Kids, Food and Bodies

On the New Jersey Moms Blog today, my friend Suzi mentioned her struggle to accept her body and not pass along body image issues to her very awesome daughters. (She also mentioned SP. Thanks, lady!) That made me think it’s time to recycle a question we’ve put to the Shapelings before: How the hell do you raise your kids with a healthy attitude toward both food and bodies (their own and other people’s)? 

Seems to me, that’s a question we could probably revisit weekly, and keep getting different answers. (Don’t worry, we won’t. But we could.) What do you think, crew?

So Many Kinds of Wrong

So, lots of people have been writing about (and e-mailing about) this new study that claims pregnant women who eat more calories are more likely to have boys. And the fun part is, everyone’s pissed off about it for different reasons. Whee!

Liss takes down the unexamined assumption at the heart of it: that “How do we make more boys?” is a question of great scientific importance, while of course nobody would ever deliberately set out to make a girl!

Tigtog notes how ludicriously scienterrific the whole thing is to begin with. 

Shapeling Alice, one of those who sent me a link to the article, remarks on the whopping caloric difference we’re talking about:

That 130 calorie difference is SO MUCH MORE!  That’s, like, a whole apple and some raisins!  Must be why impoverished nations have only girl babies and no boys at all.  </snark>

And here’s my favorite part:

The researchers say the modern trend to opt for low calorie diets might explain why the proportion of boys is falling in developed countries.

I’m sorry, what? The “modern trend to opt for low calorie diets”? I thought we were in the middle of an OBESITY EPIDEMIC BOOGA BOOGA BOOGA! Because people can’t stop shoving food in their faces 24/7! And because being fat is not only socially acceptable but fashionable! Why, developed countries should be SWIMMING in boy babies! Shouldn’t they?

Yeah. Sadly, identifying that “modern trend” is about the only thing they seem to have gotten right. And I have to admit, when every pregnancy in the movies and on TV is turned into a fucking fat joke, when fat women are being told they should restrict calories and even lose weight while pregnant, it’s actually kind of nice, in a twisted way, to see researchers acknowledge the dieting-crazed culture and present a higher calorie intake as a good thing.

It’s just too bad for us freaks who actually like the idea of having girls, I guess. 

Open for Discussion: Fat Kids

In comments on the Fat People are Big Fat Liars post, an interesting side discussion has cropped up about how parents deal with advocating for their fat (or thin) kids. I wanted to move it up here, because I know there are a lot of Shapelings who are parents, or aspire to be parents, or stand by in all their nulliparous glory and secretly judge parents — yep, I think that covers everybody (oh wait! I forgot Shapelings who have or have had parents at some point!) — so I imagine we all have a lot to say about it.

As I said on that thread, one of the many reasons why I’m terrified of having kids is the knowledge that I will almost certainly have fat kids. I’m not terrified of the fat kids themselves — I’m terrified of having to advocate for them with doctors and schools, and of trying to bring up kids who don’t despise themselves in a world that despises fat. I’m terrified of having to say everything I say here in situations where the stakes — an innocent kid’s health and self-esteem — are much higher, and the resistance to what I’m saying is much greater. (Hell, I’m already terrified of what the non-existent kids on the non-existent playground will say when they find out my non-existent kid’s mom writes about how there’s nothing wrong with being fat!)

I’m also, as I mentioned there, terrified of having one thin kid and one fat kid. I’ve always naturally been the thinnest of the four Harding kids, and since we sorta came in two sets of two (with 10 years in between), I was “the thin one” while growing up with my sister M. I can hardly remember a time in my childhood that wasn’t dominated by concerns about my own weight, but I definitely can’t remember a time that wasn’t dominated by a whole lot of arm-flapping and tut-tutting and what-are-we-gonna-dooooooing about M.’s weight. I’m not even the one who had to live with that shit directed at me (sorry, M.), and the thought of having two kids constantly compared to each other like that, and a naturally fatter kid who’s told every time she turns around that she and/or her parents are obviously doing something very wrong, makes my goddamned blood run cold.

