Meatloaf From The Orange Sign

When we think of cultural differences we often think about race or ethnicity but not often do we think of food. Food-it’s a big deal. It is often at the center of our social and familial events. It brings us together and is often the focus of our holiday celebration. We cook turkey at Thanksgiving and cook on the grill for the 4th of July. It can be at the heart of our traditions. Food is often a trigger for us as adults; we have even named some items appropriately as “comfort food” and those items differ for everyone. For example, the smell of coffee in the morning always brings me back to waking up on winter mornings as a little girl. It invokes thoughts of warmth, comfort and safety. I suppose my father drank coffee in the summer, but for whatever reason I don’t connect that. Even our smallest adoptees, can identify with food that comforts them or reminds them of home. One adoptive parent, Susan, related the following experience to me.

Jessica came to their family as a pre adoptive placement and had been in their home for about twelve months. They were approaching a date for the final adoption. Jessica was assimilating into their family well but, when asked if she needed or wanted for anything, Jessica continued to ask for “meatloaf from the orange sign”. Susan had made meatloaf dozens of ways, she had her mother make meatloaf, she had her sister make meatloaf and she tried to have 4 year old Jessica help her make meatloaf. The family went to restaurants that served meatloaf but still, nothing compared to “meatloaf from the orange sign”. Jessica continued to ask but Susan had all but given up on finding such an item. One day, Susan was driving across town, when Jessica cried out from the back seat, “There it is, stop!”. Susan pulled over and stopped at the gas station, Jessica jumped out of the van and ran in. “Here it is,” she cried. “Meatloaf!”. There were little frozen servings of meatloaf in the frozen food case. Jessica promptly grabbed the package, ripped it open and popped it in the microwave at the gas station. “They will let you eat it here”, she said excitedly. Jessica continued to tell Susan that she remembered that when her “other mother” got her check, she would give the kids a little money and they would walk to the gas station and eat dinner. Susan stated that she had not, in twelve months, seen Jessica so excited.

She rolled over in her head all the reasons that they could not eat this type of food on a continual basis-it had too many preservatives, it could not taste very well, the gas station was not all that clean, and it was really quite expensive for what you get and all the while, Jessica gleefully munched her meatloaf. Susan further thought that because they were adopting Jessica, why should they purposefully remind her of a past life-years marked by neglect and broken attachments. She needed to bond with her new family, not be reminded of her old one. Then she glanced again at Jessica. The little girl’s face clearly beamed with contentment and satisfaction not fear. Jessica put her hand in Susan’s and stated,” I’m so glad we finally found it!”. Susan realized that Jessica’s life was her own story, nothing they could do would wipe out those memories, nor should they try. She was entitled to all of her life, not just the part Susan wanted for her. Even if she was reminded of it by the meatloaf from the orange sign.