Mommy, I Ate Fat

riceccakesThe day my older daughter was born, I had been expecting a son. When my husband looked at the wriggling pink mass being lifted from between my legs, I called out to him, “Is it my little boy?”

“It’s a girl,” he said. “It’s a daughter.”

Lying there, on that bed, I realized two things at once: firstly, how deeply I must have been afraid of having daughters; and secondly, how happy I was to have one.

Three years later, I had another daughter after another pregnancy of being certain the child I was carrying was a boy. We did no gender-checking ultrasound with either child, but my intuition, I realize, must have remained blocked by that fear of raising girls. How, I wondered, can I make them less messed-up than me? 

Like so many women in this time and place in western history, I am often utterly confused over how much space my woman’s body is supposed to fill. A child growing up in the 80s, I was nurtured in a world of NutraSweet and Weight Watchers and Jane Fonda by my beautiful, kind mother who was constantly dieting. I learned many lessons through her example: how to eat on smaller plates to avoid large portions, how to wait until late to eat a weekend breakfast so that you can stay full until dinner, how to compare onesself to other women constantly to decide who is heavier, how to remove as much fat as possible from food before serving it. I learned that skipping someone’s birthday cake made my mother “good,” that a day’s success could be judged by how “bad” one was at eating “light,” that children could eat pizza but adults needed to eat salad. My brother seemed oblivious.

I was watching. I was watching very carefully. By middle school, I could not negotiate between my adolescent appetite and the desire to be “good.” I began sticking my fingers down my throat and looking around to see if I was heavier than my friends. By college, I was surrounded by other women in the same situation, and the competition got even more intense while the messages got even more confusing. Who could do it better, and what was “better?” What was healthy, anyway: being “good?” eating vegetables? having a good attitude about my body as it was, but being heavier than someone else? I had watched my mother, and I had watched TV, and I had watched my friends, and the voices in my head grew dissonant. I watched everyone and came to an uncomfortable stalemate with all of it.

And then I had daughters. And I knew they were going to watch me, too.

My determination to give them only positive messages around food and their bodies could not have been stronger. From the moment they each began eating solid food, I was clear about how they should decide what to eat. I asked them constantly, “What does your belly say? Does it want more food, or is it all full? What does your belly want to eat? Does your belly want more fruit or more noodles?”

Both my daughters leaned over to talk with their bellies often. My older daughter’s belly had its own voice, even, a nasal-sounding squeak that declared “I want more pears” or “I want to drink milk” or “I am all full.” My younger daughter’s belly was quieter, confused as it always was by her strange health issues, but even that belly said, “I am all done for now,” or “I only want to eat blueberries.” We had lots of fruit and vegetables and also regular servings of dessert. I ate everything in front of them. When they told me I was beautiful, I swallowed back my conditioned response and said “Thank you!” instead of “I wish I was!” I never talked about weight or body shapes with them. I never talked about other women’s bodies. I pointed out beautiful dresses and fantastic t-shirts and the gorgeous, dark eyes of their soft, round preschool teacher.

In short, I did all the things I was supposed to do so that I would not mess up my daughters.

And then, in 2014, my younger daughter Sammi had cardiac surgery, during which the surgeon nicked her thoracic duct. All the fat in her diet had to be removed until it healed, and so I put my 8 year old daughter — on the cusp of puberty, with a 11 year old pubescent teenaged sister — on a fat free diet.

A fat-free diet. Fat-fucking-FREE.

I held it together when I had to buy Sammi a box of Snackwells cookies, the fat-free cookies my mother had allowed herself to eat during her Weight Watchers days when I was in high school. I held it together when a family member sent me a list of recipes from her own Weight Watchers meetings and I realized that almost all of them had too much fat for my daughter. I held it together when I packed Sammi school lunches of fat free cheese on diet bread with fat free yogurt and a tub of berries.

I held it together until I got a call from the Hebrew School that I needed to come get Sammi right away because she was freaking out.

Perhaps sending her to Hebrew School just three weeks after surgery was too much for her, but I had thought what she really needed was for everything to get back to normal as much as possible. When the special necklace I had bought her fell off and she could not get it back on, her remaining patience had drained out, and she had become inconsolable. The teacher had pulled Sammi’s big sister Ronni out of class to sit with Sammi in the youth lounge and try to calm her down. As I walked down the hallway toward the lounge, I could hear Sammi wailing. The closer I got, the more words I could make out, and when I was close enough, I heard something that sounded like “…what’s going to happen?”

The minute she saw my face, she began howling in earnest — deep, terrified sounds — and said, “Mommy, oh no Mommy, oh no, I ATE FAT!”

As I held Sammi against my chest, Ronni explained that she had been having a pizza party with her class when she was called away to be with Sammi. “I wasn’t thinking, Mommy, and I just wanted to make her feel better, so I offered her a bite of my pizza. I’m so sorry! Is she  going to be ok?”

