and great talkers and they move around room with all of us watching their eyes twinkle and the troop of monkeys on their backs twittering and sucking their thumbs.
Family gossip, alcohol and roaring laughter. I put the baby to bed while the adults played. Addy was already asleep when I got up to her room. Or maybe she was pretending under a huge mound of blankets. Tuck read Harry Potter and Dolly, George and Bebe slept in the big bedroom.
With a house full of people I love at Christmas, the holiday of joy,- despair crept in.
To be continued…