So, Shapelings who are parents of fat kids, how do you deal with it? What sort of obstacles have you faced? How have you overcome them — or have you?

Shapelings who were fat kids — what did your parents do right and wrong in terms of dealing with your fatness?

How do you stay sane and keep your kids sane in a world that’s constantly insisting fat children are some sort of preventable tragedy, not normal kids with bodies that are normal for them?

Evolution Will Totally Make Us Prettier. Except for the Goblins.

For the second time in a week, I find myself wondering if the BBC is seriously just fucking with us. Just when you thought evolutionary theorists were the reasonable ones, along comes Oliver Curry of the London School of Economics to tell us that H.G. Wells was right — somewhere down the line, the human race will split into two sub-species.

One will look like this:

And the other will look like this:

The descendants of the genetic upper class would be tall, slim, healthy, attractive, intelligent, and creative and a far cry from the “underclass” humans who would have evolved into dim-witted, ugly, squat goblin-like creatures. Continue reading

Bad Mom Update

Solomon, as I was writing this. (Note blurred motion in tail area.)

So, I started a whole long post about cooking this morning, which I will probably go back to next week (since it’s more than half-finished, and that’s the kind of thing I like to have handy on vacay). Today, I need to tell you about the trip I just took to the vet.

It was just supposed to be for the puppers’ annual vaccinations. No problem. But of course, ten seconds after we walk in the door, Lucille starts bleeding from her fucking eyeball.

Now, Lucille has always had “weepy” eyes, and because she’s white, they leave disgusting brown streaks down the sides of her nose. That’d be the chihuahua in her. The thing I miss most about Maxine, her mother, is that she used to lick that goop off Lucy’s face every fifteen minutes; I’ve never been able to interest Solomon in doing that, and I have learned that as soon as I wipe it off with a Kleenex, it just comes right back. So Lucy’s face really only gets cleaned up when she goes to the groomer or when Mean Asian Girl comes over, because the latter can’t stand looking at it.

The last time my dogsitter, Tess — who’s also a vet tech at the animal hospital we go to — was here, she left a note saying, “L’s right eye is weepy.” I read that, said, “No shit,” and forgot about it.

Fast forward to today, when I’m sitting in the waiting room at the vet, look down, and see the goop coming from Lucille’s right eye is BRIGHT RED, and there’s a ton of it. I freak out. Tess shows up, I point it out, and Tess says, “Yeah, it’s probably from that cyst at the top of her eye.”

<small voice> Um, what cyst at the top of her eye? </small voice>

My dog has a nasty growth on her eyelid. My dogsitter knew that. I did not.

It’s a tiny cyst, and easy to miss until it starts, you know, bleeding down her face, but still, I feel like the world’s worst mom for not having noticed it. At the same time, if you’re gonna leave me a note about it, could you maybe say “L. has a fucking bloody cyst in her eye,” not “L. has a harmless condition she’s had all her life”?

Anyway, the doc put some ointment in her eyes, and I got some to take home, so it’s all okay. But that’s only the beginning.

Next, we get Solomon on the table (after he busted out of the exam room and tried to hang out under the reception desk instead), and I listen to him squeal like the vet is cutting his throat every time she sticks a needle in him, which is always fun. Then the vet says, “Everything okay with him? Normal elimination? No coughing? No lumps or anything?”

I’m like, “Yep, everything’s fine!” Beat. “Oh, wait, no! HE’S GOT A LUMP ON HIS CHEST! I almost forgot!”

She checks out the lump and confirms what I thought — it feels like a plain old fatty tumor, but if anything changes, I should have it biopsied — but now I’m feeling even worse about my mothering skills. At least I knew about this particular growth, but not only did I not call the doctor as soon as I found it, I completely forgot about it. Strike two.

But here’s the real kicker, and the reason why I’m writing about this here. The thing that made me feel most like a bad mom — worse than not knowing one of my dogs had a cyst that would cause her eyeball to bleed? Was being surrounded by fucking “Is your dog overweight?” posters. There were four of them in the one exam room, assuring me that my stocky little Solly is suffering unnecessarily because his ribs aren’t visible.

