Tag Archives: mommy life

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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The terrible, inescapable joy of toddlerhood

I did not have rose-colored glasses on when I looked forward into the future and saw myself as a mother. I knew that there would be sleepless nights, unbearably disgusting messes, and futile tantrums.  During my pregnancy, I had prepared myself to give birth to a child much like myself — and according to family mythology, I was no picnic. I pictured myself nurturing a squalling mess of a newborn, overcome by colic; a disagreeable little potato-person who wouldn’t let me leave her sight without wailing, just like her mommy before her. I was pleasantly (to say the least) when M was born and she was perfect. Perfectly formed, perfectly darling, perfectly perfect in every way. She was a good sleeper, a good eater, and she loved people. The only time she really kicked up a fuss was when her FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) kicked in. When she settled into a routine around 4 months old, I rested easy — maybe this wasn’t going to be so bad, after all.

Okay, so maybe I had some rose-colored shades hanging around my neck, but I swear, I really wasn’t picturing Maytag-commercial levels of parenting bliss. I was ready for anything — until she morphed, slowly but completely, into a tiny tyrant, willfully defiant just for the simple joy of watching me lose my shit.

We had entered the Toddler Zone.

100% of toddlers just want to watch the world burn.
100% of toddlers just want to watch the world burn.

All of a sudden it seems that my delightful, joyful little girl has become hellbent on making me turn into the worst possible version of my own mother, screaming admonitions through my clenched teeth and wielding an open palm, posed to strike a diapered butt. This is not the parent I want to be, but damned if it doesn’t come naturally.

Other mothers know what I’m talking about, but women are so damned competitive, most of us would rather floss with barbed wire than admit to our shortcomings. Not to mention the fact that parenting is an art that we all consider ourselves to be masters of: hindsight, it seems, is not exactly 20/20 when looking back at the first few years of your child’s life and recalling with perfect clarity the successes, but not so much the failures or struggles. Whenever I broach this subject with more “seasoned” parents, I hear “Oh, I know exactly what you mean. You really ought to try this…” followed by a stream of well-meaning advice that certainly may have worked for them, but doesn’t fulfill my immediate need of someone to commiserate with.

I mean, advice is welcome and it is typically well-intentioned, but sometimes I don’t want to hear about your parenting philosophy which has been vetted by child psychologists and is tried and tested and true. Can’t you tell me about the time you wanted to drop your screaming toddler and run in the other direction? Or about how you tried every approach you could think of or read about to discipline and redirect them, but nothing ever stuck? I want to hear about how you were at the end of your rope when your 15-month-old decided to pour juice over their head for the second time while watching you with an impish grin on their face, blissfully ignorant or apparently disinterested in your distress. THAT’s the story I need to hear, while gazing in wonder at your polite, well-behaved 4-year-old who, eventually, grew into a charming little person. I want to hear that all three-year-olds are assholes, and that toddlers are, by definition, tiny sociopaths who, like the Joker, don’t know why they need to do the terrible destructive things that they do, but they simply must. Those are the stories that give me hope that we really will survive this, and that my child is not actually trying to give me an aneurism.

She might just succeed though.
She might just succeed though.

This isn’t to say, of course, that I’m no longer enjoying myself. Even when M is being a tiny monster, she’s still pretty cute (God made them that way on purpose so we wouldn’t kill them, you see). I just find myself uttering the words “Parenting is hard” and “I’m so fucking tired” more and more these days, living for those moments when she’s exhausted and cuddly, before she becomes a little hellion again.

toddlernoun
She is equal parts lovable and maddening, and I wouldn’t have her any other way. Well, okay, maybe I’d have her be a little less interested in climbing the furniture, but that’s about it.

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.