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Raising a Fatty

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Nov 11, 2016

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There comes a time when every parent with a fussy eater is forced to question whether they’re raising a child, or priming a goose for foie gras.

A recent incident with my son forced this introspection upon me when I walked into his room in the middle of the night and found him sound asleep, in a pool of his own vomit.

I guess this column is where I justify how this came to be.

My 13-month-old is a very fussy eater. It isn’t because he hates food. It’s just that he bores of eating rather quickly. Things got worse, recently, after a two-week holiday. Once we returned home, he wasn’t interested in eating at all. It was like he’d gone on hunger strike.

When his nanny carried him for the first time after our return, her face dropped as she declared he had lost weight. “He didn’t eat very well when he was on vacation, did he?” she asked.

Actually, he had eaten pretty well. For breakfast he ate a big bowl of oatmeal or banana pancakes, and for lunch and dinner he’d devour bread, cream cheese and homemade cherry jam. He slurped up delicious store-bought pouches that came in combinations such as sweet potato and oranges, strawberry and yoghurt and black carrots and bananas.

Whenever anyone brought up the “issue” with his lost weight, I explained he had also been extremely active during the trip. He had mastered squats, climbed stairs, and walked around. He also spent a lot of time helping his cousin, a few months older, chase anyone with a bowl of food, demanding bites.

But I forgot all of my justifications when we placed him on the weighing scale at the doctor’s office and found that he had, indeed, dropped some weight. More than I had thought. The doctor said the drop was normal for toddlers going through a fussy phase and that I shouldn’t expect him to pack on pounds like he did in the first year, when he almost tripled his birth weight. But that feeling of reassurance disappeared the next morning at a Mom-and-Toddler class, when a fellow mother asked if my son was “underdeveloped.”

“He used to be so chubby when he was younger,” said a friend later, making me feel worse. “What happened to his thunder thighs?”

I didn’t know what to say. I thought my baby was doing very well. His chubby cheeks and pudgy arms were the talk of the town. Any mention of him was incomplete without pointing out how “cute and round” he was. My parents even joked that he looked like a baby wrestler when he wore sleeveless T-shirts.

So I did what desperate parents tend to do in such situations: I added extra ghee to his food. I fed my picky eater whatever he wanted to eat – bananas, biscuits, fruit pouches, bananas and more bananas – throughout the day. But it wasn’t until the night I got so frantic that I force-fed him dinner, followed by a fruit snack (just to be doubly sure he was full), that I realised I was turning into one of “those” parents – the kind who don’t care if their child is enjoying their meal so long as the kid eats enough to keep his weight up.

Parents, by nature, tend to overthink things. But overthinking is seldom characterized by ‘clarity of thought.’ Instead, it leads to worry, and worry often leads us to doing stupid things.

And doing stupid things leads to your child being so full he throws up in the middle of the night. And you feeling really terrible. And worrying some more.

Because as a society, we seem to have a certain, visual standard for what is considered healthy baby weight. An active and happy child is all well and good. But a child with chubby cheeks, pudgy arms and ‘thunder thighs’ is the ideal. This child probably prefers dog tails and dead bugs to wholesome human food. But hey, his cheeks are as round as the Ceralac Baby’s. And doctors don’t issue warnings about nutrition during check-ups. And nannies don’t tsk with concern every time they pick him up.

We want to raise our children in a world where physical appearances do not matter. Why is it, then, that our babies are already bearing the brunt of what society deems healthy (but really what it deems attractive and perfect) before they can even walk and talk? Why do we worry more about what they weigh than about instilling healthy eating habits and exercise habits?

The vomiting incident shook me to my core. Not only because my child could have choked in his bed but also because it took a nerve-wracking incident to make me rethink my approach to his health. Nothing is worth putting a child through that much distress. Not the dot that puts him in the top percentile of the baby growth chart. Not even those thighs that wobble with every step.

We’re so focused on doing what is best for our children that we forget: A lot of times, they’re telling us what that is. The other evening, my son refused to eat his dinner. Again. So I put him to bed without supper. I worried about being a bad mother all night. Again. But his appetite at breakfast the next morning – and then at lunch and at dinner – reassured me. As of today, he’s still fickle and fussy with food. But he hasn’t gone on strike again.

On my part, I’m trying to respect his wishes because I want to raise a child who knows his mother listens. But more importantly, I want to raise a child who knows his mother loves him regardless of what he looks like on the outside, so long as he’s happy and healthy on the inside.

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Written By Afsha Khan Jayapal

Afsha is an ex-journalist who has written for The Indian Express, Hindustan Times, Bangalore Mirror and Conde Nast India. Now, she’s a full-time writer who loves to tell stories. Many of them are true, but some are made up inside her head.

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