When my mother was a girl in Rotterdam, the Nazis occupied Holland. It was a very bad time for all the Dutch people but especially so for the city people. Rotterdam was and is one of the busiest ports in the world. This, of course, was of great strategic interest to the Nazi leaders.
As the noose tightened around the Dutch people, things got more and more difficult. The people in Rotterdam were hungry. Some of them were actually starving, and my mother was one of these. She was the same age as Anne Frank, if that helps you place the picture in your mind. She was at the age when she should have been growing long, coltish legs and becoming taller than all the boys. But she was starving. My grandparents had to have her smuggled out of the city to live with a farm family--strangers--who had food to share.
So why am I telling you this? Well, something extraordinary came as a result of those tragic days of the war.
My mother never told us to clean our plates. We never heard about starving children in China or Africa or wherever. I don't know if mom turned away from such ideas with a will, or if it just worked out that way. However it happened, mom never made a big issue out of food.
This is pretty profound when you stop and think about it. I would have expect someone who nearly died of starvation to be very strict about food with her children. The only thing mom was strict about was that we were not permitted to say we were starving: "What's for dinner? I'm starving." We could say we were hungry, but mom knew the meaning of 'starving' in a very tangible way. That was a word we didn't get to use.
Mom allowed us to have a few foods we did not like and did not have to eat. We didn't get to abuse the privilege, of course. Considering her experiences, wouldn't you expect her to tell us to eat and be happy with it.
I think my mom turned away from starvation and from the idea of food as an issue, with determination. She must have been very happy that her children didn't have to go through what she did and was just glad she had any choices about food.
Whatever it was, it worked. All of her children have a healthy relationship with food. None of us are overweight. None of us use food as a substitute for other things. We appreciate what we eat, enjoy our food, and go on to other things. We don't use food as a comfort or a drug.
My mom paid a heavy price for her starving time in later years. It interfered with her development and health in some ways that would not be revealed until much later. Her time away from her family in those trying days left a mark on her, too. I am sure that her worry for her family left behind must have been wrenching.
Of course, the story has a happy ending. My mother lived. She was reunited with her family. They lived through the war, scars and all, and came to America. They never faced hunger again. And they went on to instill health, contentment and balance into the next generation.
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