Monday, March 26, 2012

You Aren't What You Eat

You knew I was going to say something about this.

Apparently there is an article in the April issue of Vogue – an essay called “Weight Watcher” by one Dara-Lynn Weiss. I will first admit I have not read the article. I can’t seem to find a full text online, and I haven’t had occasion to pick up an issue of Vogue since…well, not since I leafed through it ages ago and found absolutely nothing relevant to me.

Anyway, the essay is about a mom with a daughter – who, at 6 years old, 4’4” and 93 pounds, is clinically obese. The mother puts the child on some sort of diet, which she then only sort of enforces. When she does enforce it, though, it’s in a weird, draconian, often publicly-shaming way.

Examples from the article include: withholding the child’s dinner when she finds out the food from an international celebration at school was 800 calories, getting between the girl and a salad when the dressing turns out to be olive oil, dramatically tossing the child’s cocoa away at Starbucks when she can’t find the specific nutrition information, and Weiss also writes, “I stopped letting her enjoy Pizza Fridays when she admitted to adding a corn salad as a side dish one week.

(Side note: Oh, the joy that would ensue should I ever hear that my child voluntarily ate a corn salad side dish!)

I guess the article also says that the mother’s goal for the child was that the child lose 16 pounds by a Vogue photo shoot. Because that’s what counts, after all: How terrible the mom would look with a chubby daughter in the pages of Vogue.

This is Weiss and her daughter. Thank goodness the child doesn't weight more or that mom might never be able to show her face in the Vogue offices again. (Photo credit: Vogue)

The mother also admits to having body and diet issues (gee, ya think?) and I don’t think anyone would fault her for not wanting her child to be at an unhealthy weight. But that doesn’t mean she has to be flying in on a broomstick to knock a cupcake out of her daughter’s hand.

I had weight issues as a kid, and still do have weight issues. No, I don’t want my children having weight issues or food issues. But I’m also tired of weight being first and foremost on everyone’s minds, in many cases eclipsing a person's spirit.

At one point in the article, Weiss writes, “'That's still me,' [the child] says of her former self. 'I'm not a different person just because I lost sixteen pounds.' I protest that indeed she is different. At this moment, that fat girl is a thing of the past. 'Just because it's in the past,' [the child] says, 'doesn't mean it didn't happen.'"

It is so profoundly sad to me that this child, now age 7, already knows that her worth, especially in her mom’s eyes, is tied to her weight. God forbid that little girl ever transform back into “that fat girl,” because it’s pretty obvious “that fat girl” has no value as a person.

At the core of my frustration with this one mother’s view of weight is my frustration with many peoples’ views of weight-loss: About 90% of the “I’m half my size!” media you see portrays a person with extra weight as flawed. It’s always “I was eating a 3 egg ham and cheese omelet and 4 donuts for breakfast every day!” and “I was hiding from my past by gaining weight and now that I’ve lost it I’m happy!” 

These aren’t always the stories. Sometimes there are content, well-adjusted people who weigh more than others. Sometimes there are obese people who eat far less, and far healthier, than many thin people.

No one is going to disagree that it is a parent’s responsibility to give their children the building blocks for health – a decent variety of food and opportunities for activity. And an obese child certainly needs extra attention to ensure that she grows up healthy.

And I gotta give it to Weiss for being honest about her reality. It will hopefully make more people cognizant of the attitudes they are handing down.

But I also wish I could meet that child, hug her, and tell her that she was never just “that fat girl.” 

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Shades of Gray: My Cheesy Loveletter to The Monkees

On Monday's drive to gymnastics, I scrolled through my iPhone to find music. And, like a good chunk of the time, I settled on the Monkees.

No, not the Beatles, not the Stones, not U2 or any of those “respectable” classic bands that people listen to over their lifetimes. The Monkees are my lifetime band.

AP file photo

I’m not sure what drew me to the Monkees cassette. I was a kid, I’m guessing around 8 or 9 years old. We were at what we referred to as “the company store” which was the employee store at 3M, where my dad held a summer job as an overnight security guard. I looked the tapes over and something intrigued me about the cover, or maybe it was the name. I bought it and listened to it constantly.

This was right before the big 1980s Monkees explosion. Does anyone else remember this? The Monkees were on MTV and Nickelodeon all the time. Their music was on the radio. It fed the fire.

