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.