Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Why I Stopped Using the "F" Word

I've always been hypercritical of myself. Always. By saying this, I am admitting that I am a grade-A neurotic asshole about a lot of things. With severe endometriosis in the last year has come severe swelling and weight gain. Some days, I carry an additional twenty pounds and fluctuate by four dress sizes. I've been depressed about this. I don't feel pretty or slim or even curvy. I feel dumpy and ugly. I've been vocal about this to my husband and speak out loud to myself about this. Self-critiquing is a nasty habit for me. I just really didn't know how much my kids pick up on it.

Because of this, I've decided to be radical and never use the "F" word, ever again. I'm asking that you never use it in front of your children, either.

Back in April, I noticed Bay asking about calories. He wanted to know what they are, how they work, and how much he should have each day. Since his class had been studying the food pyramid, I answered his questions in basic terms, explaining that calories are energy.

But it didn't stop at the questions. Bay, my always finicky eater, has been trying to eliminate whole meals. Breakfast is a time of coaxing, bribing, and tears. I made it a habit to come and sit with him at school last year a couple of days a week when I could so I was sure he was eating lunch. Dinner has become a battleground.

Always energetic, he's been mentioning wanting to "exercise." He says he wants to go jogging, ride his bike, swim, but these were things I could, again, brush off as a child who has overheard something and just tell him, "You are plenty hyper as it is, honey. You are a walking, talking, exercise machine!"

I brushed off the comments he was making about his belly as him being silly. Hell, a six year old boy doesn't worry about his weight, right?

I knew he was worried about his brother's weight after Morgan had been picked on a few times for being heavy. However, I really only addressed Morgan's concerns, which were very few. Morgan deals in what he sees as the finite, for the most part, not the seemingly endless amounts of childhood criticisms which may come from being different in any way. Bay's concerns, to me, weren't as relevant. After all, he's typical(ish), he's outgoing after he warms up, what could go wrong?

I stayed on him about eating right and drinking enough water and milk this summer. I noted with concern the headaches and tummy aches he kept, but honestly thought it was him either being overheated or faking illness to get out of chores. But then the lethargy set in. And the under eye circles. And the dry skin.

Bay dumped out a bowl full of cereal one day this week. He didn't even try to eat his breakfast. I lost it and yelled at him, "Why won't you eat?!:" "I'm full, Mama." "Bull! You haven't eaten enough to fill up a gnat. Son, you have eat. How are you going to grow?" "But Mama, no one will like me if I'm fat."

I felt like someone had dumped ice water on me. My temper turned into raw anxiety.

He told his daddy and me he's scared of gaining weight. That, if he gains weight, kids might make fun of him and not like him. 

I had a long talk with Bay. We talked not just about eating healthy, but how we eat to live and live to eat. I told him, too, about eating disorders like anorexia and how much that can cost him. He didn't realize that starving himself can actually hurt him to the point of being deadly.

His pediatrician backed me up when we saw her. She told me, privately, that this is a problem she sees with little girls in our community, not boys. I nodded and said, "I was an idiot, though, to believe that I would be exempt from this problem." She showed Bay how he's, right now, at a healthy, though slight, weight for his height. She talked to him about how he's already making healthy food choices, but needs to make more choices to "fill up his tank." She also referred me to a child psychologist and we agreed to monitor this very closely.

My son isn't anorexic, but he is showing clear and early signs of having anorexia nervosa. This, my friends, is a big frickin' deal. His doctor and I spoke about the possible genetic links to it, from me, a former anorexic/bulimic, and my mom, a former anorexic. We also spoke about what Thomas and I can do as his parents to make eating fun and to make Bay more comfortable with food.

If you ever think you have boys, you're immune to the eating disorder world, think again. They listen every time you say, "Ugh, I feel so FAT," or "Jesus, my ass looks huge." They will take in every single derogatory comment you make about your body and apply it to themselves. This is not just a "girl" problem. This is a human problem. We're so busy fighting obesity (which is valid) that we don't think about teaching our kids to really love, and take of, the bodies that they have. We have to do that, too.

I don't want another mama to feel this type of pain for her kid.

I thought I was teaching my sons this kind of self-love and body acceptance that I constantly promote on social media, but I wasn't. I wasn't listening to my own kid.

 I didn't pay attention when Morgan was teased for being chubby. I didn't know how it made his brother feel because I didn't ask. Somehow, while I was busy bemoaning what age and illness were doing to my body, I'd not seen the disordered thinking taking root in my child's head. Maybe I was worried because he wasn't eating enough, but anorexia? In a six year old? No.

I was wrong.

Kids have an amazing ability to fact check you as you're lecturing them in a hypocritical fashion for not doing the right thing. So, the next time you're in front of that mirror, tell yourself, "This isn't bad. I look good." Eliminate the "F" word from your vocabulary when you're around your child, at least. That other one? Well, it's personal choice.

I'm making a vow, right now, to love my body. This body might be a massive pain in the ass for me, but it's carried two kids to term, provides hugs, and my sons think that the person it belongs to is beautiful.

I'll never use the "F" word again.