I’ve written before about how he’s a couple pounds over his “ideal weight” — which is only a guess, of course, since there’s hardly a breed standard for Corgi-Pug — and there’s just nothing to be done about it. I’ve put him on weight-reducing formula a billion times, and nothing changes. I almost never give him treats (though admittedly, the same can’t be said for Al). If I take him to the park and let him off-leash, he just finds a shady spot to lie down. I could frog-march him around the whole neighborhood every day, but that wouldn’t be fun for either of us. Especially since he acts like I am killing him when I drag him to the end of the block if the weather is anything but 70 degrees and sunny. During winter, he will literally lie down in a snow bank and look up at me like, “No, really, you guys just go on without me.”

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: this dog is a Harding. He likes food, he likes snuggles, he likes naps, he hates forced exercise, and he was pretty much born to be short and fat.

Lucille, in fact, is WAY more food-motivated than him — “Hey, you got something to eat?” is totally going on her tombstone. This is the dog who, while walking around the neighborhood, eats first and asks questions later. Burrito wrapper? Twig? Broken glass? IT MIGHT BE FOOD! DOWN THE HATCH! She’s not quite as ambitious as one of the Mean Asian Beagles, whom I have witnessed trying to swallow a dead pigeon whole, but let’s just say she’s not picky. Solly actually is picky. He only likes certain brands of foods. There are dog treats he refuses to eat; there is not dog shit Lucy will refuse to eat.

Guess which one’s thinner.

And of course, there’s no fat acceptance movement for dogs, seeing as how they can’t talk and all. Solly has no way of telling me if he’s perfectly content the way he is, or if he actually is struggling under those couple extra pounds (which are like 10 percent of his body weight). I have no way of knowing if he chooses not to run around when given the opportunity because he feels like he gets plenty of exercise jumping on and off the couch all day, or if it’s because he’s short and fat, so running around is hard. Genetically, he is half herding dog, half lap dog, but with the exception of occasional attempts to corral bigger dogs in the park, the Pug side dominates about 98% of the time.

I have never met a happier-seeming dog in my life. The tail NEVER stops wagging. (Maybe that’s enough exercise for him?) And he’s healthy, insofar as he’s not currently sick, which is all you can really know about a dog. From a Health at Every Size perspective, he’s doing just fine. But when I’m standing there in the middle of four posters telling me how my dog is silently suffering and his weight is decreasing his life expectancy (but I can save him if I buy a specific brand of dog food!), it’s awfully hard to feel like I’m doing enough for him.

Keep reminding me never to have children.

On the plus side, the vet never said a word to me about his weight; it’s the same as it was a year ago, and there’s nothing wrong with him, so she apparently didn’t see a reason to bring it up. But at least half of my anxiety about being surrounded by all those posters came from the anticipation of a lecture I never got.

I can’t imagine where that came from.

Aaanyway. To end this on a happy note, I have to tell you about my conversation with the guy who booked the appointment.

Him: Last name?

Me: Harding.

Him: Dog’s names?

Me: First one’s Lucille. L-U-

Him: Like the guitar?

Me: Yes!

Him: Okay, next?

Me: Solomon. S-O-

Him: Like Solomon Burke?

Me: Yes!

Him: Heh, all right, gotcha. We’re on the same page here.

Which we weren’t, exactly — the dogs both came with the names, and I’m not especially musical. But I love finding out about the outside interests of people I only see in their professional capacities. It’s like the guy who works at our local Starbucks but also plays trombone at our local watering hole once a week. Oh, you mean your whole life doesn’t revolve around making coffee? Who knew?

And since my whole life doesn’t actually revolve around blogging, that’s all for today.

On Nappies and Wiener Dogs and Depression


The other day, I had two thoughts in a row. (I know, can you believe it?)

1. Oh my god, today was the best day ever! It was warm and breezy, and I got a green tea lemonade and went down to the beach with a book and saw a tiny wiener dog puppy! COULD MY LIFE POSSIBLY GET ANY BETTER?


