When my eldest daughter was about 6 years old she got a hamster. It had its own cage complete with spinning wheel and sawdust on the floor. It was sweet and cuddly and funny and she loved that critter with all her heart. When it died a few months after coming into our home, she was devastated.
“I will mourn for three days,” Alexis informed me. “And then I’ll be okay.”
I baked her a cake in honour of her grief and mourn she did. For three days she cried and lay on her bed curled up in a ball. We sat in a circle eating cookies and shared stories of her lost pet and Alexis drew pictures to commemorate her oh so short life.
After awhile, she decided it was time for another hamster.
This one was not at all like the first. It was mean and bit when held and didn’t at all like being cuddled. Putting your hand in his cage meant risking the loss of your fingers so I was the one relegated to cleaning the cage and caring for it.
I did not like this pet and when it died, nobody mourned its loss.
I decreed us a Rodent Free Household, and neither of the girls pushed back. At least, not in the rodent department. Four legged friends of the furry, wiggly, woofy kind were another matter.
Bella came to live with us after a visit to the Humane Society. She was big and black and furry and 1 years old and loved to run around the back yard chasing the girls or to curl up in their bed and cuddle. She was perfect.
Except for her predilection for chewing shoes. She didn’t just chew them. She ate them. Completely. But usually only one of each pair. I’d spend days searching for one of the girls’ missing shoes only to discover the only evidence of what happened to it in the backyard when I cleaned up the offerings Bella dropped there.
I couldn’t get mad at her. She was way too sweet.
For the first while of having Bella in our home, she would travel between my house and their father’s house in the next block whenever the girls went over to stay with him. I’d pack up a bag for them and a bag for Bella and off they would go.
Sometimes, they’d come home alone. Bella is staying with dad today mom, they’d tell me. He’s going hiking and thought he’d take her with him.
Sometimes became often until eventually, Bella took up formal residence at their father’s house. She’d still come to visit me, but I always knew where her heart was. And that was okay.
One day, while the girls were at their dad’s, Bella ran out onto the street and was hit by a car. He called me immediately and I raced over to take the girls while he took Bella to the vet emergency hospital.
When I arrived ten-year-old Alexis, ran into my arms crying her heart out while her sister promptly informed us that she was going to the hospital with Bella. She was not going to leave her alone.
Alexis and I went for ice cream sundaes and talked about life and accidents and what can happen while her sister walked into the emergency room and insisted on being present throughout the surgery to repair Bella’s back leg.
As a mother of a daughter with an eating disorder, I have struggled to not unwind history in search of that one moment where had I done this, not that, perhaps ED would not have raised its ugly head.
I know it is self-defeating, and fruitless, to find EDs origins in the past. I know that it is in the here and now that healing begins, yet still I wonder.
What if I hadn’t baked that hamster a cake?
What if I didn’t offer up ice cream sundaes to soothe her fear?
Ultimately, with ED as with all things, the answer lies in the present.
There is no one inciting incident that marks the beginning of EDs presence. His beginnings are a constellation of factors, some environmental, some emotional, some actions taken with well meaning intention, some without thought.
No matter his beginnings, there is only the truth that ends his presence in the here and now. Forgive and let the past lie where it belongs so we can surrender and fall into Love.