Archive | February, 2014

Who’s Fat?

25 Feb

We were watching a movie preview, 7yo, 9yo, and I. A roly-poly cartoon man, aka the Chubby Comedic Sidekick, appeared onscreen. The kids laughed at his antics and then the 9yo pointed at him and nudged her brother, “He’s so…” She paused. She cut eye at me and they exchanged a significant glance. “He’s so rotund,” she said carefully.

Sigh. I knew what she was doing, of course. The kids think that I consider “fat” to be a bad word, on par with the “sh” or even “f” one. Of course they do, since I fall all over myself every time one of them uses it, drowning them in a torrent of basically bat-”sh” word-crazy lecture speech.

How many times has something along these lines come out of my mouth: “That’s rude! Don’t say ‘fat.’ People of any size can be healthy, and health is what matters, and character is what counts anyway, and don’t comment on someone’s appearance, and it’s important to love yourself, and…” On I go, as their eyes glaze over. Ever have that realization that you’ve become the teacher from a Charlie Brown TV special? “Wanh WANH wanh wanh WANH wanh.”

Hey, but at least she’s building her vocabulary, right? Rotund, corpulent, bovine… Yeah, I think I’m doing it wrong. Seems like they’re taking in the letter of the “fat talk” but not the spirit.

If I made the subtext of my “fat talk” the text, I’d just straight up say to the kids, “Don’t anybody have an eating disorder, ok, please pleeeeeeeease? And don’t be little bullying punks!” That might get their attention, actually. (Makes a note.)

They probably learn more from my behaviors than my words, anyway. In my mind, my regular exercise habit is about stress management first and buttoning my favorite jeans second, but how does it look from the outside? In my mind, offering fruit for dessert, and candy and treats more rarely, and regulating snack portions is about teaching them self-control, and to appreciate natural flavors, and protect their teeth, but what are they actually taking away? “Do these things so you won’t be F-A-T?”

As they grow into tweens, I have ever more opportunities to wonder. For example, I ferreted out that the reason the kids shun their down vests is they think they make them look “puffy.” Me: “OF COURSE THEY DO THEY’RE ‘PUFFY VESTS’ IT’S IN THE NAME.” My daughter doesn’t care for the shorts I bought her–they’re too “loose and flappy.” My son hates Jams-style swim trunks because they “have too much fabric. They make me look big.” They’re vocal critics of McDonald’s: “Eating there will make you fat,” my daughter solemnly informed me. My son worried about our wallow in junk food during our beach vacation last summer: “I don’t think it’s good to eat all this unhealthy food, Mama. It’s not ok for our bodies.”

Honestly, there’s no way they’re learning ALL this stuff at home. No, seriously, have you looked at an elementary school P.E. curriculum lately? It’s all “healthy eating” this and “move your body” that and “vegetables” the other and “sweat every day” on top. The stats on rising rates of childhood obesity have everyone scrambling. Does it come across to the kids as officially-sanctioned weight judgment? Maybe it shouldn’t have been a surprise that the climax of an argument on the playground between my 9yo and a friend was the other little girl calling her “fat.” Well, actually, the other little girl called her “gros” and my daughter had to get yet another girl to translate from the French. These kids today! When she replayed this scene for me at bedtime, I did the frantic verbal box step:

“What?! You are not fat in the least! But if you WERE it would be no big deal. But you AREN’T! But if you WERE, who cares, it’s your wonderful insides that matter. But! You aren’t, not even a little!”

Translation, as above: “Please please don’t have an eating disorder PLEASE.”

I’ve tried and tried again to go “earnest” with my “fat talk,” so when the subject came up most recently, I took a different tack on the spur of the moment. 9yo and I were sitting at the kitchen table. 7yo came into the room, leaned against me, and said in a small voice, “Mama, am I fat?”

Me: “What?! No! Why would you ask that?”
7yo: “Because I look in the mirror and think I look fat.”
Me: “Show me. Show me the fat.”

(7yo lifted his shirt with a sheepish grin, gestured to his belly area.)

Me: “That? Psssht. That’s called ‘skin.’ Skin is important, children. It’s your largest organ!”

(They both actually laughed.)

Me (liking the good reaction, pushing recklessly forward): “You want to see some fat? Now THIS–(I raised my shirt to jiggle my generous pad of pooch fat)–THIS is fat. Look, it can talk! (I smooshed it together and apart, and lowered my voice to a rumbling growl.) ‘Hiya kids! Stay in school!’”

(They cracked up. I was kind of thrilled.)

Me: “So now you’ve seen some of my fat, you guys. Do you like me less? Do you think I’m not a good mom?”

(They shook their heads, still giggling.)

Me: “Whew! Because my body feels healthy and good, and that’s what matters to me.”

(Husband entered the room to find the kids enthusiastically palpitating my belly button.)

Me: “Look! Here’s Daddy! Daddy, we’re sharing! Got any fat bits you’d like to show off?”

Husband: “(Pause.) What ARE you doing?”

