I Won’t Tell My Children To Lose Weight

babyJeating

When my daughter was a baby, she was fat. And I don’t mean, chubby, I mean good, old fashioned, wearing 24 month clothes at 9 months old, kind of fat. She was glorious. During that time, I had a lot of well-intentioned parents assure me that she would thin out.

“Don’t worry,” a friend said gently, “my sister was fat and now she’s really thin.”

As if when looking at my child all I could see was a meaningless societal standard of beauty as opposed to the adorable, smart, happy little baby before me.

I’m not going to tell you what my daughter looks like now. Because it doesn’t matter. Because even if the doctors were concerned and Michelle Obama was knocking on my door to stage an intervention, I would never tell my child to lose weight. I will talk about being healthy, I will talk about being strong, but I will never, ever tell her to change the way she looks.

On Talk of Iowa, Iowa State counseling psychologist, Taylor Locker, noted, “Children as young as first grade or kindergarten want to be on diets, want to be thinner, or believe that they are too heavy or too fat. [...] At least by first grade, children are starting to notice their body size.”

This isn’t what I want for my children. It’s not what I want for me. Of course, children have to notice eventually, that’s the world we live in. But before that, before they begin to feel uncomfortable in their own skin, before they start staring in the mirror and wishing they could magic themselves away into another body, I want my children to always know that they are loved exactly how they are. Even if they smoke. Even if they knock over a liquor store. Even if they are fat. Even if they don’t like queso. I don’t want my children to change. I never want them to be more (or less) than what they are.

I’ve spent the better part of my adulthood and childhood desperately wishing I was prettier, thinner, more athletic, less brunette, less socially awkward. I think of all the time I’ve wasted fighting against my body instead of dwelling in it. There is also the time I’ve wasted trying to be something other than what I am—a loud mouthed, kind of pudgy, imperfect white lady.

I don’t want that for my kids. I don’t want them to struggle to come to terms with who they are. I don’t want them to waste time with self-loathing. There is only so much of their journey I can control, and I’m sure they will have to find their own way. But for now, I want to be their compass, pointing them the way toward love. But I have to calibrate myself first—I have to check the way I talk about how I work out, how I eat and how I dress. I want to model healthy and active and acceptance.

Because, besides keeping our children alive and warm, that’s our first job as parents to model an unconditional love. A love that meets them where they are as chubby little babies and deeply flawed adults. I don’t know who my kids will be—fat, thin, mean, nice, smart, in jail—but I do know I will love them, not based on what they could be or will be, but based on who they are in that moment.

The people that my much-abused body created—a body that deserves some appreciation.

The Trouble With Dinner

kidseating

Based on the look my 3 year old is giving me, which is a mixture between a sneer and revulsion, you would think that the food on her plate was made up of partially cooked fecal matter. It’s not. It is macaroni and cheese. “Dis will make me so sick!” She declares holding her head in her hands.

She starts sobbing. “I fink I will be too sick.” Then, she starts making gagging sounds.

I’m okay with protests and outraged accusations that I’m trying to poison her with my homemade macaroni and cheese. But I draw the line at gagging noises. So, into time out she goes. All I have to do is point and she goes without a fuss. Lately, my daughter spends the majority of meal time oscillating between her dinner and the little stool in the corner of the dining room. I think Stockholm syndrome is setting in.
When she comes back she asks for a cheese stick and a cracker. She asks for a banana or gummy snacks, anything it seems, rather than to eat the cheddar cheese and whole wheat pasta that lies before her. I don’t negotiate with three-year-olds or terrorist. And some days, they are one in the same. Tonight, with ice cream as a motivator, she chokes down half of her food in between huge swallows of milk.

But other nights we aren’t so lucky. Other nights, she declares everything will make her sick and “garbly garbly” and that she’d rather go without a cookie than choke down a bite of lasagna. I admire her strong moral convictions over the evils of lasagna, if nothing else.

My mom tells me to make her special food. Advice on the internet says if I speak to her kindly and let her help me make dinner, she will suddenly eat everything put before her and ask for seconds. I read a book that said I brought all of this on myself by giving her rice cereal as an infant instead of steel-cut oats or letting her baby-led wean, which is just crazy talk for giving kids normal food. My neighbor suggests a gluten allergy. Someone who reads my newspaper column emailed me once to tell me my daughter might be on the “Autism spectrum.” Another internet search reveals that perhaps my delicate flower turning her nose up at macaroni (which she devoured last week) has a problem with texture. I would kindly like to say this is complete and utter partially cooked fecal matter.

