First Son (5 years old): Yeah, well I’m super skinny. Look at my bones everywhere! I’m just a little boy wasting away! (Oh the drama.)
My blood ran cold as I listened to two of my sons discussing their figures over lunch. Where was this coming from? What had I done wrong? Had they overheard something that I said to someone? Overheard a friend’s mom? Had I mistakenly assumed, even though I know it’s not true, that because I have boys I don’t need to worry about body image? I’m careful to never speak of my struggles with food or self image in front of them. I weigh myself with bathroom door locked. I try not to verbally criticize anything on my body in front of them, even if I’m thinking it. But somehow, some of it had obviously leaked through the cracks. I shivered. How had this happened? The little buggers can’t even read yet!
In the time honored tradition of parenting, I always knew I would warp my kids in one way or another but I’d always hoped it would be a penchant for bad musical theater or laughing at inappropriate moments. But not this. Please anything but this. The only thing worse than hating yourself is watching your child hate on their little unblemished self. What should I say to them? As I was cutting apples into slices, my back to them, I could only listen as they continued.
Second Son: Look at my big fat cheeks and my wubba chin! (Don’t ask me what a wubba chin is.)
First Son: I’m a skeleton! Seriously!! (And yes, the second son IS bigger than his older brother.)
It was at this point I finally turned around, heart in my throat. Only to be confronted with my two boys staring at their reflections in their soup spoons. The eldest was looking at the inside of his spoon which distorted his image from Jimmy Neutron to Agyness Deyn (which is not that far of a leap now that I think about it. Consider the hair. And the fondness for ugly shorts).
The middle child was checking himself out – and grinning like the Cheshire Cat – in the back of his spoon, his childishly round cheeks now full-on Alfred Hitchcock jowels.
I sagged with relief.
Second Son: I’m so fat I eated a hundred cookies!
First Son: “You ate a hundred cookies.”
Second Son: I know! I eated a hundred cookies and fifty meatballs.
First Son: Shut up, you’re saying it wrong! “Eated” is baby talk!
Second Son: I am not a baby! You shut up!
First Son: No YOU SHUT UP!
Second Son: SHUT UP!!!
Now that all was right again in my preschool universe where shirts are kleenexes and underwear is considered optional, I wanted to relax in knowing that my boys had no idea what loaded words they were flinging around. But I couldn’t because I know that this conversation will happen again. Probably sooner rather than later. And I still don’t know what to say.
Please boys, don’t be like Mommy?
All of you parents (or just people with strong opinions about parenting) help me out here! How do you talk about weight & food & body image with your kids? Is the subject verboten? Do you let them see you weigh yourself? What about when they ask why you are eating different food than they are? Do you point out scary skinny people in magazines? What do you say when your child points at an obese woman riding in one of those scooters at the store and asks why she gets to ride it when she’s so big she’s going to break it (yeah, true story. And he was LOUD.)? How do you explain good nutrition to them without becoming the nutrition nazi? Any help is much appreciated. My mommy angst thanks you.