Monday, August 22, 2011


My daughter is greedy. How could she not be? After all, her mother is, too. Before having her I felt certain that my greediness was entirely a product of my upbringing. My mother and sister were both small. My mother tried to control what I ate, but my sister was constantly feeding me. I thought that push and pull had created food’s wanton hold on me, but since becoming a mother myself I know it’s not that simple. Fresh out of the womb, my daughter would nurse until she vomited. Whatever control switch they say babies have that tells them when they are full did not work with her. It was two weeks before I realized what was happening—that she was gorging herself on breast milk—and began latching her off before she had had too much. When she was a toddler she would literally eat until her belly button popped out. Everyday. Her belly button would pop out like the done-ness indicator on a Thanksgiving turkey, and we’d tell her she was done for the day. It was a joke at first, but it got less funny.

I felt awful. It was my fault she was that way. I dealt her the bad gene and I didn’t even know how to fix it. Isn’t that what mothers do? Fix things? The only thing I knew how to do was the same thing I had done for myself—surround her with healthy food. Fresh, organic fruits and vegetables served raw, whole grain bread, hormone-free dairy. No fast food. (We went to Sonic once on a road trip and she STILL talks about it.) Treats in moderation and usually baked in our kitchen. Despite all that, I worry that she will be overweight. Just like her mama.

My daughter is amazing. Surround that with stars and iridescent streamers. When I think of her I couldn’t be more proud. Just like her mama, she started reading before she was three and doesn’t remember what life was like before then. We have the same taste in books (Neil Gaiman, anyone?) and spend hours curled together reading. At age 6 she is an animal expert and self-proclaimed scientist. Often found digging up worms or chasing stray cats in her Punky Brewster-esque gear, she also loves telling jokes and playing pretend. If NOVA is on you may as well not talk to her.

My daughter is beautiful. Her face is lovely. Her spirit is kind and giving. Her weight is perfect. Not one bit over or under. She spins and dances and laughs, marching to the beat of her own drummer. So why am I concerned?

One day, after finishing off two (child-sized) bowls of cheerios with blueberries, she asked for a third. I resisted the temptation to do what my mother would have done. After all, what my mother did didn't work.

“That’s too much,” I said, “You’ve had plenty. Wait a little while and let it settle before you decide you’re still hungry.”

“I don’t mind getting fat,” she threw out matter-of-factly, as if that is what I had asked.

How did she know? How did she know that was what I was thinking? I've never said that to her. I've never told her she was anything but beautiful. A bit taken aback, I decided to pose a question. “Why? Wouldn’t you prefer to be just the way you are? You’re a perfect size.”

Without a beat she said, “Well, you’re beautiful AND you get to eat a lot. I want to be beautiful like you.”

That was when I realized we had been lying to her. Or at least I had. All her life we have taught her that people naturally come in different sizes and that every size is okay. The important thing, we said, was to eat healthy food so your body could be healthy and strong. But in that moment I knew I didn’t believe what I had been telling her. The awful truth was staring me in the face. I said those things to her because I didn't want her to judge ME. I didn't want her to look at ME and think of ME as anything less than beautiful. Being fat was absolutely fine for other people, but not for her. I do not want her to be fat. But since there is no simple way to tell your 6-year-old that you are a hypocrite, I said nothing.

My daughter is a child. She looks to her mother for answers, but her scientific mind is constantly drawing its own conclusions. I know she will learn from my baggage even more than she learns from my words. The most disquieting thing about parenthood is knowing that even though I can give her the tools to meet my definition of success, it will only be her definition that counts.

Children should come with a manual. Or else, their mothers should be wiser.


  1. M., this is such a hard one, and I'm afraid it really depends on each child. My mom was so careful with my consumption, both amount and content, and I KNEW they were watching my weight. The pediatrician talked to her about keeping me on a diet when I was 9 - before I was even fat - right in front of me. All it did was encourage me to hoard food, especially the junky kinds that were never allowed in our house. I'm not saying that your kids would do this, but going whole hog in the limiting direction can be dangerous, too. Most kids probably would've turned out anorexic and obsessed with staying thin. Instead, I went the other direction, which is why I said it's different for each kid. Maybe you need to leave South La. Too much good food down here, lol.

  2. Wow. I don't have kids but sadly I've already prayed that if the Lord gave me children, He'd give me one girl --- max. Raising girls is fraught with challenges and relentlessly plentiful opportunities for self-reflection. While gorging and being overweight are not ideal, you made a good point in a previous blog about fatness and fitness. If she's fit and healthy and strong and knows what her body can do and learns how to listen to her tummy not her eyes she'll be fine.
    Honestly, you're not going to starve her to death or scar her by taking away the second or third bowl of cereal. It's what's best for her. Being a little hungry is not so bad. Satiety incapacitates you.

  3. It is not a lie to tell her that people naturally come in different sizes, and that this variety of sizes is ok -- they do, and it is. Perhaps the subtlety you'll have the difficult task of teaching J. is the difference between things like beauty, build, weight, and health. These things are related for most of us, but they're not all the same thing. And some of those relations are conditioned, while others are medical in nature. When you say "fat," do you mean anyone who is not thin, and does that automatically mean unattractive? Then you have been hypocritical. But I don't think that's what you really mean. If you mean instead that there's a complex relationship between a person's natural build, medically determined standards of weight, and other measures of healthiness -- and that this set of factors relates in varying ways to people's personal and socially shaped ideas about beauty -- then she'll have to learn some shades of grey. I suspect her beautiful mom is wise enough to help her with that.

  4. Absolutely beautifully written post. It is difficult to be naked in front of them, but our kids have a way of doing that to us don't they? They see straight to the heart of the matter...I think her mother is quite wise. One thing my mothering journey has taught me is this: if you don't know, it is okay. We are note taught that it is perfectly acceptable (and dare I say "normal" to learn-as-we-go with some things)...I also think it isn't so much that you don't want her to be "fat" but it is that you don't want her to experience the pain that society inflicts on us curvy girls if we are not the "ideal"; if "thin" had the stigma attached to it that "fat" does, that would be the "thing" you wouldn't want her to be. I know the hardest thing for me to imagine as a parent is that first emotional hurt that I cannot heal with a kiss, a hug, and "it will be okay baby" that assumption could be me projecting on you, and if it is, my bad, but having talked to many many mothers, I suspect, this is even closer to the truth.