I’m think it’s clear that, as in most things parenting, I really have no idea. But, luckily or unluckily, I get the feeling I’ll have lots more chances to take a crack at this conversation.

Rotund Comedic Sidekick reporting for duty.

Rotund Comedic Sidekick reporting for duty.

Family Fun Remembered

6 Feb

Remember when our whole family did a play? It’s only been six weeks or so since the show closed, but for me the details are already fading. Husband and 9yo have moved on to other theatrical projects, leaving me and 7yo to rattle around the big, empty house at bedtime, bickering like Oscar and Felix. (“I TOLD you to hang up your wet bath towel. How many times  do I have to TELL you? And pick up all these–OW!–Legos!”)

While it was undeniably hectic and exhausting, doing a family play was also really special, something it’s easier to realize now that it’s over. It was truly the best of times, at least most of the time.

Like how we would all sing along to the local continuous Christmas music station on the half hour drive to the theater. The kids’ yowls of “Faaaallll on your kneeees!” put Martina McBride and Whitney Houston to shame.

Mandatory make-up was a pretty exciting development for both kids. My husband tells a story about watching the 9yo shellack on layers of lipstick before the dress rehearsal. After her fifth coat, he said, “OK, I think you’ve got enough.” And she snapped back, “Dad, I am actually allowed to wear make-up, and I am GOING TO ENJOY IT.”

Or the time I told my son I needed to put eyeliner on him, and he replied, “OK, let me go get the eyeliner from Dad. He’s hogging it.” To be filed under “Conversations I Hadn’t Imagined Having.”

The kids were mostly ok having me in a position of (mild) authority as the Assistant (to the) Director, but there were moments when it chafed. For example, I took the liberty of writing the whole family’s bios for the program, and submitted them without prior approval. Therefore, the 7yo’s bio, for example, read in part:

“When not playing a ‘sea urchin’, (‘No, that’s street urchin’), he likes to jump, wiggle, pull faces, skip, bounce, make loud car noises, squirm, and shimmy. Actually, he also does all those things while playing a sea urchin.”

He’s finally able to read with fair speed and accuracy, so he decoded the program himself. And then he betook his injured dignity to my husband to complain. Their exchange apparently went something like this:

7yo (pouting): “I don’t like my bio. That’s not what I would have said.”
Husband: “Well. (Pause.) Want to wear my top hat?”
7yo: “No. (Pause.) Yes!”

7yo was the big casting question mark, because he was drafted into the show for the relative convenience of his parents’ childcare needs. But, wow, did he take to the theatrical life with a quickness. I was helping him with his first change on opening night, and his enthusiasm for performing in front of a warm, sold-out crowd of grown-ups was impossible for him to contain. He burbled in my ear the whole time, a moist impassioned stream of, “Oh it’s so much fun with the audience I really really really like being on the stage it’s just so SO fun to do a play I really like it I like the people looking at me oh I’m just having SUCH a good time!!!” Mikey really, REALLY likes it.

The run of the show afforded many opportunities for backstage bonding. I’ve been backstage knowing my kids were in the audience before, but I’d never been backstage with my kids. I paged the curtain for 9yo’s first entrance as the Ghost of Christmas Past, which meant we waited together during the scene between Scrooge and Marley that preceded it. We became so familiar with the text of that scene that we could do a full lip-synced performance of it, complete with overwrought gestures and dramatic facial expressions. Some parents/assistant directors might have chosen to leave their kid/actor alone to prepare, but. Uh, it was fun?

Another ritual I loved was waiting for the curtain call with my 7yo. I wore a huge billowing cloak in my capacity as Ghost of Christmas Future, and my little sea urchin would escape the chill backstage by creeping under it and resting his head against my stomach. To the casual observer it would have looked like one head, one black pyramid of body, and four feet.

Speaking of the curtain call, 9yo broke a long, drowsy silence on one post-show drive home by sighing happily from the backseat, “My faaavorite part of the show is the curtain call.” It’s not just Lady Gaga who lives for the applause.

Towards the end of the run we had a couple of fun mixed-age cast parties. At the close of the first one, the cast kids surprised the adults by coming downstairs, after a long interval of loud bumps and muffled laughter, to present the opening musical sequence of the show, a cappella and practically note perfect, a feat the adults in the cast took weeks to pull off. At another, I got to watch my 6-then-7yo get serenaded for his birthday in three part harmony by the cast, while he basked in the glow of the candles atop a gorgeous cake made with love by another family involved with the production. I’ve never seen a more ecstatic birthday boy.

Closing night of the run, the family stumbled home together to endure a weary, tearful bedtime. As my husband kissed her goodnight, I heard my daughter choke out the question, “Daddy, is it always this hard?” And he replied, “Only if you’re lucky.”

"This way to enlightenment, my crotchety friend." Photo by John J. Stoll

“This way to enlightenment, my crotchety friend.” Photo by John J. Stoll

"Look! Over there! Your mortality!" Photo by John J. Stoll

“Look! Over there! Your mortality!” Photo by John J. Stoll

The family that plays together. Photo by Kylie!

The family that plays together. Photo by Kylie!