Partner: Rekha Vijayshankar, NHS health visitor
Location: Lambeth, South London
Date: 18th November 2015 – 5th February 2016
“I think the kind of creativity you share is really important, particularly for adopted kids”.
– Polly, adoptive mother of one.
Lead Artist Helen Maier tells the story of how fussy eating brought a new family closer together.
“It’s only been 7 months since we adopted Ben”, says Lisa. She looks over at two-year-old Ben who has a glue stick in each hand and is energetically making circles on the cardboard wall of the den we’ve been building together.
“When he first came he only had one book, that’s all he came with”, Lisa says.
“Yeah, he used to just pick things up and drop them”, says Polly. “He didn’t know how to play”.
“Wow”, says my colleague Holly “and look at him now”.
Ben is now busy sticking rectangles of coloured paper to the den with Polly.
“Yes, he’s settling in. But meal times are a bit stressful at the moment”, says Lisa. “Ben only really likes beige food, he won’t eat any vegetables no matter how we cook them, so tea-time scream-time is becoming a bit of a routine”
Let’s have a look in my bag to see what ingredients I’ve brought for lunch”, I say. I stick my head into my cloth shopping bag, careful not to catch my poofy white chefs hat. “Bag ” says Ben.
“A green broccoli”, I say and hand it to Ben. He touches the bobbly head of the broccoli, feeling the texture.
“Chop, chop, chop, put it in the bowl, bowl, bowl”, I chant as Ben and I saw into a stalk of broccoli with a sturdy serrated plastic knife. Ben picks up a little piece of broccoli.
“Smells delicious”, I saying giving the broccoli a sniff. Ben lowers his nose to the broccoli and sniffs. I big smile spreads across his face. He sticks out his tongue and licks the broccoli, then offers it to me.
We pour frozen peas into a bowl, Ben tries a few. “He’s never had them frozen before” says Polly smiling at Ben as he chews and swallows the peas.
I’m sitting at the kitchen table with Ben, Lisa, Polly, and my sous chef Sally. I scoop spoonfuls of warm, gooey macaroni cheese and greens onto everyone’s plate and we all eat together. Ben picks up a small piece of broccoli from his plate and offers it to me.
“Thank you Ben but I have my own”, I say holding up a piece. “Let’s eat our broccoli together” and I pop it in my mouth. Ben puts his in his mouth and chews looking around at his parents who smile and have a bite of broccoli too.
I’m sitting on the edge of a grey fabric sofa, next to a pile of picture books.
“He’s eating more independently and a bigger variety now, not just beige stuff”, says Polly. She’s sitting on the arm of a grey armchair in the middle of the cream carpeted living room. Lisa is playing with Ben, zooming a Lego fire engine across the floor
“You know, they told us he used to eat everything before he came to live with us”, Polly says. “So maybe it’s a lot to do with us all settling in. We’ve learned to be more relaxed. We can all just chop and try things and if he wants to eat peas that are frozen let’s try it.
“Yes” says Polly, looking up from the fire engine. “Food isn’t a point of tension anymore, he eats a lot more happily now”.
“The den has been really great too” says Lisa. “Having that den has just changed my perspective on playing together. We use it almost every day. It’s brought us closer. We have a sleeping bad we get in and snuggle up for a nap.”
“Oh”, says Ben looking up at her. He gets up and quickly toddles around the chair to the side of the room. There’s a rustling sounds then a large piece of cardboard comes flying out from behind the chair and lands on the carpet.
“There’s the den”, says Lisa looking down and smiling. Ben walks around from behind the chair carrying a sleeping rolled up sleeping bag that’s at least half as big as him, a hug grin on his face.
When something in our daily lives becomes a point of reoccurring tension it can be really difficult to break that cycle. The beauty of play is that it provides relief from these worries. Even if it’s only for a short space of time that relief often gives us the space we need to reassess the situation and discover a new way.
*All names have been changed to protect the family’s privacy.
** Photos are of a different family to respect the privacy requirements of the adoption process.