I know I have mentioned before about not being prepared despite preparing ourselves for our kids. I'm speaking specifically about "cultural differences" that are discussed in numerous books and by sw's regarding international adoption: "Your child(ren) will suddenly have to deal with brand new smells, sounds, faces, foods, homes, clothing, etc."
We prepared ourselves for rejection by the boys -- I know I would have rejected a "new mommy/daddy" if I were put in a similar situation. One thing I hadn't thought of was, well, sexism. I had met a few boys early in my teaching career who refused to play dress-up -- "that's for girls," or who claimed that boys were better than girls at various activities. But I wasn't prepared for some pretty unusual behaviors exhibited by our older son.
H would become noticeably displeased if I was served food first, or if I received what he perceived to be a larger portion than what he had. When we first met them in Ethiopia, one of the nannies told us that if H wasn't served first, he would leave the table and refuse to eat with the other children. Of course, with all of those kids, there was no way they could (or even wanted to!) indulge this desire. I filed this away with the other anecdotes they shared with us. How H held L's hand all the time when they first arrived, how he helped load all of the younger children into the vans for their numerous visits to court and doctors.
We are aware that the food issues the boys have had everything to do with their early malnourishment -- not knowing when they would eat again, or how much. We guessed (and spoke to other adoptive families) that when food was served at home, there was a hierarchy of who was served first and how much.
So we did serve H first when it was just us, in the beginning. We deviated now and then, either on purpose, to see how he would react, or unconsciously because, hey, we're human! Over time he seemed to feel more secure about being fed regularly and enough, and could wait while we served L first, or Daddy. And sometimes me. But that received scowls. When language came, we could explain that the person serving the food served him/herself last. He and L practiced serving us and themselves, and we took turns, making our gestures and words exaggerated -- "Thank you for the pasta, Mommy! Would you like some, too?"
However, language also brought expressions of discontent. When passing around the parmesan, if I received the bowl first, H might exclaim accusingly "Me no have cheese!" Taking turns was still tough when it came to food. We also realized that if I finished something -- for example, if I took the last meatball -- I would be roundly chided and given angry looks.
A lot of this also has to do with his resistance to me as a mother figure, of course. But his preference for all men, not just Alex, was obvious. We realized that women made him nervous -- he didn't seem to know how to act around them. He was brought up in a male-dominated environment, so that explains a bit. He continuously asked us for corroboration on his theories -- "Boys more smart girls? Boys more faster girls? Boys better cookers girls?"
Needless to say, my American feminist little self was pretty irritated after a while! Our responses that boys and girls were as smart as one another, that girls could be faster than boys, were met with a grimace and a frustrated grunt. Most of this, thank goodness, is dissipating. If H is tired, or especially hungry, it can rear it's head. About a week ago, when there was a bit of food left, Alex asked if I wanted to eat it the next day. It was a tiny portion, not enough for a meal. So I said, "sure, I'll finish it up tomorrow." H had already cleared his plate and was leaving the room. He looked at me. He looked at the food. He asked Al if he could eat it. Of course, we said yes. Would he have done this if Alex had expressed an interest in eating it? Probably not.
I'm not really sure where this post is going. I think I just wanted to put out there something which I didn't expect from a 4 year old. I had read about food issues, but never as it relates to who gets fed how much when, and why.
H is beginning to see that women play a big part in his life, and are in positions of authority over him. His teachers are all women, as are his grandmas. A few of the farmers we see working around us are women. They drive tractors. That blew his mind! Little by little, we're understanding one another.