My son is lanky and lean – a rippling body of bones and muscle and not a skerrick of anything else. So when he told me he really wanted to drop a couple of kilos, I was ANGRY.
My mind screamed:
- WHO HAS CRITICISED YOUR BODY?
- WHAT HAVE THEY BEEN TEACHING YOU IN HEALTH?
- WHO WILL I HOLD RESPONSIBLE FOR THIS?
The thing about conversations with boys is that you have to pick your moment. I let his comment hang – made some brief remark about his body being perfect as is, and waited to see if it meant nothing at all. Over the next few days I heard it several times over – different variations, but all on the same theme. My son wanted to lose weight, and my heart was aching. I didn’t see this coming… and I didn’t anticipate what would come next.
Hiccup talks best when we lie side by side on his bed; or driving along in the car, just him and me; or when we go swimming at the local pool. This night, we’re driving, and the moment is right.
“So, how come you want to lose weight?” I ask, with as little loading as I can.
His reply frightens me: “Well, it’s really good to be skinny. I want to be as skinny as I can be.”
I breathe, and ask gently “And what would be good about being more skinny?”
His answer isn’t thought-out – he pauses and says “Well I could fit into tight spaces that no one else can, and be really flexible.” It’s something he’s coming up with on the spot, and I’m no clearer. We talk a little more and I let some silence hang for a bit. After a time, he speaks.
“I’m just a bit confused, Mummy,” he says. I wait.
“How come when you’re talking to other adults, you seem really happy if they think you’ve lost weight? How come it’s good if you lose weight, but not if I do?”
BANG, there it is. Oh My Freaking Gosh The Problem Is MEEEEEEE.
Hiccup and I, we talked a bit more. I think we got it squared away okay. It’s been about a month since then and he’s stopped trying to get “skinny”. Also, I’ve asked family and friends not to comment on my weight around him anymore. I suffer the same condition as just about any woman – either too heavy or too light, never just right, but in the context of my life it’s a rather insignificant metric.
But it served as a reminder to me that little ears are always listening – even when we think we are using our “adult” voices in “grown up” conversations. When we tell our embarrassing/difficult-child-anecdotes; when we speak tensely to our partner; when we have hushed conversations with the teacher – those little ears are listening, and we can’t always know the sense they’re making. The wider context is not always salient to them. When people would commented on my possible weight loss, he would hear me sounding happy. I never thought to say “by the way, it really doesn’t matter”.