My sister Amy, her best friend, Rena, and me, as the requisite pesky little sister, became truly obsessed. We had Monkees t-shirts. Dad would take us to record shows on weekends, where we would pick up yet another copy of Headquarters on vinyl because it looked just a tiny bit more perfect than the one we already had. Rena had her grandmother knit Mike hats. Amy had a little cottage industry selling “love beads,” taking out ads in the back of Monkees-related magazines and newsletters. We sang every word to every song, and quoted the show incessantly. And yes, the three of us were at the Minnesota State Fair when 3/4ths of the Monkees played in 1986 ( co-billed with Weird Al Yankovic!).

Fastforward the cassette to 2011. I scored four tickets to see the Monkees at, of all places, the Minnesota Zoo. Nate was also a childhood Monkees fan, and Amy and I had to go, and of course we had to round up Rena, as she was the only other person who could share this excitement with us.

It was a thrilling reunion. It was a gorgeous, sticky summer evening of singing along, dancing, and laughing at how goofy we were all being. As the show went on, though, I started getting melancholy, as every song brought us closer to the end of the show. You know when they start playing the hits that the end is near.

As the show closed, the venue started to empty. We noticed people gathering to one side of the stage. We headed over and lingered there, desperate for another shred of the magic we had just witnessed. Instead, we were shuffled along and people began lining up.

Because the Monkees were coming out to meet us.

Note: I tend to be a rule follower. A goody-goody if you will. Ask anyone who knows me and they will tell you: If you want to do something against the rules, do not call me. Do not tell me, either, because I will probably tattle on you.

But standing there in line, realizing that we were part of a VIP meet & greet that we had no business being in, I was trying my best to not be a goody goody. Did I feel bad waiting in a line to meet the Monkees when I did not have the right credentials? Yes.

Am I sorry I did it? No.

That’s how we met Peter, Micky and Davy. I’ve had brushes with fame before, but this time it knocked me over. I was sweating and scared and so, so excited. In the pictures, I look manic, but that’s because I had stopped breathing a few minutes earlier.

Rena, Davy and me in July 2011. Photo by Subway Music in the Zoo.

Amy and Davy make a cute couple! Photo by Subway Music in the Zoo.

Yesterday morning I happened to listen to the Monkees yet again. I didn’t even bother skipping “Shades of Grey,” a song, lead vocals by Davy and Peter, that I’ve always found too dramatic and cloying. And a few hours later, I heard Davy had died.

Davy wasn’t my favorite Monkee (that would be Micky), but he held a special place in my heart – how could the cute/short/British one not draw me in? – and I’ve probably watched his hilarious Monkees screen test a hundred times over the years.

(No idea who took this or who owns this.)

I admit to shedding a few tears over someone I met once briefly (I remember I told Davy I felt like Marcia Brady - gee, I’m sure he never heard that one before - and he apologized for not singing “Girl” at the show). But it’s more about a person who had a part in bringing so much joy to my life.

Thanks, Davy, for being part of my lifetime band. 

Thursday, February 23, 2012

I Hate Sports, Which Is Why I Make My Kids Play Them

“Hey, let’s go sign up for summer baseball!”

“No thank you!”

Well, at least he was polite about it.

“Wait - you want to do baseball this summer, don’t you?”

“No, I want to play video games.”

“Well, you have to do more this summer than play video games.”

“Then I’ll read.”

It’s at this point that I start getting nervous.

Oh, no, I thought. He’s turning into me.


This will shock absolutely none of you that know me, but I’m not a sports fan. To be more precise, I’m not a fan of sports that others are playing, nor a fan of playing them myself. Yes, I’ll happily watch tennis matches or hockey games or even football (which I only came to appreciate after watching the entire Friday Night Lights series several times), but overall I have nothing invested in them, especially not my own body. Just ain’t gonna happen, folks.

Despite this overall indifference, I’ve found myself with children who are involved in sports. Well, involved might be too strong of a word. They dabble.

Even dabbling, though, is more commitment than I expect my children would have to athletics. Between my husband and I, our offspring should actually have negative athletic ability.

Year-round, the boys do recreational gymnastics. We’re lucky enough to have a friend who owns an incredible gym, so that one is a no-brainer. We’ve also tried recreational soccer, t-ball, and tae kwon do, and they’ve also done skateboarding camp. The boys have been on more formal teams for baseball, soccer and, currently, swimming. I think we might try tennis lessons this summer…

This list is starting to sound ridiculous. My kids are six and they’ve already tried half a dozen sports, yet they’ve never had a music lesson. Oops.

How did this happen? Part of it is just me wanting to make sure my kids can do this sort of thing. Don’t get me wrong; my parents really couldn’t have coaxed me into a sport as a small child even if their lives depended on it. But as I grew up, I wished for the structure and for the physical aspect of sports, not to mention the camaraderie of the team. 

