“Acting out occurs when a child doesn’t get focused attention. Spend one-on-one time with each child or you will regret it.” Notes from Mrs. Deb Long’s parenting class.
My sister gave me a head’s up about 4th grade: killer on girls. It began straight out of one of my psych. books. “I’m fat.” “I’m not going to eat candy anymore.” “I don’t want dessert.” “I’m going to eat less carbs.” I understand that this is an age where children start making choices and I remained calm and coaching, showing her the BMI scale, discussing how calories equal energy, all the discussion points on the next page of the psych manual.
But when she didn’t want to come to the table to eat dinner with us saying “I’m on a diet,” I was done.
The next morning I spoke to a mom whose daughter had battled eating disorders for years and almost died twice. I printed out three pages of info from a website for kids and hustled Dido from the school bus into the minivan for one of our mother-daughter dates, asked her where she wanted to eat. Then I gave her the papers and told her to highlight three things she hadn’t known before reading the article.
Sitting outside of McDonald’s (yes, I see the irony) I talked to my daughter openly and honestly about not liking your body, about feeling like you aren’t pretty enough, good enough, smart enough. About how food is not an enemy, it’s a way to take care of yourself so you’re strong and beautiful.
And as I waited for her response, I started remembered things I hadn’t thought about in years. About writing down everything I ate in a day and then going to the gym and working out until I’d burned off the same number. On the treadmill, CD walkman (remember those?) clutched in one hand because it would always slide off the display and the earphones where the sound faded in and out through the foam coverings. Or the scales. Sitting turned around in my minivan waiting out the silence, I remembered the step-on scales where you have to set the line exactly at zero or it looks like you just gained two pounds (or lost two pounds and the rest of the day was like walking on clouds). Or the huge chunky scales at the gym like they have in the doctor’s office. Those were seldom good. Wake up, go to the bathroom, walk around a bit, but don’t eat or drink and THEN FINALLY take your weight. It’s the best number you’re going to get. Because you have to drink water while you do cardio or you can’t go as long and you don’t flush the fat. I remembered throwing up. Not into a toilet – THAT’S GROSS – but into a plastic grocery bag. Make sure there isn’t a hole at the bottom or the sludge drips out. Ideally the same bag you just brought home full of the junk you ate without tasting. And then throw the whole thing away. Your throat hurts and you ruined your streak of not eating, but at least you got SOME of it up. Meandering around the mall looking for the perfect spoon to trigger the gag reflex. Long enough handle, but not square tipped because that would hurt the sides of your throat. And lots of toothbrushes because bulimics have bad breath and stomach acid can erode your back teeth. And vitamins because if you don’t eat enough then your nails can break and your hair looks dull, but take the vitamins AFTER you purge, because the other way is just silly! Because doesn’t everyone look at their vomit to see what food they can identify?
Yes, mom, Dido finally says, waving the paper. I understand about all this. I read about it in one of my books. Did one of the characters have an eating disorder? MOM!!! I just want you to know that anorexia is a thief, Dido. It steals your thoughts and hurts your body. It’s not worth it. Every person is fearfully and wonderfully made. I KNOW MOM. You can talk to me. About anything. I know mom.
We went in and she had the two cheeseburger value meal – ketchup only. She sat with me, we talked about school, we laughed a little. I didn’t say anything more, just noted that she ate everything and didn’t go to the bathroom afterwards. Then we went home. I waited to write this until a couple of weeks had passed to confirm that this episode was a test – to see if I’d notice. She’s my oldest and like me in so many ways – shy and controlling and sensitive and caring way too much about what other people think. An introvert who escapes through books and sometimes wants to be the characters, wants to be special. But she’s already special. And Dido, when I show this to you in a few years, I want you to know that I SOLEMNLY SWEAR THAT I WILL NOTICE YOU AND LOVE YOU AND FIGHT FOR YOU AS FIERCELY AS I BATTLED EVELYN’S LEUKEMIA.