Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

A few days ago I kept J home from preschool on my Friday off so me and the boys could spend a day together. I envisioned a lovely day going out to breakfast, dying Easter eggs, maybe a little shopping. I did not envision my 4.99 year old hurting my feelings.

The first part, breakfast, went well. We met up with a friend at our favorite pancake spot, talked over coffee, and managed to leave before Jr. completely embarassed me with his 18 month old antics in the restaurant. As we were driving away, I asked J if he enjoyed his breakfast.

"Yes," he said. Then he sighed. "I just keep getting fat."

?????? Sensing some kind of Parenting Teachable Moment, I proceeded cautiously.

"Um, did you just say you keep getting FAT? You're not fat, sweetie. Maybe you're just full because we had a big breakfast. Why do you think you're fat?"

"Well, maybe I'm not fat," he said, "but you are."

(What??? Did he just say I'm fat???)

"J," I said calmly, "I am NOT fat." Belatedly, I thought to add, "But even if I was, there wouldn't be anything wrong with that."

"Yes, you are fat," he said matter of factly.

"I'm really not fat, J." I said, trying not to sound defensive/hurt and failing miserably. "Why are you saying that, anyway? Do you even know what fat means?"

He thought for a minute. "It means...when your body is like...really wide."

Ouch. He knows what it means.

"J, who has been talking to you about being fat? Did somebody say something mean to you?" (About me? I thought but didn't say.)

"No," he said, again very matter-of-fact. "I just think you're fat."

"You don't think Mommy is pretty?" I asked, completely pathetic at this point, my ego being slowly crushed by my preschooler.

"Yes, you're pretty, Mommy. And fat."

Daaaaaang. Where the heck is this coming from?

"J, it's okay to be fat. But it's not nice to call people fat. It hurts their feelings. And for the record...I'm not fat." He looked confused, rightfully so. It's confusing. Why is it not nice to call people fat, when it's "okay" to be fat? Why do I care if my kid calls me fat, if I'm supposedly fine with myself however I am? For that matter, why does he even know about the concept of "fat?"

The more I thought about it, the more I wasn't sure exactly how to frame my response. On the one hand, I want J to understand that people come in all shapes and sizes, and there's nothing wrong with being heavier. I don't want him to be one of those kids who picks on the fat kid at school because he's naturally really thin and doesn't understand that some people are naturally...not thin.

On the other hand, I want him to understand that it's not okay to call people fat, even if it's true. That's a bit harder. How do I say, "it's okay to be fat" and then turn around and say it's mean to call people fat? It doesn't make good sense, does it?

And finally, I can't help but be a little hurt when J calls me fat. Is he comparing me to other moms he's seen? To people on TV? To himself? Where did he get the notion that I'm "fat?" Did I give him that idea? My weight has been pretty much an ongoing struggle my entire adult life. I've finally, after 15 years, gotten back to a comfortable weight for me. I try not to let my own body image issues seep out in front of the kids, but I have to wonder, have I been saying things about being fat in front of them? Do I obsess about food and diet? Should I not get on the scale when they're in the room? TH and I do talk about working out and how we "need to get back on track" when we've fallen off the wagon of eating right and exercising. Are we unintentionally giving J the idea that being overweight is a "problem" that you have to "fix?" Somehow I stupidly thought that because I have boys I wouldn't really have to worry about this kind of thing.


I'm ashamed to admit that I basically just avoided the topic, turning up the radio and changing the subject to how we were going to decorate our eggs. I've had all sorts of interesting conversations with J about religion, death, love, stranger danger, inappropriate touching, money, all the heavy stuff. But when it came to talking about weight and being "fat," I guess J found my kryptonite. I reeeeeeeallllly don't want to have the conversation, because I really don't like hearing my kid call me fat. Plain and simple.

Hopefully he'll forget the whole topic for another few years.


Lindsay said...

That's definitely a tough one. JTC recently announced that one of his teachers was fat. She is a little overweight, but we still had a talk about how it's not a nice thing to say about someone. He then proceeded to tell me that his rail-thin teacher "has a big bottom." Um, NO!

LauraC said...

Oh man, that is a hard one. We've gone with the route that I never talk about losing weight or eating healthier in front of the boys because I don't want them thinking women should always be on a diet, kwim? But dang, I would DIE if one of the boys called me fat.

They have told me I am only pretty when I wear skirts!

claudia said...

A number of years ago a friend of mine who teaches in DPS (Denver Public Schools) and I were talking about a classmate of my son’s, then a senior in HS, who had quite a bad reputation.
She said “Oh yes, I had Leonard in kindergarten and he was already well on the road to his evil self. One day”, she said, “ my aid and I were walking the class, all 32 of them, back from the playground. We let some of them stop at the drinking fountain but Leonard refused to leave and started squirting people with the water. When I told him to get back in line he replied without skipping a beat. ‘Shut up you fat bi #@h’ I told my aid to take the class on and I grabbed him, lifted him up against the wall eye level and said “ Don’t you ever - ever call me FAT.”
Every time I think of this it never fails to make me laugh. We women do have issues. Call me anything just not fat.

Joanna said...

Dude, ouch. I can see why that would hurt. Such a loaded topic for us women.

Michael has referred to people as fat before. There was no judgment behind his words, but we all know that every single one of us hears judgment every time we hear the word. I'm normally one to try and explain everything in as much detail as possible, but this one I simply handle by doing an appalled, "Michael, that's not nice." He seems to have gotten the idea that it's wrong. I'll work on explaining it more as he gets older, but for now it will do.

Julie said...

That is a tricky one for sure--ouch. We have talked many times about how calling someone fat is like calling someone stupid or ugly or a nerd even--that it would really hurt people's feelings A LOT. We also talk about how you can speak your mind at home (respectfully, of course), but there are certain things we don't say in public. She has recently been asking me (ahem, loudly) if certain people are boys or girls, you know when its not so obvious. I just try to answer quickly and quietly to make it go away. Not the best approach I know, but geez kid!