2. Boy, I’d like to meet the guy who invented Lexapro and shake his hand.

I thought of that again this morning when I read Bluemilk’s post on how parents never imagine it will be nappy struggles that drive them to the brink; when they assessed their theoretical parenting abilities prior to having children, she says, they didn’t envision themselves wrestling with a squrimy, screaming toddler on a change table, and ending up feeling absolutely defeated, absolutely broken.

But the thing is, I do envision that. I envision myself being filled with barely controllable rage when a two-year-old behaves like a two-year-old. I envision myself sliding down a wall and weeping on the floor for an hour because I cannot get her to keep her socks on. I envision these things because, as someone who suffers from depression, I have been driven to the brink by much, much less than a diapering battle.

Heather Armstrong of Dooce, who has written so awesomely about both clinical depression and shit like nappy struggles, describes depression as “the complete inability to cope with stress.” (Parenthetically, all good thoughts to her now as she deals with the second carcinoma in a year. Goddamn.) That line rang a whole lot of bells for me. The number one reason I’m afraid to have kids is that I know I can be felled emotionally by the tiniest fucking thing — the kind of tiny fucking thing that, as far as I can tell, parenting is one long series of. And with a kid, the stakes are a hell of a lot higher than when you were only responsible for your own emotional well-being.

I just read Daniel Gilbert’s Stumbling on Happiness, a fascinating (and very witty) book about why our predictions of future happiness are frequently so far off the mark. The book is stuffed with amusing and surprising tidbits about the human brain, including this one: the average person is way too optimistic, relative to the facts at hand. Meanwhile, the average depressed person has a pretty realistic view of how well things are likely to turn out, not an overly pessimistic one.

Fucking great.

Of course, I would much rather be a mildly deluded happy person than a realistic depressed one, and that’s where Lexapro comes in. When I realized the other day that I was happy, truly happy, and that the cause of it really could be boiled down to warm weather + beach + green tea lemonade + wiener dog puppy, it felt like a goddamned miracle. Because I have so much experience with being gutted and paralyzed by tiny little things — almost none with being uplifted by them.

I’ve been on Lexapro for less than a year; before that, my only experience with antidepressants was an 8-week stint on Zyban to quit smoking. For years, I resisted the idea of medicating myself, insisting that it was not a chemical imbalance in my brain — it was just that I’m a really reactive, really emotional person! When things go well, I get undepressed again!

It never quite dawned on me that maybe I was a really reactive, really emotional person because of a friggin’ chemical imbalance in my brain. Or that being undepressed was not the same as being happy, not by a long shot. And the real problem was, like so many people, I was afraid that meds would take away the things that made me me — my weirdness and creativity and emotional sensitivity. I pictured myself dulled, and I definitely didn’t want happiness badly enough to be dull.

Then it got so bad I was willing to surrender the things that made me me, as long as it meant I could stop crying, stop raging at the slightest inconvenience, stop pushing Al away when he tried to love me, stop lying in bed until the afternoon, stop my heart racing every time the phone rang… I found a psychiatrist, and he prescribed Lexapro. I was lucky enough that the first drug I tried worked like a charm, with no serious side effects. (I have gained weight, but on the plus side, the Lexapro also makes body acceptance a hell of a lot easier for me, since I’m much less likely to stand in front of the mirror and burst into tears these days.) About six weeks later, I started to see the changes. I could spring out of bed with the alarm. I could see an off-leash dog on the street and not want to scream at its owner for 15 minutes. I could drop a plate and laugh it off. I could hear a loud, startling noise and not start to shake and cry. I could — to some extent, anyway — cope with stress.

And I was still me. I was just a me who could fucking function. Eventually, a me who could sincerely feel joy as a result of things like warm days by the lake and the existence of wiener dog puppies — as opposed to just a spotty, temporary respite from despair. Not to mention, a me who could suddenly get it together to take my writing seriously and become about a hundred times more productive. Turns out I like this me. I like her a lot.

