I am working at home. I know this very expression raises eyebrows and smirks, but actually, these are my most productive days. I have reports to write, after two leadership away days I want to gather thoughts and plan next steps. I am not outside in the garden, I am in the kitchen, at the table, as usual.
I start early. L has breakfast and I think it’s going to be an ok day. She eats cereal and drinks juice and I tell her she needs to have toast, but can have fruit bread. I leave the room and when I come back, she is eating a yogurt and orange. She looks up guiltily and asks if this is ok to replace the toast. It isn’t, not just in calorie terms, but also in control terms. Ed tells her bread is bad. Ed wins.
But I have work to do and cannot fight with Ed. Morning snack happens and she manages this. She is going out with a friend. About 1, I stop for lunch. K comes down and fixes her own lunch, but I make L some reheated Aubergine Parmigiana from the previous day. I add bread and plan dessert.
She arrives in the kitchen. I see her opening the packet of wraps and I tell her lunch is in hand. She asks, in the usual scared voice, “But can’t I just have a wrap”,and I refuse, in the usual uncompromising voice I have learned. I cut off “But why?” with the usual response that this is not her choice and that she has anorexia. I put her food in front of her and eat my food while working. I don’t need to look at her to see her head bowing and the food being manoeuvred rather than eaten. I eat my food and carry on working. Eventually her fork stops and I tell her to finish. She shakes her head and tears start to form. I tell her life stops until she eats. I hug her, but it doesn’t work. She runs upstairs as I call her back.
I follow her. She is lying on J’s bed, sobbing. I hold her and tell her she can do this. She tells me she can’t, it is too much. She pleads for a yogurt to replace her bananas and custard dessert. I refuse. She begs some more, weeping and I refuse again. I tell her the food is waiting and it will be finished and I go back downstairs and continue working. Every part of me wants to stay there with her, but I know that as I hold her, Ed will think he can persuade me. And I have work to do, that no one else will do.
C hears her sobs from the garden. He goes to her and she comes down. She eats her food and I prepare her dessert. I pour custard on chopped banana and I think of all the times in my children’s lives that I have prepared food to entice them to eat. Of the tiny triangles of toast when they lay on the sofa, poorly and home from school. Of the smiley face fruit plates I made, or the silly names I gave to food to make it more appetising. Of the pleasure food, the cupcakes, the iced birthday cakes or the breakfast pancakes. We are done with pleasure food; preparing meals has become a grudge match with Ed. I pour custard on the bananas and I think, “Take that, you bastard.” But I place this food in front of my sobbing daughter and tell her, not Ed to eat it. A year ago, I could not have done this. As a favourite writer once said: “Calamity has tempered and hardened me and turned my mind to steel”.
She finishes eventually and I hold her. She is shaky and weepy, with that hiccuping sob sound. I am just sad, and it feels like a dry, chalky sadness, a dusty, weathered emotion that has lost its intensity. Outside the sun is shining and my fifteen year old daughter should have plans to see friends, to go out to the cinema, to lie on a beach or to meet tall, awkward boys in coffee shops or in the park. Instead, she is being consoled by her mother to cope with the pain of eating a banana and some custard. This isn’t the life I had planned for either of us