This morning, like most mornings, it was a struggle to motivate my 9-year-old daughter to get out of bed and ready for school.
She’s not a morning person, and I get that. It’s genetic. I’m definitely not at my best upon waking, either, and I love my bed. But this morning was … different.
As I packed my bag for work, making sure I had all my meds and my car keys and cajoling my 15-year-old son to log off from Facebook and download his Religion project onto a memory stick so that he wouldn’t forget to take it to school today; I looked up and saw my little girl sitting at the kitchen table, bundled up in her winter coat with the hood covering her head, with her glucometer in one hand and a pen in the other, transcribing the last few days’ worth of her blood sugar readings into her log book. Still wearing her winter coat, she packed away her diabetes supplies and grabbed a sealable plastic container from the dishwasher. With the support of her diabetes doctor and dietician, we’ve been encouraging her to make her own lunch for some time now – it means less waste because she isn’t rejecting something that David and I made that she didn’t like, and it teaches her responsibility for her own food choices as she learns how to manage her diabetes.
I watched as she took two sealed packages of Bear Paws cookies from their box on the pantry shelf, and put them in her school bag. Then, she took two slices of bologna from the fridge, rolled them up, and put them in the plastic container, which she then placed in her school bag.
We were pressed for time, and I was sure to be late for work. It was not one of my prouder parenting moments as I asked her, with a certain tone, where the slices of bread were to finish making her sandwich. “You need 75 grams of carbs in your lunch. Two cookies and a couple pieces of bologna aren’t going to be enough to carry you today,” I snapped. Her face twisted into a snarl as she told me that she didn’t need any bread. Finally, after taking in the expression on my face, she grudgingly made a proper sandwich; we made peace; and got on with the rest of our drawn-out morning.
This morning was not the first time my daughter has tried to cut corners with her food. Towards the end of the last school year, she told me that girls who she thought were her friends had cast her out of their carefully-formed cliques on the schoolyard at recess time, and that they were sorry but they had to do it because “she is fat.”
As I was driving to work today, I remembered the conversation the two of us had on Saturday morning, as she methodically removed the crusts from her breakfast toast and abandoned them in a pile on her plate. She was never a child to not eat bread crusts, and I asked her what was going on. With a perfectly straight face, she explained that one of her classmates told her that eating bread crusts makes people gain weight and go to the bathroom more often. In other words, eating bread crusts causes diabetes.
The Green Bin gained the leftover bread pieces that morning, despite my attempts to convince a 9-year-old child that it was perfectly fine for her to eat them; and I remember feeling that the room was starting to spin.
Right now, however, I am verging on splenetic.
If you are a teacher or a parent or a caregiver of a child and you are in any way coaching that child – through direct words or your actions - that disordered eating is okay, I want you to stop reading this blog post and take a good, long, hard look at what you see in the mirror. You are telling your child that picking on his or her peers, that “fat-shaming” in its most irresistible and destructive form, is acceptable. And YOU need to accept your share of the responsibility for that.
Ultimately, you are a person who makes things that much harder for the rest of us, we who see it as absolutely essential to counteract all manner of negative messages every single day by digging deep and coaxing brow-beaten children into thinking that “things will get better.” I know I never believed it when people who cared about me tried to tell me otherwise, but I do it now to save my daughter, and who knows, maybe yours as well.
I don’t want to give another minute of thought to how much worse it will get, before “it gets better.” Or why you, as the adult, can’t see past yourself, too. When I sit down with my children to watch TV, all I see are children behaving badly, but according to an adult’s script. I see a rapidly-widening disconnect when an adult instructs a child to “do as I say, and not as I do,” instead of encouraging that child to do the right thing, always.
It’s discouraging, because it’s not getting any better. And this, more than anything else, is hurting my heart.