But here’s the rub: Lexapro and I are still in the honeymoon stage. I know tons of people who have been taking antidepressants for years, and it seems that inevitably, your brain figures out you’re tricking it into being happy, and it fights back — much like the body will eventually adjust its metabolism to keep you at the weight it wants to be, regardless of how little you feed it. Eventually, the drug stops working the way it did at first, and you need more of it, or you need a different drug, and in the interim, depression creeps back in.

That fucking terrifies me. After all those years of saying I didn’t want a pill, I didn’t want to change who I was, now all I can think is, “Please, little pill, don’t stop working don’t stop working don’t stop working.” Because the last thing on earth I want to be is the person I was before.

And that’s why I’m still terrified of having kids, because the stakes are too high for me to put my faith in Lexapro, or whatever drugs they’ll have down the line. When I read that Dooce entry I linked to above, my heart absolutely broke, because that is how I envision myself as a parent — apologizing to my child, who’s too young to understand, for my scowling and screaming and exhaustion, for my complete inability to cope with stress. I totally envision myself Googling “nappy struggles” (well, “diaper struggles”) in the middle of the night when, once again, I can’t sleep. I envision my kid in a therapist’s office in her twenties, just like I was, trying to learn how to forgive her mother for being depressed, for simply not having the emotional resources to be fully present all the time, just like I did. I envision myself feeling absolutely defeated and absolutely broken.

And if Daniel Gilbert is to be believed, I’m probably fucking right.

I don’t know what to do with that. I still don’t know if I want to have kids, knowing there’s a good chance I won’t always be able to make them feel safe in their own home. But then I think, at least I know what it feels like now to think, “Wow, what an awesome day!” simply because of the weather and a wiener dog. That’s a start — a start I never really expected, frankly. And as much as I hate pharmaceutical companies about 95% of the time, I am inexpressibly grateful to have had that experience and hopeful that the drugs will keep working for me, that better ones will come along, that I will have the external resources, if not the internal ones, to be able to handle this life thing all the way through. Maybe even enough to take on responsibility for someone else’s life.

Right now, though, I still just don’t know.

Here’s what I do know. Just as Bluemilk gets hits from people Googling “nappy struggles,” I get occasional hits from people Googling things like “hate myself hate my body don’t know what to do.” My heart shatters when I see that. I hope those people find something here that helps, but I have no idea if they will. All I can say is what Bluemilk said to defeated parents: I feel your pain. And I’m so sorry.

More Rambling about Body Image, Yoga, and My Shitty Childhood

Thanks to Cynical Girl for sharing the new Dove ad (er, Dove “film”), “Evolution,” which I’ve watched about half a dozen times now. (The part that kills me is when they retouch the photo to make her eyes bigger; I pretty much expected everything else, but it never occurred to me that they do that. Duh.) That led me to the website, which led me to this one. Which, um, totally didn’t make me tear up or anything.

Say what you will about Dove using this shit to sell beauty products–I still love that they’re doing this. Continue reading

Remind Me to Start Going to Taste of Heaven Every Day

My new favorite blog: Control Your Kids. I’m way late in weighing in on the Taste of Heaven controversy, but oh well. The bug remains up my ass, because of crap like this:

“The looks I would get when I went in there made me so nervous that I would try to buy the food as fast as I could and get out,” said Laura Brauer, 40, who has stopped visiting A Taste of Heaven with her two children. “I think that the mothers who allow their kids to run around and scream, that’s wrong, but kids scream and there is nothing you can do about it. What are we supposed to do, not enjoy ourselves at a cafe?”

Ding ding ding ding ding! Continue reading

A Beige Butterfly Ponders Procreation

In my first ballet (or, uh, “ballet”) class, when I was three, the teachers once told us that our dancing task for the day was to become butterflies.

“What color butterfly do you want to be?” they asked each of us.

“PINK!” said every other three-year-old there.

“Beige,” said Little Kate.

That’s basically all you need to know about the kind of kid I was. If you asked me now, of course, I would elect to be a hot pink butterfly with sparkles, but at three, I was a far less frivolous person. Continue reading