This past Sunday, I went for a run while Chris stayed the girls. The half-marathon is in 6 weeks (yikes!), and I try to do my long training runs on the weekends when I have more free time. The kids are with Dave on alternate weekends, but when it’s my weekend, I usually leave them with either Chris or my parents while I go for a run.
I’m very careful with how I talk about diet and exercise with my girls. And a lot of that is because of my own baggage: I picked up a lot of negative body image feedback from hearing my mom complain about how fat she was when I was a kid. Back then, she was maybe a size 8 or 10 at the most, so she was most definitely not fat, but I know I internalized a lot of what she said. I don’t want Catie and Lucy to pick up any negative self-image issues from me, so it’s something I approach with extreme caution.
Since Catie is older, I can talk to her a bit more. We’ve talked about how Mimi has back problems, and how I want to make sure I don’t end up in pain like she is when I get older. My emphasis is more on health/strength, not the number in the back of my jeans. We’ve talked about how she gets enough exercise because she gets recess every day, but grown-ups don’t, and my job means that I sit at a computer all day, so I have to make my own recess time.
With food, we talk about how it’s important to eat healthy foods that are good for our bodies, and how some foods are treats that are only “sometimes foods” – all the normal stuff, I guess – but I don’t really talk to them about my food habits. They eat their food, I eat mine. Unless I point it out, they aren’t going to notice that they’re eating mashed potatoes and I’m not. So I don’t make an issue of it.
But even still, they pick up on stuff. Catie once made a comment (and I cannot remember the context of how it came up) that she was “glad everyone in our family is skinny.” I kind of did a mental record-scratch, and said that “skinny” isn’t necessarily a good thing, because if you’re too skinny, you won’t be strong enough to do the things you want to do. The point is whether or not we’re healthy, not whether we’re skinny or fat.
(And we’ve talked about how we don’t talk about other people’s bodies because it might hurt their feelings. She’s friends with a little girl at school who gets teased by other kids for being overweight, and it upsets Catie a lot, so it seems like she gets it.)
And then there are stupid things that come up, like when “All About That Bass” came on the radio for the 37,000th time, and Catie asked me what it meant when she said “boys like a little more booty to hold at night.” In that case, I just said that it was kind of a grown-up joke that was inappropriate for kids, and she didn’t press it.
So, I get that they’re going to pick up on body image expectations from society no matter what I say, and that the best I can do is basically damage control.
Lately, Lucy has been fascinated with my exercise habits. If I’m doing a strength training workout at home, she tries to join in with me. She’ll say, “Lookit me! I do my essacise too!” Then she’ll do a dramatic pratfall and land on her face, and I basically die because you really shouldn’t laugh when you’re doing push-ups.
This past Sunday, when I was getting ready to go for my run, as soon as I put on my workout clothes, the questions started:
Lucy: You all sweaty now?
Me: No, baby, not yet. [I hadn’t even left the house yet.]
Lucy: Why you wear that headband?
Me: It keeps my ears warm when it’s cold outside.
Lucy: Why you wear headphones?
Me: Because I like to listen to music when I run.
And the one she asks the most often:
Lucy: Why you go running?
Me: Because you keep growing and getting bigger and stronger, so I have to be strong too, so I can keep up with you.
A couple of hours later, after I’d run over 9 miles, I walked in the house sweaty and exhausted. The girls were on the couch with Chris watching a movie. Lucy saw me, and hopped up and ran to me.
She said, “You do your essacise, so you strong now? You can carry me now?”
And all I could think was, oh, my sweet girl. I’ll carry you as long as you’ll let me.