I looked over at four-year-old Deni. Once again she’d stopped eating, staring at her baby sister’s legs. Hearing me clear my throat as I prepared to speak, the cute little red-head said, “Her really likes to move her legs now. Me and Jamie* was scared that her knees had stuck like that cuz her hung in the swing too long.”
“I’m glad, too. It makes us all happy to see she can kick her legs again,” I said, setting the bottle on the table and positioning Susie for a burp. “Do you like scrambled eggs and toast?”
Deni nodded and looked over to her two-year-old sister. “Her likes it, too.”
I’d been stealing brief glances over at Jamie while feeding Susie. The ultra-thin African-American two-year-old shoveled the food into her mouth as fast as her two hands could. I worried she’d not be able to keep her swallowing in sync with the amount stuffed in. “Jamie, you can slow down. There’s plenty of time for you to eat your breakfast.”
Jamie interrupted her left hand’s return to the plate, her right fist—eggs squeezing out of the tight hold--froze just above the diminishing yellow mound. Without turning her head, she riveted her dark-brown eyes on mine. The suspension lasted about two seconds, before the frantic feeding resumed. She said nothing.
Once again, I sought counsel from a preschooler. “Deni, does Jamie usually eat like that? I’m afraid she’ll choke on her food.” I pushed my chair back slightly, turning to the side to provide more space for the now-sleeping Susie.
“Yeah. Jamie coughs sometimes when her eats.”
“Do you know why she thinks she has to eat so fast?”
Deni shrugged her narrow shoulders, giving me that It-should-be-obvious look as she answered. “If her doesn’t eat fast, someone takes her food to eat.” Deni stared at the empty spot in front of where I sat.
Oh, Jamie! I’d never take food off your plate. Never,” I said, horrified at the thought.
“Growed people do it. So, where’s your food?” said Deni, no doubt speaking for the frowning but still shoveling Jamie.
“Uh, it’s still in the kitchen. I wanted to be sure you had enough to eat first. I didn’t know how much food to prepare, so I thought I’d eat after you girls had finished. If you want more, you can have more. It’s in the kitchen.”
Deni said nothing, but it looked to me like her wheels were trying to sift out truth. Jamie, having finished the eggs, was about to stuff half a piece of toast in her mouth. I knew disaster loomed if I didn’t act.
I gently put my hand around the slender arm, lowering it to the table. Keeping a firm hold on the resisting arm, I smiled and said, “I forgot to cut your toast, Jamie. You hold on to it in your plate, and I’ll cut it into strips for you.” I loosened my hold, reaching for the breadknife.
Slicing the bread into strips, I turned to the eldest of this precious trio. “Deni, are you eating so slowly because you think I might eat some of Jamie’s food and you want to have some to share with her?” I looked up to see her freckled face redden, but Deni said nothing. “Oh, Honey. I’m so sorry that adults did that to you girls. We have plenty of food for everyone in this house.”
I saw in both weary faces that I’d need to prove my promises. In the meantime, I had to make a point of putting a plate of food for myself on the table every meal. Only then would Deni feel free to eat the food on her plate.
Getting Jamie to slow down and stop eating with both hands may be a harder sell. Obviously, someone had taken food off her plate, leaving Jamie hungry.
By the close of that first day, I discovered yet another of Jamie’s resourceful ways to fill her empty tummy. I’d need to break some of my own mother’s House Rules to help this little girl learn she could trust me.