Many times I've thought about this entire process and I've strongly considered the effect its having on Stella. So I've been extremely conscious that she has to see me doing this right, she has to see that eating well and exercising are the correct -- and effective -- ways to conquer a weight problem, and most importantly, it can be done, but its not an overnight process. Stella in general has had problems with patience. I don't know if that's a function of being 7, or if its just her, but she's impatient with herself -- when she's learning a new skill, be it biking, skating, whatever, she quickly gets frustrated if she hasn't mastered it in five minutes. So this whole "mommy losing weight" is going to be a good lesson for her. Much of my motivation comes from looking at her, and realizing that this isn't just me losing weight, its me demonstrating the power of self-discipline, of patience, of not waitng for some magic bullet or fairy tale thing to solve any problem. What I do now will teach her something -- it needs to be the right thing. And especially, I know she needs to see me lose weight not by anorexic or bullemic behavior, not with some fad diet, not by punishing myself, but with my head straight on toward a goal.
But last Friday, after I'd picked her up from the kid care at the Y, she had a huge bug up her butt about something and she didn't want to tell me what it was. That bug crawled further up her butt all week and she's been a real freakin' pill. She hasn't wanted to talk about it. She kept telling me she was afraid I'd be mad. Finally, last night, she came clean with me about what happened at the Y last week: "Somebody called you a name."
BFD, I thought to myself. Took me a minute to remember that this is a little girl whose beloved mommy had been insulted by some twit. "And he called me a name too."
"And what were those names?" I asked, reaching for my dental implements. I could feel a major tooth pulling session coming on.
"I can't remember," she said. Yeah, right. Somebody said something that hurt you terribly, but you can't remember what it was. Translation: I don't have the balls to tell you. It hurts too much to say it out loud.
Finally, after I removed all four wisdom teeth and performed a root canal, she came out with it. Some other kid, a boy about her age, was not pleased that earlier in the night, Stella and I apparently brushed up against him and neglected to apologize. (The check-in place was packed. This might well have happened.) "He said you were a fat dummy and that I was a snot-nosed brat." OK, let's take this one part at a time. I asked her if she had a runny nose that day (no), assured her that if she were a brat, she'd have heard about it from me long before this kid had told her, and reminded her that I'm quite smart, and how did he know that I wasn't the president of the local Mensa chapter? She'd accepted this. And then I fessed right up. "Well, he did get one part right. I am fat." And then I proceeded to approch this in a very adult manner: "OK, dude's gotten three out of four things about you and me wrong. Is this somebody whose opinion we care about?"
"No," she said, mostly because it was The Correct Answer.
"Because he's only got a 25% accuracy rate. I'm not at all impressed with his assesment skills. So, honey, I don't care that he called me fat." Problem was, I wasn't addressing her problem. I could tell by her weak-ass "no" that she wasn't convinced. She's still hurt that he called me fat, that it was an insult. It didn't matter to her that I didn't care. It mattered that it was true, that fat is a bad thing to be, and that he was using this to try to hurt us. (I was touched that she considered this our problem, not just her problem and not just mine.) But "consider the source" rarely works for little kids. They can't consider the source. If there's just even 1% of truth to it, the source just might as well be Walter Cronkite. Think, V'ron, think. How do I comfort my little girl and get a lesson out of this? Think like a little girl, V'ron. But teach like an adult…… hmmmmmm. Part of why it didn't hurt me was because it was coming from some little wiener, and also because I know that "fat" in child vernacular isn't just a physical description of body image.
"Fat" is an adjective intensifier. "Fat" is a form of "-er" and "Big Fat" is a form of "-est." That splinter in your foot is only a micron wide, but when you step on it it’s a Big FAT splinter. You could be skinnier than Kate Moss after an all-night coke binge, but if you made a stupid move, you're a big FAT moron. Ergo, "You big fat dummy" is a way of saying "You UBER dummy. You're dumber than I am. You're the dumbest." It just so happened in this case that the person (me) who made a (honestly, unremembered!) bonehead move also happened to be fat. And Stella believed I'm sensitive to that. How to convince her of this? (And once again, convince myself in the process.)
"Honey, honestly, you know why this doesn't bug me, besides just considering the source? Its because I know I'm fat, but I also know what I have to do to not be fat. I know why I'm fat."
"I know why you're fat, too," she piped in. "Its because you just had a baby a year ago and that makes you fat." God bless her for trying to make excuses for me, and kudos to her for recognizing that preganacy and postpartum are not times to be worrying about one's svelteness: "Yes, that's a legitimate reason to gain weight," I assured her. But I had to admit to her that, well, it's been two years now, and besides, I'm only about 7 pounds away from my pre-Sammy weight (and about 27 pounds away from my pre-Stella weight). So I can only blame about 5-25% of my fat on my two pregnancies. "No, honey, I eat too much stupid food, and I eat for reasons other than being hungry. I have to stop that. You know how you get when there's a whole bag of cookies that you really really like? You eat too many of them and you get a tummy ache, right? And then you've got no room for growing food, right?"
"Yeah. I hate when that happens."
"Well, if you do that too much, your body gets used to it. And then you eat a whole bag of cookies, and your body forgets to tell you that you've got a tummy ache, and then you think its OK because you're not listening to your body anymore. So you keep doing it, and then you get fat. That's how it happens." I think she understood.
"And you know how when your feeling are hurt or something, it feels good to have some ice cream or a treat?"
"Well, I count on that way too much. Sometimes you just have to find out why something hurt you, instead of covering it up with ice cream all the time. So I have to learn how to listen to my body again, and I have to give my body good food to eat and I need to exercise. I'm not going to be fat forever. But some people are. And some people don't know why they're fat, and they don't think they can ever do anything about it, and they feel bad. So when people try to hurt them by calling them fat, they get hurt. It used to hurt me, because I didn't think I could do anything about it. But now, whenever anybody calls me fat, or when I can't get some of my favorite clothes on me, it just reminds me to listen to my body better." And as I was telling her this, I was believing it. It was making sense to me, just as it was making sense to her. Listening to one's body isn't just for potty training.
Later, when we got home from ice skating lessons (while I was nursing a wound she got on her chin from a particularly nasty fall) we were cuddling on the couch, watching Duck Dodgers, and I asked her a rhetorical question: "Hey, by the way, you don't think my ability to love you has anything to do with my weight, do you?"
"Of course not, mommy."
"Well, then, we're not worried about what some turd at the Y says," I said, and was rewarded with a burst of genuine giggles which I joined, a sort of female Beavis and Butthead on the couch, snuggling together, watching TV. "You said 'turd,' Mommy. He's a turd! Heh-heh, heh-heh-heh. Turd." Make that a big fat turd. Maybe she did learn to consider the source.