Sure, some kids have problems. But not every kid who acts like a jerk at dinnertime is some sort of special snowflake. Sometimes, they are just jerks. And the overwhelming dearth of information that parents have at their fingertips gives them the illusion of control. And that somehow, if your child becomes a demanding little fiend, it’s all the fault of GMOs or the fact that you didn’t breastfeed past nine months old.

But the reality is, toddlers are little wackos. You know what else makes my daughter feel sick and “garbly garbly”? Putting away her princess dolls and wearing pants. So, gluten be damned. That macaroni is all she gets. And after she goes to bed, I’m eating all the ice cream.

Last night, as my 3 year old watched me make enchiladas, she frowned. “Your children don’t like dat food. Your children only want macaroni.”

I glared at her. “My children can starve then.”

She ran from the room sobbing. Later, as we ate she turned up her nose at dinner. Declaring it too yucky, to “terwibble.” Finally, after she choked down a bite, she smiled. “Oh wait, mom, I do like this. I’m like Sam I Am!”

And me? I poured some whiskey in my tea and smiled a serene smile that masked all the cursing I was doing under my breath.

Oh, Brothers…

jqande

While wrangling my children out the door of the frozen yogurt place one evening, my daughter started crying. “Bubba pulleded my hair!” I was holding the bubba in question, her little brother. I highly doubted he had pulled her hair. “I’m sorry, sweetie,” I said distractedly. Gently guiding her through the door and into the car. She was sniffing still as I buckled the baby in. “Bubba, dat hurt!”

He smiled and waved a clenched fist in my face. I gasped. In his hand was a tangle of long blonde sister hair. “Oh, brother!” I said. And he laughed.

At fifteen months old, the baby, who is on the fast track to becoming a toddler has shut his sister in the closet, assaulted her with tools from the doctor kit and repeatedly pulls her hair. Once, as my daughter lay on the floor playing Sleeping Beauty, she called to him, “Bubs, come give me a kiss and wake me up.”

He toddled over and smacked her full on in the face. There is no greater evidence for the cruelty of human nature than a little brother.

I have three little brothers. Two of my brothers are 10 and 13 years younger than me, we are too far apart to have much of an antagonistic relationship. But my brother Zach is only 16 months younger than me and it was clear from an early age that his greatest talent was driving me crazy without even touching me. You know in “Silence of the Lambs” when Hannibal Lecter somehow convinces the man in the cell next to him to swallow his own tongue? It was like that. My brother knew the exact sounds to make to push me to my psychological limits. He would sit next to me on long car trips and whistle in my ear until, at my wits end, I would haul off and punch his arm. Then, he would begin sobbing. I got in trouble every time.

To this day, he is my best friend.

My parents handled the fights between me and my brother by rolling their eyes and declaring, “You deserve each other!” At the time, that seemed entirely unfair. But as I watch my children beat the crap out of each other, the wisdom of their insight washes over me. When the baby shut the three year old in the closet, she just began sobbing. Of course, she could have opened the door, but no, she chose to wail. “Bubs, you trappeded me! You trappeded me!” The baby, banged on the door and laughed, while I stood back and watched.

When I had one child, my parenting was guided by love and a nurturing spirit. Now that I have two children, my parenting is guided by natural selection and Lord of the Flies.

I think they are going to be best friends.

You’ve Been Warned

whiskey

I plopped dishwasher soap and whiskey on the conveyor belt. When I had my second child, I switched from wine to hard liquor. Wine was giving me heartburn and I had two kids. A Malbec just wasn’t doing the job.  Also, we were out of dishwasher soap.

The cashier didn’t even blink, but the two High School girls behind me giggled. The laughs grew louder as I rifled through my bag for my driver’s license, pulling out teething rings, wipes, cloth diapers, and wadded up tissues before finally reaching my wallet. It was 10:30 at night and I was in my yoga pants, hair still unwashed, no make-up, and a spit-up stain on my sleeve.  After I handed the cashier my license, I turned to look at the girls and give them a smile. Surely, they weren’t laughing at me. I was just being paranoid and self-conscious.

Both girls fell silent as I turned around. Then, the oldest pointed to a popcorn-crusted mitten ground. “I think that’s yours,” she said.

