Last Sunday afternoon found me frustrated, sitting on the couch and attempting to tug the fifth or so pair of jeans over my child’s behind.
My mother sat on the opposite couch and as I yanked on the belt loops, jiggling my already jiggling child up and down, our eyes met over her head. Had anyone been looking they would have seen our faces, uncannily similar, struggling to settle on one expression – dismay, amusement, defiance – it was anyone’s game at that point.
I finally turned her around to face mom and raised my eyebrows. “She can’t wear any of these”, I said unnecessarily. Hannah’s underwear stuck out three inches above the straining waistband of a pair of jeans I’d purchased only a little over six months ago, the pockets resting below the curve of a rear I’ve never seen the likes of on any five year old white girl. “These are an 8, mom. An 8!”
She bit her lip and nodded. “We’ll have to go look in the...”
“Don’t say it...”
“Girls plus section”, she said, covering up a snort of laughter with a cough. I couldn’t help it, I wailed. And in between wailing, I let out a few stray hysterical giggles.
“Mom”, the kid whined, “these are too tight.” I peeled the pants from her round legs and watched her galumph away, completely oblivious. “She’s solid”, I said.
It’s what I’d been telling myself and everyone that looked at her for the past few years. She was just a large girl – solid and tall like her father. Thick, like a gymnast. But somehow, in between the time it was true and now, she’d gotten just a bit more than solid. I sighed. “She jiggles.”
Mom, who is always so eloquent, said, “Must be jelly ‘cause jam don’t shake like that.” She used to say the very same thing to me. Because in our world, in order to deal with fat, you made fun of fat. It had always worked for us before, but this was different. I’d been that jiggly child that had to make fun of myself in order to stay sane, to seem like I didn’t care, to verbally punch myself before anyone else got there first. But this was my kid.
I alternately blamed myself and my mother, Jesus and the Pope, the makers of Scooby Doo “fruit” snacks and the woman that handed out cookies in the grocery store.
“It’s because I made fun of Air Hose. Its karma – because I laughed at that gigantic ball of fluff with no neck, my child is on her way to being her twin.”
Then: “It’s your fault”, I hissed at mom, “You give her whatever she wants to eat! Sure, honey! Have another damn Cheeto! Have the whole effing bag! You’re so cute!”
And still more: “Have you ever seen an ass like that on a five year old? Her dad has a lot of Indian blood in him...do they have ghetto asses? Is it hereditary? My ass is flat.”
“She has your hips”, mom said, as if that explained everything. Maybe it did.
I spent the next few days trying to monitor what the kid ate, to see what changes we could make to her diet. It did not go over very well. My suggestions that we eat carrots or celery were met with shock, horror, and several attempted murders – though I can’t really prove anything. I found that altering the eating habits of a five year old is damn near impossible, especially around Halloween.
On Tuesday I had my first PTA meeting, directly followed by something called “Kindergarten/Family night”. In a characteristic moment of shrewdness, I insisted that mom accompany me. We could sit next to each other, make fun of the other parents behind their backs, and avoid lengthy conversations with any overly enthusiastic teachers. I may have pitched it to her a bit differently, though.
I wasn’t sure what to expect with the meeting. Would I have to talk? Would they ask me to vote on anything? Could I pop outside for a smoke break? Would there be a snack table I’d have to drag my salivating child away from?
As it turned out, I needn’t have worried so much. We sat in the rather full auditorium and listened to the principal and a few faculty members talk about PTA fees and a fundraiser. Then we spent the next 10 minutes watching a rather pointless display on how to operate their new website. And when I say “listened” and “watched”, what I really mean is we sat there and looked around at everyone else trying to control their children and chatting amongst themselves. Then it was off to the Kindergarten hall for family fun night and a book fair.
There were germ breeders everywhere – running, squealing, knocking into the backs of my knees. I had to push down the urge to swipe at them like an angry bear. I stood in line to sign the attendance form and pick up an information packet, occasionally tossing mom looks of loathing since she was positioned by the wall and out of the line of fire.
Packet secured, I returned to her side and the three of us poured over the pages. It was filled with various “fun” activities to choose from. The parent/child team would move from classroom to classroom, participating in any of the “skill building” (etc) activities they wanted. Looking around at the chaos, I couldn’t imagine anything I’d rather do less.
My general idea of parent/child fun activities are: A) beating her in Monopoly (and various other board games), B) a rousing game of hide and seek (where she usually ends up spending more time in the closet than she bargained for), C) allowing her to help clean my room, and D) playing the quiet game. D is my favorite by far, but A is a damn close second. I do love to win.
We started in her classroom, making a beeline for an activity table with one empty chair left. As Hannah settled herself, I started eyeballing the other families. At first I was just checking to see what everyone else was doing and if I could possibly get away with standing there unobtrusively. Then I noticed one family in particular. The parents were standing across from me behind their son’s chair. Or rather, I assume he was sitting on a chair. He was so large that his bottom seemed to droop on either side of where the chair was supposedly hidden underneath him, like the dough of a pizza about to be tossed in the air. His father was a beefy man in work boots, with a mustache that curled more than is strictly necessary, and his mother had a long, plain face that greatly resembled a donkey.
Mom kicked my foot, obviously noticing them at the same time, and I kicked her back, coughing to cover up a snicker. I tried to keep my eyes averted while I helped the kid place balls of cotton on her paper sheep, but it became increasingly difficult when Dough Boy let out a wail and demanded they move on to the “snack” game immediately. Apparently he’d just realized the cotton balls weren’t actually edible.
Awhile later, after we’d gotten safely away, I looked down at my daughter. “Hey, kid. Who was that boy at the sheep table?”
“Which one”, she asked.
“The really fat one.”
“Oh. That’s Christopher. He’s in my class. He gets two snack packs in his lunchbox”, she declared pointedly.
“Hmm”, I said absentmindedly. If she wanted an extra snack pack, she was just going to have to sneak them like I did at that age.
I was feeling a little better about the size of my kid at that point (not to mention her behavior). She wasn’t sloppy and snack crazed like her classmate. So what if she had a J-Lo booty? I hadn't exactly been the poster child for healthy choices and look at me now - fit as a fiddle...ish.
When we sat down at the “snack activity” table, the boy and his unfortunate parents were long gone. Amazingly there were still edible materials left. While Hannah sat in her chair, I leaned over and instructed. Take two Ritz crackers and spread them with chocolate icing. Then press eight straight pretzel sticks into the icing on one cracker, four on each side. Place the other cracker on top, closing it all in. Dab two small dots of icing on top and stick a raisin on each one. Ta-Da! You now have a Spider snack.
There were plenty of other activities to do, but once we’d spent almost 15 minutes coloring pieces of a dog and sticking them on a brown paper bag to make a puppet, I decided to call it a night. Mom had driven separately so Hannah and I walked off in the opposite direction.
Reaching the car, I buckled her in and attempted to hand her the plate with her spider snack.
“I don’t want that”, she said.
“Ok.” I climbed into the front seat, placed the plate on the passenger side, and drove away. Every now and then I’d glance over at the chocolate smeared mess. I love pretzels and chocolate together so it was more than just a little tempting.
“Hey, kid, you aren’t going to eat this thing”, I asked, holding up the plate.
“No. I don’t like it.”
“So can I have it?”
She was silent for a long moment. I glanced at her in my rearview. She was staring at me thoughtfully, her head tilted to one side, her stubby fingers drumming the armrest of her seat. Finally she answered, in a completely serious tone.
“I don’t know, mom. Don’t you think you should have a nice carrot instead?”
Sunny Side of the Street
3 days ago