Conversation is so important, and one at a family dinner table changed both Anna Cate's and my perspective this week.
Throughout life, people close to me describe me as open. One friend in my 20s told me that I not only cross the line, I crash fences with my openness; my mother says I'm a sharer; my dear friend Mary Helen told me last week that she loves how honest I am with the people I love. Those are the kind words; I've also heard that I'm too much for people. My lack of control with what I say makes people feel uncomfortable. I know some people who I suspect don't like me because I'm overbearing. I'm sort of digressing but what I'm getting to is that I want to live out in the light, to tell the truth.
So in all that I do with my children and family, I am open and honest. When the kids are making me frustrated, I tell them that they are ungrateful. When I'm mad at BJ, I don't go behind a closed door to discuss it (although this might be the best way to handle it). When Anna Cate asked me if girls could marry girls, I said of course they can. She knows that gay is when you want to kiss a girl if you are a girl, or a boy if you are a boy. My girls know about death because a significant person in their life is gone, BJ's mother. I try to put things in kid friendly language but I like to consider myself a shameless truth teller like Glennon Melton, but there is one issue I've tiptoed around in raising daughters, one that has caused me a lot of pain -- weight.
All my life I've struggled with my weight, and have poured my heart into being of healthy mind, body and soul as I seek to evolve into my authentic self. I've raised my kids to use concepts like healthy versus junk food. But in the past couple years, Anna Cate has gone through times where she fixates on food. She thinks about it and talks about it a lot. I don't deny her completely but I certainly restrict it, which seems to cause her to want it more. Also in the last couple years, she has developed a belly of which she is becoming self conscious.
I wish I could make this journey for her.
I wish I could hand her the acceptance and love and willpower and health and strength and all that this journey has provided me. I worry that I'm passing on my shame or my insecurities and I have struggled with how to handle it. When I hear her feel sad about her belly, I ask myself I should say, "well then quit eating junk food or begging me for it all the time?" I have counseled with very dear girlfriends about this. I truly am at a loss. Do I honestly tell her that she is eating too much, or do I just give it up and let her get heavy and experience all the sadness I did as an adolescence?
We were watching home videos the night of my birthday when the cute little Sarah turned into the awkward 10 year old. Molly called me fat mama, Anna Cate said, "were there every any vegetables in your house?" I watched myself trip over and fall on a new toy of my brother's at Christmas, ruining the toy.
I was laughing so hard but before I knew it, I was crying. Those feelings of shame and worthlessness attached to a poor body image are right below the surface. After the girls went to bed, I told BJ -- this is why I'm so hard on Anna Cate to eat healthy, to stay active, to love her body. I don't want her to experience this.
So I focus on health, things you should tell every kid, but in the back of my mind I'm thinking, "I'm just trying to help you not get heavy like I did." We utilize strategies like telling her to slow down when she eats, drink a cup of water if you are still hungry, we tell her how proud we are of her swimming. I encourage her to work out with me. When she says something about her body, I say oh honey, "that's just the way God made you. You are beautiful? Don't you think I'm pretty? I have a belly" I try to never talk badly about myself in front of either of the girls.
On vacation, we ate ice cream every day and she chose whatever she wants, but when we get back to our regular life, she knows what she can have at the ice cream stand on swim meets -- the fruit popsicles. But she begs for the snickers and held up the line asking 5 times for it.
She asks at lunch if she can have a treat for dinner, too. I pray for patience. I want to help but I just don't know which is the right path. I ask myself, "is this really worth the fight?" I tell her, "I think God gave me your body perfect I want to keep it that way. The same reason we put suncreen on to protect our skin is why we eat and live healthily to take care of the body God gave us."
Let me summarize:
-My kid is built like her Daddy and me.
-We focus on healthy food, active lifestyles.
-She wants junk food.
-At the pediatricians' office, we are told to watch her BMI. I notice pants that won't zip and I am sad for her, but I would never show it. She says things like, "I wish I could look like ___" I focus on her beauty and try to model acceptance.
-I don't want to pass on this shame. I want to protect her, but I don't know how. The truth is that this is how our bodies are. We will never be skinny but there are certainly things we can do, so I try. When she talks about our body, I talk about acceptance. In other conversations, I focus on health.
Well, the other night at dinner Anna Cate scarfed something down, asked for more carbs, took something off Molly's plate, something so insignificant and common I don't truly remember what it was. BJ said something like, "Anna Cate if you eat too much, you will get bigger." She was shocked. What?! He then proceeded to explain to her about your body using what it needs and storing the rest for fat. Consumption, Energy, Calories.
She was stunned. Really? She did not know that there was a connection. She thought as long as you eat vegetables that you would be healthy, which is why when she saw the video of my chunky self she asked if we had vegetables in our house. Anna Cate said, "you always just say this is how God made me." I said, oh that's true but if you eat too much you will get bigger, even if you eat too much good food. Shocked she said, and I quote verbatim, "this is important information. Is there anything else you should be telling me?" Oh honey, in time.
That was 5 days ago and her habits have changed overnight. She no longer begs me for junk food, I notice her going to get a glass of water before dinner. When she chose her lunch today, she said, "that's a healthy choice." So she sees the main idea is health but there is another, more immediate consequence or outcome: waist size.
In reflecting on this little vignette of my daughter's growing up to understand the world and the way our bodies work, I'm reminded that there are oh, so many ways we can mess up our children. I thought I was handling it all the right ways, focusing on health and acceptance but it was the brutal truth from her Daddy that made the difference. Kids can handle the truth, or at least mine can.
No legacy is so rich as Honesty. ~ William Shakespeare