“Oh, yes! Thank you,” I said smiling brightly. The mitten was one I brought in support of the Olympics. It had “USA” stitched on the palm.

“Go, USA,” I said as I brushed off the mitten and shoved it back in the purse. There was silence. “Two kids.” I offered. Both girls rolled their eyes.

“Look,” I wanted to say, “get a good look. This is what happens when you sleep with boys and have babies. It isn’t pretty. And this is me trying. I really did try today because I put on lip gloss when I dropped my daughter off at school. So, see, I tried. And I understand that this isn’t what you want. You think you aren’t going to be like me. You think you’ll be like Gisele or some other hip famous mom (whose name I can’t think of right now because it’s past my bed time), and maybe you will. But you won’t be all the time. One day, you’ll look in the mirror expecting to see that cool 16-year-old and all you’ll see is eye bags, yoga pants and belly fat. And on that day, you will think of me, the lady at the store buying dishwasher soap and whiskey and you’ll get it.”

Of course, I said none of those things. People don’t go to the grocery store looking for karmic signs. They go for Cheetos and panty liners. But it was hard to keep my mouth shut, because I hear women say “No one ever warned me it would be like this” when they encounter potty training, sleep deprivation, or a toddler throwing a tantrum because you made her blueberry pancakes. And when I hear those words, I want to laugh. You were warned. You were warned by every exhausted pudgy woman standing in the check-out lane buying children’s Tylenol and wine. You just chose not to listen.

But, I kept my mouth shut, took my change from the cashier, grabbed my bag, and put on my one mitten. When I got home, I started the dishwasher and made myself a hot toddy.

You’ve been warned.

 

This is from my Gazette column. This was published a while ago. So, I want you to know that things are so much better…who am I kidding? Everything is the same.

I’m Done With “Happy”

Ellis Leaves

Before I became a parent, I was assured I would never know such love as I have for my children. “Holding your baby is the most amazing experience of all!” I was told by parents, relatives, friends and random strangers in the check-out aisle of the grocery store who saw that I was great with child.

Imagine my surprise, when I first held my daughter and felt absolutely nothing but fear. Was I going to drop her? Would I raise her correctly? Had we chosen the right name? What had I done, thinking I could raise a human child?

My fear of course made me feel even more fearful. I was afraid, so did that automatically mean I was a bad mother? Where was that overflow of love I was promised? Was I broken? I was probably broken.

The overflow of love didn’t beat out the fear until two weeks later, when one night, as she screamed at two in the morning and I had exhausted all means of stopping her, I started crying. “Please,” I said, “I’m doing my best, just stop crying.”

And she did. The whole moment was so improbable, so ridiculous, that I laughed. I looked at that mewling little baby who half-resembled her father, and half-resembled Mikhail Gorbachev and I realized, she didn’t have a clue about anything either. The fear abated.

I thought about that moment again, when a well-meaning relative assured me that this time with my baby and three-year-old was a golden stage. “You will miss it when it’s gone,” she said. “It was the happiest time of my life.”

My days are full, meaningful, frustrating and involve a lot of poop, but happiest time of my life? I’m not so sure. But even admitting that makes me feel afraid that I am failing, I must be doing it wrong if I’m not overjoyed to scrub poop out of my 3 year-olds carpet.

A dearth of parenting books, manuals and how-to websites, assure parents that if there is a problem that you can fix it. That if something is wrong or frustrating or if your kid insists on biting your arm flab, that you can overcome this with firmness, patience and a few other products that can readily be purchased online. Bottom line: if you aren’t happy, it’s your fault and you are broken.

I wish the word “happy” would be stricken from parental vocabulary. As if a perfect bliss were the realistic end goal for raising children. It’s not. Life is messy, it is hard, and sometimes things don’t get better. Our self-help culture implies that all problems can be overcome. But when that “problem” doesn’t understand that she’s not supposed to keep peeing on the floor because the potty-training book says she won’t, well, good luck with that.

No parent who has ever lain on the floor crying because everyone else is crying around them, is broken. No mom who has ever looked at her child with eyes of sheer terror needs to be fixed. No mom who’s wished themselves away from the living room floor that’s always sticky and smells of poop, is doing it wrong.  I wish instead of parenting books that showed you how to be better, we had books that just taught you how to accept what is before us, with all the grace, joy, frustration, anxiety and fear that comes with the territory.

Because I’m done with happy.

 

This article originally appeared in my Gazette column, which is not online. LOL. Newspapers.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...