I grew up in the 1980s with, I think, a pretty standard 1980s upbringing. We had TV and the usual cartoons at the time. We had bedtimes and reading. We had birthday and christmas presents – My Little Pony and He-Man and Action Force and Lego. We had packed lunches for school and home-cooked meals each evening. We had everything “right”.
I recall feeling a “lack” in many situations.
Other kids had scented notepaper to trade. With faded kittens and puppies on the background. Until the girls in our estate started trading their different sheets, it had never even occurred to me as something to desire, but somehow, all of a sudden, here was this giant important thing that everyone else seemed to have been notified of and I was the odd one out. The other kids were actually pretty kind about it; someone gave me a present of a small booklet to “start” and from there I could join in the trading fun.
At school, other kids had sharpeners and animal rubbers and perfect sets of colouring pencils in branded pencil cases. I had what I needed for writing, but maybe a bit chewed, maybe owned by a sister or two before me. I filled up every blank centimetre on each page of my copybooks, eventually learning to write smaller and smaller, because it wasn’t always easy to get new ones.
No-one ever explicitly said anything, but I sensed that money was tight and also time was tight. Both my parents worked and our school utensils were not to the fore of their minds and I hated to feel like an Obligation by asking for things.
I coveted those pristine clean erasers. Even today I have an enduring fascination with stationary. I could spend an hour browsing a stationary shop for pens and different types of paper and all sorts of goodies.
As above, so below. As with stationary, so with food.
My food being “wrong” an undesirable was only compounded by the fact that I had a very limited palate; I liked nearly nothing. This may be why I cut my kids all the slack I do around eating, despite now karmically understanding the frustration my parents must have felt with my eating, or lack thereof. I would have lived on jam sandwiches if I could have. But I hated butter and cream and milk, and pretty much all dairy – although I went through a phase of eating cheese-and-onion sandwiches as the sharp onion cut through the creaminess of the cheese and they sort of came close to tasting like crisp sandwiches.
When I was small, my sisters made my lunches, then I did it for myself, but the general pattern didn’t really vary: Sandwich and a piece of fruit. Later on we used get a juice box. Earlier there was milk in school in those beautiful little glass bottles. I loved pressing down the foil and removing the perfect circle. I was fascinated by how it could both seal the bottle so perfectly and yet come away with such ease just by dint of a dent. But, of course, I hated drinking it. I held my nose and gulped it down as quickly as I could, then, having sensibly saved the eating portion of my lunch for after, I would shudder and block the taste as quickly as possible with a bite of (usually jam, no butter) sandwich. Otherwise I risked it all coming up again.
I became adept at ignoring my body’s signals about food.
Dinners too were usually not appealing to me. Particularly offensive items could be cut up small and then swallowed whole with water. Like taking medicine. It was more difficult with creamy casseroles and other “one dish” meals, and I was that iconic child sitting at the dinner table long after everyone else has left. Refusing to eat, threatened with the same meal for breakfast, but refusing to eat. Not refusing, I now realise. Not able. That was when my body still had a say about what I put into it.
Other kids’ homes seemed to serve things more appealing to my palate: sausage and mini pizzas and chips. “Kiddie food”. Other kids’ lunches contained exotic items like salted sunflower seeds, Tuc crackers, popcorn and crisps and chocolate bars.
It wasn’t that I wasn’t hungry, I just didn’t like what I had to eat. And I had a small appetite too.
But I learned to ignore the signals my body gave me around food. I learned to eat what was put in front of me. I grew and my palate grew too and more things became appealing. I grew up and started to earn money, and my first impulse was to buy food, but not fuel-food, reward food: salty, fatty, sugary, above all junky reward food.
And that person is still around at the end of a long week or day or event.
But I have hope for change. Recognising is the first step, right?