And so there I sat, with my two daughters who I had taught, vigilantly, not to be afraid of food. I had never given them anything dietetic, despite the craziness of the medically restrictive diets we’d followed for Sammi over the years. I sat there, rocking Sammi in one arm and squeezing Ronni’s shoulder with the other, and I reeled. Sammi might not be ok. Ronni was shaken and feeling guilty and responsible. The whole disaster related to the consumption of one bite of fat. The teenager in me screamed at the injustice of how bad fat really was.

“You’ll be ok,” I said, to all of us.

I called the doctor, who said that one bite would probably not be enough to hurt her, but we needed to watch Sammi’s breathing, which would mean that fat was coming out of the hole in her thoracic duct and into her chest. I held my daughters close to me, and we went home and hugged some more, and the hours passed, and Sammi kept breathing.

And we weathered the storm, somehow.

My worst fears — that my daughters would come to villainize fat — had come true, but not in the way that I had expected. When the diet was over and Sammi had healed, there was no connection made afterward between fat and being “bad,” or between food and piety, or between the space they take up and the quality of their contribution to the world. Somehow, my work has held up. Somehow, our foundation was strong enough to pass even that wild, unfair test.

There will be other challenges that await us as women with women’s bodies, I am certain, but perhaps I have dodged this one for them, at least for now. Perhaps the world cannot get through that hole because I never let it open up for my daughters. Time will tell.

I have daughters, and I am grateful for every ounce of them.

daughters

 

This is a Finish the Sentence post (“One of my biggest fears I had to face”) hosted by Kristi from http://www.findingninee.com and Michelle of http://crumpetsandbollocks.com/.

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8 thoughts on “Mommy, I Ate Fat

  1. BW aka Barbara from Boston

    Consider yourself hugged. What a burden to grow up w/ as a kid. All three of you are fine. You are a great mom.
    Barbara

  2. Oh wow. I really felt this and am so glad to have read it. I struggled a lot with similar issues for years and years and years (and would be lying if I said that I’m totally fine with my average weight and body even now in middle age). I’m so glad she was fine after eating fat. You did a great job of tying this all together and I’m so glad you joined finish the sentence!

  3. Incredible post! So glad your daughter is fine. I hope that I would have shown myself differently for a girl for the body image. I’m always on a diet, sometimes more serious than others. I’m serious right now. Just this week I told my son that I wasn’t buying the chocolate syrup that he puts on his ice cream because it was entirely too fattening. I bought vanilla frozen yogurt instead of ice cream and suggested he try it with strawberries. He’s a tall and lean growing boy but now I’m thinking about the future him and I don’t want him to be like the current me, repairing damage. I definitely don’t want him to judge women by their weight either or repeat my behaviors to a future wife. Weight Watchers is different now thank goodness – no Snackwells for me. I had a cupcake last night. But your post made me think about how I am showing myself to my son who I wouldn’t think would care, but they are impressionable aren’t they. Thank you. So many messages in this post.

  4. Loved your post, Debi

    Fat and it’s consequences 😉
    Liked how you put it all together. You are a wonderful mom
    xoxo

  5. I have 3 daughters, and the first one I too expected to be a boy, and I too have the fear they’ll worry about their weight from a cosmetic perspective instead of a healthy one. The schools brainwashed my vulnerably gullible Gabrielle into nutrition, and she freaks out at any sign of bad food. Meanwhile, my youngest is allergic to milk and soy, which are primary ingredients to the only diet I know. I just give it to her anyway and try to control the reactions, with soy being the worst of the two. Like her main reactions are hives and eczema, but soy makes her act autistic with horrible behavior issues that will have me pulling my hair out my head, so I try to avoid soy, which is hard because it’s a preservative in almost everything you can buy. Right now, they are talking about healthier eating for healthier teeth, and my youngest just proclaimed that lunchables is a vegetable, and for whatever reason, that just made me feel so much better. But I totally get the fears of our daughters feeling fat. It’s a horrible feeling to worry about our weight and to make body size part of our self esteem. I watched my friend’s kid go through an eating disorder, and I honestly think it’s more than just cosmetics. Usually with women, all our addiction like behavior is a result of something else, like relationships with our mothers (my friend Erica), and rape (my other friend’s kid). Honestly, my friend Erica went through the exact same thing you did with her mother. I remember nights seeing everyone eating steak except Erica could only have salad, and then she had to do an hour on the treadmill before we could leave to go hang out somewhere. She too had some eating issues, but she really projected them onto Erica over concern of her image. Erica’s daughter was born with certain issues that she got over for the most part, but she can’t lose weight like the other kids. Erica’s ex, the girl’s father, is semi-wealthy and refuses to cook, so they eat out every meal, and Erica’s been losing her mind trying to offset that with healthier eating on a very low budget. She too is a nurse and has a better idea than a lot of these gluten free people on what health really is, but it’s been a struggle for her. I think in the end, freaking out about our kids’ diet is inevitable at some point. Same with their self-image. We just worry about our kids. But if you are worried about eating disorders at all, do what you are doing. The hugs. The being there when they need you. All that is more important than avoiding fat.

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