Tuesday, October 11, 2011

What Kind of Kid Prefers Homework To a Cookie?

I recently blogged about how Katie was bored with her homework. Thanks to the mercurial nature of children, my own homework is being mindful not to take everything Katie says so seriously. Pay attention, for sure, but don't get out the old stone chisel and start taking dictation. That's what blogs are for. The ethereal thoughts of childhood are well suited for cloud computing.

Yesterday when I got home from work, I handed Katie half of the giant cookie I got at a training session. I hadn't saved it purposefully for her. I was just too full to finish it, so I wrapped it in a paper napkin and put it in my bag. When I got home, my brain spotted a kid, said, "Hey, kids like cookies," and instructed my arm to hand it over. There was no other thought to it.

Katie crammed it into her mouth and said, "Mmnks." More than half of the cookie was still on the outside of her mouth. I'm telling you. Giant cookie.

I saw Katie's backpack on the kichen table and asked if she'd done her homework.

"Nope." The dogs were licking the floor beneath Katie, scrounging for crumbs.

"Do you want me to help you with it?" I asked as I unzipped her backpack.

"Yes!" She climbed onto a dining chair, took another bite, and said, "Let's do my homework!"

"Honey, you can't eat your cookie while you're doing homework. It would be too easy to get cookie stains on it. Why don't we wait til you done with the cookie and then you can go wash your hands." I was sorting through her papers. Pre-motherhood I had no idea how much I'd adore looking over her school work. During my single years, I'd been to New York and San Francisco where I saw great art at the Met, both MOMAs and the Whitney. Tears swelled and I literally caught my breath the first time I walked into the van Gogh room at the Met. Now I catch my breath over kindergarten circles and triangles and flowers and suns and I am no less amazed.

"That's ok," Katie folded the cookie back into the napkin, got up, and set it on the counter, far enough back that our half-Great Pyrenese dog Earl couldn't counter surf it. "I'll go wash my hands now so we can do my homework!"


What kind of kid chooses homework over a cookie? Especially the same kid who has asked for Pop Tarts every day for breakfast for the last two weeks.

So I watched her trace letters and read her book and color pictures on her assignment, answering "Uh huh" to every "Look, Mama. Watch this!"

I understand some of it has to do with her enthusiasm for school and wanting to impress me, but I also think Katie just doesn't realize what a big honkin deal cookies are because they are not generally banished from her diet.

I went to school with several friends who always wanted to hang out at our house because we always had pop and junk food. They would come over and start shoving Little Debbies snack cakes into their mouths and refilling their pop glasses til the 2-liter was empty. I'd get so impatient with them. Come on, guys, let's go play hide and seek or kickball or go down to the creek and look at the crawdads. But no, I had to wait for their binge fest to cease.

I noticed whenever I'd go over to one of their houses, they never had any pop or junk food. Some of them had fruit in a bowl on the table. Which was fine with me. I love apples. And better yet, they're transportable. I really just wanted to get started playing "Life" anyway. Or maybe "Clue." But "Life" was my favorite. Or shoot some hoops or roller skate or something.

My disinterest in food disappeared when I developed anorexia as a tween. Subsequently, my interest in kickball, roller skating, and "Life" simultaneously waned. I was sent to a child psychologist. Turns out I was afraid of growing up. I didn't particularly like what I saw was in store for me as a woman. I discovered that skin and bones equaled no breasts and no periods, no curves and sexually suggestive stares and comments from older men.

I struggled off and on with disordered eating most of my life. But I don't blame my parents for letting me eat junk food and drink pop. When I stopped eating, I stopeed eating everything. It wasn't an effort to eliminate so-called "bad" foods from my body. I had posttraumatic stress disorder triggered by sexual abuse as a young child, and it led me to want to control my own body by what food I put into it. I felt so powerful when I could go an entire day eating under 500 calories.

It's taken a long time, many years of not just anorexia, but bulimia, excessive exercise, binging and other forms of restrictive eating such as vegetarianism, but now I feel like food no longer controls me.

The book that helped me get here is by the ironically named Dr. Linda Bacon, Heath at Every Size®. Her advice is to "eat a variety of real foods, primarily plants" and "move your body in pleasurable ways." It's so simple: develop trust in your own body.

It's common to hand down psychological hiccups to our children. To prepare myself, before she was even born, I vowed to raise my child without an eating disorder. I know. I'm an ambitious parent. Some parents will do anything to make sure their daughters make the cheerleading squad. I'll do anything to get my daughter through high school psychologically unscarred.

So pretty much when Katie started feeding herself, we let her eat what she wants. Pretty much. No caffeine other than in chocolate. No adult beverages, I wish I could say obviously but sadly some parents do not think this is an obvious regulation for five year olds.

We explain to Katie that eating too much candy can make you sick. But we also tell her that too much of anything can also make you sick. We give her a plate of food. If she eats it, she eats it. If she doesn't, she doesn't. I don't offer to make her something else to eat because I don't believe in wasting food just to eat something else. But for the most part, we're pretty laissez-faire with our daughter's feelings of hunger and satiety. I want her to trust her own body and respond to its cues. I want her to eat from the full smorgasbord of life with few limitations.

Sure she loves cookies like most kids. Like most people, regardless of age. But she doesn't always want them. She doesn't give up other pleasurable things to stuff her face full of off-limit treats. Food doesn't control her.

She's asked me for broccoli for breakfast. It was chicken nuggests the other day. Some days she eats just the butter off her toast. Other times she asks for cottage cheese, black olives and pears. Sometimes she asks for Funyans. Other times, baby carrots. And of course, pancakes and eggs.

So it didn't surprise me too much when Katie set aside the cookie to do homework with me. But my inner-anorexic eleven year old, isolating herself in her bedroom as she calculates her daily calorie intake--she sure looked up and smiled, sighing in relief that everthing would be ok.