People show love with sugar. In general, I am aware that this can be problematic… but it is what we do. We give people candy and chocolates when we’re in love, we bake cookies for someone who’s just had a baby, we buy tubs of ice cream for a friend who’s down in the dumps…. but not only do we bring actual sugar to people we love, we use sugary language as terms of endearment. Honey, sweetie, sugar, muffin, cupcake, sweetie pie, buttercup, sweetheart or my personal favorite that my brother-in-law, Dan, calls my sister: Poptart. She hates it. But, also, low-key loves it.
We use sugar and sugary words to show our affection and our attachment. It’s why, since the beginning of time, grandparents have always shown up to track meets with Little Debbies. They want to show their love. I learned a little bit about this relationship between love and sweets when my oldest son was diagnosed with something called Reactive Attachment Disorder. This happens when a child experiences trauma or a traumatic separation in the early years of their life, and it compromises their ability to bond and attach in a typical way. Whether it is a result of abuse, neglect, in-utero drug or alcohol exposure, or it is merely the result of the tragic separation of a mother and her child, or how a developing baby is impacted by stress hormones during a pregnancy that will ultimately end with a severed bond, children with insecure attachment have a sort of sense-memory that tells them that they are unlovable, that they will be left.
It is not uncommon for a child with attachment disorder to sneak, steal and hoard food. This is a child’s way of providing for themselves because there is an innate distrust that anyone else will provide for them. The insecure child says to himself, “If I am unlovable, then how can I trust that anyone will care to meet my needs? I will attempt to meet them myself. Ooooo look… mints!” It’s a really hard cycle to break, especially with our cultural association between food and love. A child that is sneaking food is often trying to provide love for themselves that they are afraid they won’t get from someone else, or that they feel they don’t deserve. This is a heartbreaking cycle for a child, or an adult, and is very difficult to sort through.
There are some attachment therapists who recommend sitting down with your child over an endless bowl of ice cream. Day in and day out, just keep refilling the ice cream, as many scoops as the child wants, without any limits, until the child decides that it’s enough. It often takes weeks, even months and sometimes years, for a child to decide, “I’m full. Of both love, and ice cream. I don’t need more scoops right now, because I trust that there is always more. More love… more ice cream.” Other therapists recommend using sugar to recreate the bond that happens when a new mother is nursing her baby. It is recommended that you cradle your child - of any age, even teenagers - in your arms like an infant, and you give them something sweet to suck on (like a caramel) while maintaining eye contact, much like the experience that is taking place when a baby is breastfeeding. The logic behind this method is that the child re-learns how to trust that the new parent will provide love and sustenance.
If you’re horrified by this, then you probably only have experience with neurotypical children, how quaint. But also, how sad… because our less typical kids are awesome! Trust me when I tell you that you’re really missing out! And if these approaches seem too indulgent or wacky, then maybe you could consider yourself fortunate to have been spared from experiencing unrequited love with your child, but also, consider the misfortune of never having loved a child so much that you would do wacky things just to prove your love to them! It’s a messy process, but there is nothing sweeter than watching your child develop that bond of trust over time, and look at you say, “Thanks, mama… I’m full.”
For my #AdamsActs the past few days, I caved on the sugar = love notion and it was basically Treatfest ‘19. For Day 7, we brought mini-muffins and cupcakes to my oldest daughter’s cross country meet, for her and her coaches and teammates to enjoy.
For Day 8, we spread more love-in-the-form-of-sugar when we brought frosted cookies to my daughter, Marlie, and her tennis team to enjoy after their match. Despite the fact that Marlie tried out for tennis because “she liked the sound the ball makes when it hits the racket,” and this is only her second season ever playing tennis, she was asked to move up to varsity. This was exciting as a freshman and basically, cookies all around.
For Day 9, I chaperoned my daughter’s field trip and I brought a snack for the whole class and a coffee for Miss Stuebing because she is not only a world class teacher, but she has gone on that exact same field trip upwards of 8,000 times. I thought my daughter, London, and her 4th grade classmates deserved a little treat, because they have set a super high goal for the month of October - to complete 317 acts of kindness as a class! They are already about halfway there!
For Day 11, I wrote a three page letter to a friend of my daughter’s who has gone through some challenges in the past year. She is a fighter and she has inspired me with her persistent attitude and her quiet leadership. I wrote the letter because I wanted her to feel seen and encouraged. And because I wanted to remind her that “I am a cool mom.” A reminder which I did include, word for word, in the letter.
And finally, I bought this kid a donut after his audiology test. This is sort of a tradition, so not really an act of kindness, however…after a thorough investigation of his bone-dry toothbrush, it was discovered that the plaintiff did in fact lie about about brushing his teeth. The defendant served a 10 minute sentence on his bed before giving a tearful confession and apology. When I took him to get the donut after his appointment, he started crying again in the parking lot. When I asked him what was wrong, he said he thought maybe he shouldn’t have the donut because he had “lied so much” about brushing his teeth and “maybe sugar wasn’t a fair idea of his behavior.” I think this was his attempt at a plea deal? But, I explained love and forgiveness. I explained that when he did his “do-over” and told the truth and then went to brush his teeth (for realzos that time)… that I had forgiven him. And when you forgive someone, you choose not to keep remembering that offense. I - instead - choose grace, and love, and donuts. This was his face when I put the donut in his hand and said, “no matter what happens, no matter what you do, I will always love you, I will always forgive you, and there will always be lots love and treats, and plenty of second chances to do it over the right way.”
Even though Jay never struggled with attachment like my older son has (trust me, this is the kid that proposes to me daily) there is still something inside of all of us, adopted or not, that is afraid that we might blow it, that we might mess up enough that everyone will discover that we are unlovable and unforgivable. That’s when we all need forgiveness and a grace-gift… maybe in the form of a do-over a little sugar.