Tag Archives: children

Don’t Call My Baby Fat

Look, I get it, all right? I have cute aggression, too. I can’t resist those chubby thighs, those chunky cheeks, the little Michelin tire rolls ‘round ankles, bellies, and wrists.  I mean, let’s just face it: skinny babies just aren’t as cute as the rollie-pollie kind.

GAAAAHHHH!
GAAAAHHHH!

But so help me God, if one more person calls my baby a “chunky monkey”, or squeals with joy  while pinching her delicious little rolls between their forefinger and thumb, I’m going to lose it. God bless my girl friend who heard this from me recently after telling me she, “loved Moira’s chunk.” “Don’t call her that!” I said, a little snappily. My girl friend was chagrined, but listened kindly as I tried to dismantle my aversion and explain my reaction. Yes, Moira is chubby. She is rounded in all of the delightful ways a healthy young child should be. And unfortunately, I am a product of a society that equates “chubby” with “fat” and tells us that fat is just about the worst thing a person can be, so I’m a little sensitive to comments about my child’s looks. Until “fat” ceases to be synonymous with “lazy”, “unhealthy”, and “frumpy”; until “fat” is no longer antonymic with words like “beautiful”, “healthy”, and “attractive” — don’t call my baby fat. In fact, why not praise her for all other salient reasons for which she ought to be praised, rather than her looks? Her intelligence, her kindness, her joyfullness, her curiosity? Praise her being, not her body! But, that’s another blog post.


Before Moira was born, I made a pact with myself that she was going to grow up different than I did. That promise entailed a great many things, but chief among them were the lessons I learned about food, body image, and self-esteem. After I learned I was having a girl, I began to anticipate what an immense responsibility I would have in addition to being this child’s mother — I was going to be responsible for stewarding this perfect little girl through a world that would gladly strip her down to flesh and bones, both metaphorically and in body, to meet their idealized and unrealistic standards. I was going to have to fight for her right to be and do everything that made her heart feel right, damned what the world thought, because who is going to teach a girl how to be a healthy, happy woman, except her mother? Since she was born over 18 months ago, I’ve been increasingly defensive about my daughter’s body. It began with the acknowledgment of my own insecurities and a solemn promise to never share them with Moira. I can directly trace my own insecurities back to observations of my own mother, who would constantly poke, prod, and abuse herself for her plump physique. I recognize that if I don’t learn to put a cork in it (or, better, actually start loving myself), I’ll be hurting my daughter. As far back as I can remember, I was concerned about body image.  I distinctly recall being no more than seven years old (SEVEN!) and sucking my tummy in as I walked past boys in the supermarket because I wanted to seem appealing to them. But why? Where did I learn that behavior, those values? Yes, I was rounder, less lithe, than the other girls in my grade school, but I definitely wasn’t obese by any stretch of the imagination. So tell me how my self-image became so tarnished? My mother, I think, failed to realize how her example would affect me. Every time she talked down to herself, admired another woman’s thin athletic build while simultaneously degrading her own, I listened and incorporated her perspectives into my own world view. Every time she went on a crash diet, eschewing meals for “milkshakes” and killing herself on a Stairmaster for hours into the evening, I watched and I learned. When she would criticize herself in photos and compare her thighs to my grandmother’s while sighing mournfully, every time she took me with her to shop for clothes and berated herself in the dressing room, I logged it away for later use against myself.

Mothers, you are your daughter’s first mirror. She will look at you and see herself. If you tell her that what she sees in that mirror is ugly, no amount of praise or compliments will prevent her from tearing herself down.
Mothers, you are your daughter’s first mirror. She will look at you and see herself. If you tell her that what she sees in that mirror is ugly, no amount of praise will reestablish her ability to love herself.

There are probably many more reasons for my low self-esteem and my lifetime struggles with weight. I wasn’t raised to be a healthy eater. I wasn’t raised to be especially active. I had a negative self-image from very early on, but as I got a little older and started to fill out in ways that weren’t considered healthy, I was subjected to a lot of criticism, both at home and at school. I don’t recall my pediatrician ever commenting that I was overweight, but I remember my parents scolding me for what I ate, and when, and how much. Our home was emotionally fraught and sometimes violent, and I began eating as a way to self-soothe. I would binge eat and hide it from my parents, and they would become effusively angry when they busted me (Tip: if your child is an emotional-eater, there are way better ways to confront that issue than shaming them about it. See “opposite of intended effect”.) Somehow, it never occurred to them to change their own habits in order to set an example for me to follow.  People aren’t born thinking that being fat is a bad thing — we have to be taught to hate ourselves or each other, and I definitely was. I was taught by two adults who didn’t much care for their own bodies how to hate my own. I don’t think they ever considered how their well-intentioned criticism, or their own self-hatred, would influence me. I’m a parent now, and I keep my mother and father’s example close to my heart. Not because I want to follow it, but because I want to avoid it. All of the wrong decisions my parents made, and all of the wrong decisions I later made for myself, I’m using those lessons to concentrate on making the right choices for M. Still, people allow their distorted perceptions of beauty and health standards color their view of our family and even our parenting choices. Yeah, I’m fat — does that mean that my daughter will be, too? No, of course not. I suspect that many people look at me and assume that a.) I’m unhealthy, lazy, irresponsible, etc., and b.) assume that I will graft my flaws on to my daughter. However, nothing could be farther from the truth: my husband and I make very careful, conscientious decisions regarding food and activity choices in order to set her up for life-long health. Note: health, not thinness, because we’ve got our priorities straight. Does she still eat pizza? Sometimes. (“My monkey, my circus”, remember?) You see, I don’t want to take all that I’ve learned about being healthy and run to the other end of the spectrum, counting calories and obsessing over what goes into our bodies. In the end, that attitude would defeat the purpose of what I’m trying to achieve: raising a healthy, intelligent girl who is able to appreciate all things are best in moderation. Regardless of the size of her dress or the number on the scale, she will know that she is beautiful, valuable, and important, even if she does keep her chunky-monkey rolls all the way into adulthood. Eff your beauty standards — those thunder thighs are a family legacy. And we are gorgeous.