I’ve felt my whole life like the person who can’t, and maybe shouldn’t, run/bike/jump/etc. Like the person who only has a body because it’s required and not because I’m comfortable using it in any challenging way. I feel a certain thrill when I see my child swinging on the rings 20 feet above the floor at gymnastics or diving into the pool lanes at swimming. These are things I never, ever have done (and, let’s face it, unless there are sudden, major changes to my personality, I likely never will). I wish I had started at least attempting athletic endeavors as a small child, just so it wouldn't feel so foreign today.

So as an adult, I find sports is an excellent way to force my children to live my own forgotten dreams. I’m such a cliché!

A friend recently pulled her child from a sport, as her child was not happy doing it. She confessed that she was afraid her child would be left behind years from now. When all of her child’s friends were cheering each other from the bench, her child would be left on the sidelines.

If I’m honest with myself, that’s my fear, too. And it’s a foolish fear. I know that my children will somehow find a way on their own, doing what fills their hearts and finding others that share their enthusiasm. No telling what it might be. But for now I’m going to put opportunities in front of them and nudge them in certain directions. Maybe something will click for the long term, and they won’t feel like the athletic pariah that I’ve always been.

And the kid who showed no interest in another dozen evenings in the outfield? He changed his mind in the amount of time it took to walk to the registration table. Add another season of baseball to the list.

Monday, February 6, 2012

French Parenting, or, It's Not Just The Wine

It turns out I’m more French than I thought.

Technically, my bloodlines are 50% French. I’ve always been a bit of a Francophile, thanks to the exchange students my parents welcomed into our home during my childhood and the wine, art and beauty of the trips I’ve made there. That’s not where the affinity ends, apparently.

For some reason I couldn't find any of my photo albums on my computer from previous trips to France.
 I did, however, find this. Someone was playing with Photo Booth.

The Wall Street Journal recently published a piece all about how French parents differ from American parents. Delving into the French parenting style, the writer notes a few things – letting babies cry, saying no, delaying gratification, and other basic principles the French tend to follow- are the key to being a chill, laissez-faire parent.

I wondered, of course, how the French feel about having yet another item on the List of Ways We Are Superior to Americans, just below universal health care and just above champagne.   

But then I realized that when it comes to parenting, I’m more French than I am American. I just thought it was called “ignoring your children.”

When my twins were infants, the county would send a social worker to my home once a month for a few hours to give me parenting tips and to answer my questions (that sounds pretty French, now that I think about it). A typical American may have refused such big-brother-ish services, but I wasn’t typical. I was the wearied, depressed mother of two infants, and I was vaguely interested in making sure I wasn’t doing everything wrong. Mostly, though, I just wanted to talk to a grownup. If the county hadn’t sent someone, I would have invited in someone strolling down my street just to have another adult voice.

During one of the social worker’s visits, I put the babies down for a nap. As was normal behavior, they cried. They screamed. The social worker wanted me to let it go, said they were safe and tired, and that they would certainly run out of steam without my intervention. She practically had to physically restrain me from going in to save them. I didn’t go in. And 22 minutes later, they stopped.

I’m not sure I would have been the kind of parent able to let my kids cry it out on my own. Once I did, I was hooked on trying to make my kids more independent. Especially if it meant I could be more independent.

I noticed over the years that my behavior was unusual. For me, play dates have always been about adult chats occasionally interrupted by smoothing out the occasional child conflict. Other parents, however, would be on the floor, ready to act out an entire scene from Toy Story when requested. Some parents wouldn’t speak an entire sentence to me, for fear Junior would be ignored.

It’s not that I ignore my kids, exactly. But I don’t really play with my kids much, and I never have. I’m just not that kind of mom. When sibling spats break out, I say, “Work it out.” Liberal use of the word “no” happens here. I know what my kids are doing, I just am not the one necessarily doing it with them. It’s not that I won’t play Star Wars with them if they ask. Maybe because they know mom is a selfish, selfish woman, they don’t ask. Or maybe it’s because I’ve instilled in them the idea that they can do it on their own.

Here I thought I was just being a crappy mom. Nope. I’m just French. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Everybody else is doing it

So as of this post, I’m back to blogging. Technically I’ve blogged for years in the past, first with a personal blog about my twins at Here They Come, and then with a brief but manic deal blog, Thriftpop.

I’ve always had a bit of a love/hate relationship with blogging. I’ve followed, enjoyed and respected lots of blogs. But when it comes down to it, I simply can’t imagine that anyone gives a crap about what I have to say.

Regardless, I have a lot to say. So I’m saying it, whether or not anyone listens, whether or not I am whispering into the giant internet canyon. At least I’ll be saying something.