8 February 2014

Random 6th grade memory:

For whatever reason—sadistics, statistics—when I was in 6th grade it was deemed necessary for the school nurse to drag a scale from classroom to classroom and get a weight for each of student. For “privacy” the scale was kept in the hallway near the door, and we were called out one by one; our teacher stayed in the hall with the nurse, dutifully recording each student’s weight as the nurse said it out loud. No whispers, no stage whispers; she said it loudly and clearly.

Their notion of privacy was about as un-private as it could be. While students were weighed in the hallway, the rest of us were in the classroom, listening.

We were all 11 and 12 years old; pre-teens are not exactly kind nor are they particularly sensitive about their classmates’ feelings. When the 6’ tall kid weighed in at 170, no one blinked, but when the 5’1” kid weighed in at 186, there was laughter and snorting. It was covered up with a lot of general chatter, but he knew. He could hear us, and could hear the precise moment when the chatter turned to laughter. I’m sure the teacher and the nurse heard, too, but pretended there was nothing going on in that classroom other than a lot of nonsense talking.

Compared to the other 6th grade girls I was fairly tall, and when it was my turn, no one laughed. There was apparently nothing noteworthy about my weight; the kids didn’t burst out in abrupt laughter and the nurse had nothing to say to me about it. She’d spoken to kids who were a little on the heavy side and she’d spoken to kids who were on the light side. Not a word to me, other than, “Thank you, you can go back to your seat.”

When my mother picked me up from school, I think I reported the Major Event of the Day as soon as I slid into the car. “We got weighed today!”

Apparently it was that exciting for me, since I couldn’t wait to tell her, but before I could add onto that the harsh judgment of the poor kid upon whom so much ill will was heaped, she rushed out with, “How much do you weigh?”

One hundred twenty pounds.

Until that moment, it was just a personal fact. I had brown hair, green eyes, I was five feet five inches tall and I weighed one hundred and twenty pounds.

She recoiled, literally. When that number tumbled out of my mouth she blanched, pushing herself against the driver’s side door and she blurted out, “Oh my God, you weigh more than I do!”

She wasn’t just horrified; she was pissed off. This wasn’t the first time she’d been clear about having an issue with my weight: in 4th and 5th grade I had to hear *a lot* about how I’d been skinny until third grade and how I needed to quit eating so much junk. This was the first time, however, that she’d been so unbridled with her disgust about my weight. The first time that she didn’t bite back her anger, and the first time she was basically mean about it.

To be honest, I doubt she realized she was being mean. For whatever reason, she didn’t want to have a fat kid, and those numbers told her that’s what she had. And it horrified her.

It was also a lie.

Look, I was 11 years old, very active, 5’5”, 120 pounds. I walked all over the apartment complex with my friends just about every day, I was on the soccer team, I played basketball for the fun of it, and I joined the track team. I wasn’t a little cookie-snarfing slug. I know I didn’t weigh more than she did; she was 5’8” or so and if she weighed less than 140, I’d be very, very surprised. So I don’t really know why that’s what popped out of her mouth.

At 16; I thought I was fat...
I do know it was the moment when *I* started having issues with my weight. It was declared that I needed to go on a diet; for dinner that night I had scrambled eggs, 3 scallions…and 4 Oreo cookies. I couldn’t tell you what everyone else had. I didn’t mind the eggs and the cookies, but I remember clearly that was the start of my new diet. Eggs and cookies.

Cookies, people.

There seems to be a theme to my life.

At 30; I was sure I was HUGE.
Until that day, I’d never considered myself fat. After that day, I don’t think there’s a day that’s gone by when I haven’t thought I was fat.

The truth is, I didn’t get truly overweight until I was around 35, and then it came on so fast it was kind of hard to believe. We moved from San Antonio where I was training in TKD 5 times a week to Illinois where I wasn’t. Without a change in diet, weight came on. It was still a few years before I was officially fat, and while I could blame chronic pain and hardly being able to move at times, I won’t. I like to eat; I don’t like to cook. So we eat out more than we should, and that results in some chub.

Do I have issues with it now?

Well, now I really am fat. But now I don’t really care most of the time. Somewhere along the line I figured out that the more important thing was to keep active and be healthy, and while I’ve done a less than spectacular job of living that way, at least now I know it. At least now I—for the most part; I do still have moments when I look in the mirror and am pissed off at myself—don’t give a damn what other people think.

There’s the key; I care what I think about myself. You, not so much. And I cared for far too long what my mother thought, and I know that more than once it was a reason why I didn’t work harder to save the money to go visit or why I didn’t shuffle my schedule around to make it happen. Because no matter what size I actually was, deep down I knew she thought I was fat, and the 11 year old me got a close up look at what she really thought about fat people.

I think if she had realized what that one moment had done, she’d have spent years back-pedaling hard, trying to undo it. She didn’t want to inflict the wounds and scars that she did; she just didn’t stop to think about it.

She’s not really alone in that; we all say things that cut our kids deeply without meaning to. Just take away from this one thing: your kids will see, sooner or later, how you react to and treat those who are different—fat, skinny, beautiful, ugly, nerd-geek-smart, slow or lacking obvious intelligence—and it will color how they see themselves. And you can change that color by a single sentence uttered in 4 seconds; whether that color is bright and wonderful or dark and painful is up to you.

Do I blame her? Sure. But I had some spectacular parental failures, probably worse, so there can’t be a lot of judgment with the blame.

And right now?

I have M&Ms, people, and I’m going to freaking enjoy them.


kenju said...

We have that problem in common, but in the opposite way. My mom was fat and she didn't want a skinny kid. I was skin and bone, and she spent all her time trying to fatten me up, telling me that when I wore a black dress I looked like a black widow spider and that I was so thin that people would think I had tuberculosis (a disease that was prevalent in the 30's and 40's). I thought I was so unattractively thin that no boy would ever like me, and I had a lot of angst about that all through my growing up years. Too bad I didn't know then what I know now; that I was perfect just the way I was. I am sure you were too, and your photos prove it. Why do mothers do this???

Anonymous said...

It is not just mothers, father do it too. When I was about 13 I overheard someone say that my sister got the looks in the family and my father agreed. I have carried that hurt around ever since. He knew I was standing right there and did not hesitate to agree. I am a parent of 2 and I hope that I did not hurt my kids that way and now that I am a grandmother to 2 beautiful little girls I hope that my daughter will always remember how hurtful words can be.

Lemon Stand said...

I wished my parents came with an operators manual when I was a kid. Then at least I could check the troubleshooting section for help in the repair of them sometimes. I hope my own kids learn from the mistakes my husband and I invariably have made over the years so that the grand-kids, when they come along, will also know that the bottom line is that we love them. Period. We like being with them, we enjoy their sense of humor about life. Even when I want to join the "tell me again why we wanted kids" club, I still love them. (Just with a little less vigor in the happy meter)

Victoria Henderson said...

I was too thin, and petite. My mother's nickname for me was "Little Fat Girl" for years. It wasn't until only a few years ago I discovered her base anger toward me was directly rooted in her having been thin growing up then ballooning at middle age. But damn, wish I'd known that then... that there wasn't really an issue with my weight but with her own.
Yep, needed a manual.