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Friendship Used to be Easy

Being a grown-up certainly complicates things that used to be simple. This week was National Best Friends Day, and I have spent a lot of time thinking about that magical word friend, and the romantic visions that it brings to mind. I have many different kinds of friends and I cherish them all. I’ve made friends with people who share my interests, people I met once and felt a connection to, even people who I have only ever met online. I’ve maintained friendships with people I have known since elementary school (God bless Facebook), and I consider my family tree to be supplemented greatly by the addition of those who I am closest to. My concept and practice of friendship, however, has changed a lot over the years.

I was a pretty friendly kid — a social butterfly, according to my second grade teacher. I remember being able to make friends with whatever group of children I was thrown in with. It didn’t have to be at school, either. It could have been a  playground, at Sunday school, or a family reunion. Kids are gifted that way. Any place where a bunch of kids are thrown together, you can see them form bonds of friendship almost instantaneously. It was natural. Effortless. If you shared the same interests, if played together well, that was all it took! We’d be friends for life!

Many of those friendships are temporary, though, lasting only as long as the gathering itself. If you saw that person regularly, the bond would could potentially be cemented. Looking back, I recognize that my across my lifetime, my Best Friend-ships tended to develop at the institution we shared and then shift when our circumstances changed: my elementary school BFF wasn’t my closest friend in middle school; my middle school BFF and I drifted apart in high school. My high school Best Friend is someone I still feel very close to, though we don’t talk very often. Even those other two girls — well, women, now — are still friends of mine. We’re not close as we used to be, but we’re friendly. Each of these three relationships were extremely hard-won — it takes work to remain friends after all this time, especially when you consider just how much a person changes between ages 5 and 25.

At the time, making friends with those women had been extremely easy. When I went away to college, I struggled in a way I hadn’t experienced before. I wasn’t making life-long friendships the way I had in primary school. Instead, I made many utilitarian pairings: friendships that served their purpose of camaraderie and lunch table companions only for as long as the semester lasted. It was depressing. I missed my real friends back in California, and I often wondered if I shouldn’t just give up and go home. Right around the time I started dating my now-husband, though, something coalesced, as if by magic. A group of like-minded, down-to-earth, plain ol’ good people was formed. We were a unit. Daily we took up two whole tables in the college cafeteria. We partied on weekends. We loved and supported one another like family. Those were the days.

These crazy people are my friends.
These crazy people are my friends.

At my twentieth birthday party — the last I would spend with my mother — she looked around the table at my assembled friends and thanked them for loving me. She commented on how worried she had been when I moved to Hawaii for college, but became increasingly isolated. When she saw me with this group of friends, her worries were put to rest. When she later became very ill and knew that she was dying, she told me to count on those friends for strength. I believe it made her passing a little gentler, knowing she didn’t have to worry about my being left alone.

But shit happens. In the years following my mother’s death I was not an easy person to be around. Many of my relationships suffered or even withered away entirely as a result. Bridges were burned. I didn’t realize at the time that mental illness had become a factor in the equation, and I wasn’t taking care of myself. Some friends were easily dissuaded by my behavior and high-tailed it to safer grounds. Mistakes were made on both sides — I see that now. There were some friends that stuck it out and loved me even when I was almost entirely unlovable, and I was truly grateful. When I started to claw my way out of the darkness, I knew that these people would be in my life forever.

But then, again, shit happens.

You know what’s worse than a break-up? A best-friendship break-up. Man, that shit is ugly. I’ve lost friends before, but never have I been as wounded by the loss of a friend as I was when I broke up with my best friend. It wasn’t like we grew apart or anything — it was a series of wrong moves and then a major blow-out, and just like the end of a relationship, the end of our friendship was long, gritty, and painful. I felt betrayed and confused, especially when I heard from the grapevine that my friend had said things that were untrue and hurtful. I had loved her like a sister, invited her into my home, and gave to her without restraint. In the end, I got burned. The experience made me gun-shy of investing the time to develop new close friendships with other women.

Thank you for your application to be my friend. Unfortunately, we don’t have any available openings at this time.
Thank you for your application to be my friend. Unfortunately, we don’t have any available openings at this time.

