Pasta stars and orange potato

Today J is at home with a bug. He has fever, diarrhoea, and a sore head, and has spent all morning sleeping. In the old days, he would have struggled out of Vegetable brothbed no matter what, to snuggle up in his duvet in front of the Jungle Book. But times change, and for my teenage son, a day watching TV isn’t such a rarity, or much of a treat. No matter. Not everything changes, and we still have small customs built around illness which never vary. When I was little, it was ‘orange potato’: a lurid 1970s palette of carrot mashed into potato, proper comfort food. For J, the recovery clock cannot start ticking until he’s had its modern day equivalent, a bowl of vegetable broth containing teeny tiny pasta stars. Let the convalescence commence.

Like many adopted children, J came to me with a full set of infant inoculations, but a few question marks around childhood illnesses, and no information at all about his genetic history. Since the age of six, he’s had the usual run of treatable ailments which include chickenpox, a broken arm, a night on a hospital trolley with a high fever, a snip to his frenulum to correct tongue-tie, minor surgery, a dislocated finger, and the odd episode of vomiting.

His body still yields up the occasional clue though to his history and his genetic heritage.

Last time we were at our local Minor Injuries Unit, they spotted evidence of an old fracture, small shards of finger bone looking out at us from an on-screen x-ray. I have read a lot about J’s early years, pre-foster care, but I wasn’t prepared for the distress I felt at seeing the vestiges of possible maltreatment so long after the event.

Dental recordA few years earlier, emerging from general anaesthetic in the recovery room after a routine operation, 9 year old J erupted in ‘anaesthetic rage’. Barely conscious but with the strength of an ox, he screamed in rage and terror, beating away all attempts by me and medical staff to soothe him, and ripping himself from monitors and associated paraphernalia. It was an awful sight, and an unusual response to the anaesthetic, but in those long minutes, I saw him expressing for the first time his deep-seated rage and upset, born of years of terrible hurt.

Good things come out of hospital visits too. I think it was only when he woke from a fever and after a few fitful hours’ sleep on a hospital trolley, to find me sitting watching over him, that he finally understood that I was his forever mother and there to stay. It was a turning point and marked a change in his challenging behaviours and the development of a different kind of trust.

It’s not easy knowing nothing of your genetic heritage.

 J, sick in 2006 on the day of the Kensal Rise tornado

J, sick in 2006 on the day of the Kensal Rise tornado

Almost every visit to our doctor involves some explanation that J is my adopted son and that our knowledge is limited. Last year, I decided to take one of the bulls by its horns, and sent off a sample of Jamie’s saliva for analysis. They tested for diseases for which he is at greater than average genetic risk; for heritable diseases for which he carries one or more genetic variants (carrier status); and for drugs to which he is likely to have an atypical response based on genetics. It has been an interesting experience, and we have learned much that will be useful to him throughout his life.

Today though, J is a young man with a temperature and not much of an appetite, who’s feeling miserable and wants his mum. Now where did I put the pasta stars?

I am linking this post up to the Weekly Adoption Shout Out #WASO week 60.


  1. […] I have written elsewhere about our foodie adventures in Morocco (snail soup anyone?) and just this week about comfort food in times of sickness. […]

  2. I didn’t really think about a saliva test as being an option, fascinating. I’m glad it has helped. SD

    1. I think technological advances are so rapid, it’s hard keeping up with what’s available, so much of which we would never have dreamed possible a few years ago. In fact originally I checked out 23andme’s home kits as I was interested in the ancestry testing side of things, not just for J but for all of us. A friend had recommended them partly because they tested for medical info too. Unfortunately, since then at the end of last year, 23andMe’s home genetic testing kits have been banned by the FDA (long story) and the company is now only permitted to undertake ancestry testing. I would recommend the genetic testing service once they get their licence back which I hope they will.

  3. The loss of genetic history is yet another loss that might only reveal its significance later on, but can present challenges nonetheless – explanations at the doctors must be a common feature for adoptive families!

  4. So true Suddenly. Our doctors have always been very kind with J, and thoughtful in their approach, which has been good to see.

  5. […] had to explore in pursuit of the facts about J’s early years. I have written about that X-ray here. Thankfully, the process of gaining access to his file was reassuringly straightforward: I simply […]

  6. […] I have also written about another dazzling glimpse into the hurt of adoption, and you can read that here. […]

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