I was talking with a friend of mine recently. Our kids ran around us in circles while we ate on a blanket in the shade of a large oak tree. It was hot and sunny, and our kids seemed impervious to the temperature, stopping only every few minutes or so for a bite of food. Our blanket had become a buffet littered with drops of cream cheese and orange peels.
I don't know how it came up, but my friend commented about some other mom looking "thinner." And then, both kids froze and stopped and asked what that word meant. I stared in disbelief. Bean has an extensive vocabulary for a five-year-old. She regularly drops words like frustrate, entertain, exceptional and terrible. She is as adept at articulating her own demands as she is at describing her sister's, and yet somehow, this word "thinner" hung in the air confounding both kids.
I don't talk about my weight around my kids. I make a concerted effort to talk about "healthy eating" and "exercise" and "getting strong" or "building muscles." When Bean asks me why I run in the morning, I tell her it's because running helps clear my head and I like the way it feels being out by myself when the town is still quiet. I have two daughters and I don't want them to grow up chasing a number on a scale or a jean size. It took me having kids to get to this point. For me, something switched in my brain when I held my baby girl for the first time. I saw my own imperfections fade away. My weird, misshaped, lumpy body had created this perfect little being. How miraculous is that? Looking at her little face, I didn't want her to have the self-doubt and self-hatred that I harbored for so long. Her life would have many challenges ahead of her, but I thought that perhaps, maybe I could spare her this one struggle. And so, I took the shame words out my vocabulary. I stopped saying fat, diet, weight gain and any of those words that might grace the cover of SHAPE magazine. When friends talked about weight gain, I immediately changed the subject. Instead, I focused on how I felt, my mile race times, and trying to have an active lifestyle with my family.
My kids watch me eat. Food is central to our life, and my kids have grown up with family dinners and pizza nights. We make cookies together and rhubarb crumb pies. Ours is a house, where people stop over for dinner. Everyone is welcome at our table and often times, my kids help with the preparation. We all eat, and sometimes, we all eat a lot together. I don't want my girls seeing their mom abstaining from food. I want them to see a mom, eating up food (and life) ravenously with both hands. That's the life I've strived to live for five years.
And so I was taken aback, when Bean asked about the word "thinner." How do I describe a concept that I've been chasing since 4th grade. "Thinner" is not a cuss word, but to me it represents so much that I wanted to avoid teaching my own children. My friend and I both paused and said nothing. Five-year-olds are smart and they can sense when they touched a nerve. Usually, more questions follow suit until you are pummeled mentally and the words spilling from your mouth no longer make sense. In my head, I kept thinking, "this is a teachable moment, teach." Instead, I mumbled "it means nothing." Both kids wondered off and went back to playing Jedi. I exhaled loudly, grateful for punting this one down the line for a few more years.
Thinner is just a word. In that moment, I put too much weight on it. May "thinner" be just another vocabulary word for her and nothing more.