The end result wasn’t that different from the aftermath of a relationship break up either. Like a boyfriend/girlfriend that says, “I don’t love you anymore, but let’s stay friends”, so did we for the sake of everything that we had once been to each other. It’s a stilted kind of friendship, one in name only. In terms of adult-like friendships, “friendship in name only” is one of the saddest and most common.

Still, I am very blessed in terms of friendship. Despite having misplaced my trust in the past, I now have an amazing network of friends, here-there-and-all-around, whom I consider family. I appreciate them more, I think, than the friends I had when I was younger. I have experienced enough loss and enough isolation to know how priceless these people are. Perhaps that’s the trade off.  As with many things, as children we took for granted that all life was good, believing as children do, that good must last. Grown-ups know that this isn’t true, but we also recognize that the things that you have worked to achieve have a heightened sense of value compared to those things you are just given.

Bottom line: friendship is important. Our mental health and longevity are both heavily affected by the number and quality of our friendships. The friendships we maintain as adults have enormous potential to become positive and life-fulfilling in a way that our youthful pursuits were not. As an adult, your friends take on the quality of family, particularly in a society that sees increasingly farther distances placed between close relations. In that instance, friendships take on a very vital function to provide us with all the same love and support that one’s blood relatives may not provide. These are the friendships that persist without consideration of time and distance — I don’t care if we spoke last five years or five minutes ago, you’re my family and I will love you forever. If you’re lucky, the friendships you formed when you were young will transcend to this level. If you’re really lucky, the friendships you forge as an adult will be cemented along these lines, too. How, you ask? I really can’t say. The planets have to align, the circumstances have to be just right, and even then, I think lot of it is luck.

Turns out friendship really is magic.
Turns out friendship really is magic.

The Momma Bear Protocol

Parenthood — motherhood in particular — comes loaded with a lot hidden programming. Sure, there’s a lot they don’t tell you — I did not anticipate, for example, having my moderately sized 36Bs landing in the 40F range by the time it was all over.

Poor High-School-Boyfriend. He missed out. But at least he's related to the Pumpkin King. Still has that going for him.
Pre special-order bras. Poor High-School-Boyfriend, he really missed out. But at least  he’s still related to the Pumpkin King. He’ll always have that going for him.

Besides boobs more massive than Husband or I could ever have dreamed of, there’s also the ability to diagnose minor ailments by glancing inside a poopy diaper, and the somewhat less desirable ability to hold protracted conversations about what I have found within those diapers.  But there are also things I wouldn’t have believed, things that well up from deep within.

There exists an intrinsic desire to care for every aspect of your child’s well-being, to make sure that they are safe at all costs — it is deep, lizard-brain,  instinctual caveman shit. And if you’re a mom, I speak primarily of the Momma Bear Protocol.

Yeah, I would want to tango with that gal, either.
Yeah, I would want to tango with that gal, either.

As a new mother, you may not realize that you have downloaded this critical programming until after you have given birth. Perhaps not even until long after, not until your child stumbles unwittingly into a situation of some minor threat or danger, and you quite suddenly find that the rational, pleasant, complimentary person you once were has suddenly left the room and a wild, raging animal has taken her place. The Momma Bear Protocol has been activated.

God help you, you poor, unfortunate soul.
God help you, you poor, unfortunate soul.

Perhaps the most surprising this about the Protocol is that there are no caveats or exceptions: it applies to all offspring (it can even apply to children under the care of the Momma Bear but not otherwise related, or children who are in the vicinity of the Momma Bear but not witnessed to be under the care of another Momma Bear) and the Protocol contains no fail-safes or contingencies for the other caretakers of the child or children, nor the inherent integrity of those caretakers — if they fuck up, GOD HAVE MERCY ON THEIR SOULS.

I'm comin' for ya.
I’m comin’ for ya.

Case in point: the night my husband accidentally locked me out of the house while our infant daughter slept upstairs.

He didn’t mean to do it. He works nights and he was running late, so in the rush to get in the house, change clothes, get back outside, and switch cars with me, things got a little hairy. He assumed I had my house keys. I assumed that anyone with a brain would know better than to lock the door with an infant in the house and no adults inside. Clearly, there were some failures in communication somewhere along the way. Be that as it may, none of of that really mattered once I was standing on our porch, listening to my daughter cry upstairs, with no way to get to her.

Momma Bear Activated: I broke the window next to the door, reached in and threw the lock.

Moira was fine, of course. She was already back asleep as soon as I was in the house, but that didn’t mean that I was any less hysterical. I called my husband’s cell phone and, in a voice that was two decibels higher than dog’s can hear, left a message that would have melted his ear off, had he been able to understand me. He called back to apologize, but it wasn’t until he came home the next morning to take in the broken window and my messed up arm that it really sunk in.

The moral of the story: Don’t mess with Momma Bears.

I amend my earlier statment: I wouldn't want to mess with her, unless she messed with my kid. And then I would poleax her, and grind her bones for breakfast.
I amend my earlier statement: I wouldn’t want to mess with her, unless she messed with my kid. And then I would poleax her and grind her bones for breakfast.