It was almost an afterthought. We'd already been sitting on the couch for twenty minutes, talking about our day. We call it Sunshine and Shadows, our after-school talks, about both good things and bad. I got the idea from an educator I know. It's a simple way to let people, especially kids, know that you're open for discussion. Our nine-year-old loves to play Sunshine and Shadows. Like it's a game. Family game night meets group therapy.
Kate: Let's play Sunshine and Shadows!
Me: OK. You go first.
Sometimes I change it up a bit. I'll say, "OK. Daddy goes first." Just to teach her a little social courtesy and patience.
Today it was just Kate and me, so I let her go first. She'd been telling me all kinds of things that had gone on throughout the day. Both good and bad. Most a mix of both. I thought she was about done and ready to get our Bob's Burgers jones on.
Me: Well, anything else happen today?
Kate: Someone called me fat.
Kate: In Music today. Someone called me fat.
Me: What? Why? What happened?
Kate: Peyton* called me fat.
Me: Why? What was going on?
Kate: It was in music class. I was sitting down. He needed to get in, so he said, "Move over, Fatso!"
Kate lifted up her shirt and poked her belly with her finger.
Kate: I don't even think I'm that fat.
Me: No, you're not.
Kate: But he said it in a mean way. He meant it as a mean thing to say.
Me: Yeah, I'm sorry, Honey.
Kate poked my belly with her finger.
Kate: I mean, I know there's nothing wrong with being fat, but he said it in a mean way.
Kate's sensitive about my weight. She knows that I was sent to Weight Watchers in third grade, and that I was diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa by fifth grade. She knows I'm a Health at Every Size advocate now, and that one of my goals is to help people boost their body image, to raise a generation of children without eating disorders. To the outside world, I'm another fat mother. To Kate, I'm a badass fat activist.
Me: I know. Many people in our society still think that it's bad to be fat. So they think the word "fat" is a bad word, something you say to insult someone.
Kate: Yeah. He was saying it like it's a bad word.
Me: What did you do?
Kate: I told the teacher.
Me: And then what happened?
Kate: He had to go to the buddy room.
Me: I see. So, are you OK?
Kate: Yeah, I'm fine.
Me: You know what he said is more a reflection of him than of you, right? Sad people try to make other people feel sad.
Kate: That's the funny thing, Mom. Peyton's, well, kind of fat.
Me: Oh! So he's probably been called "fatso" himself. That's how he even knows the word. People treat others the way they've been treated. Maybe his mom or dad or brothers or sisters call him "fatso."
Kate: Yeah. Probably. Man, now I feel sorry for bullies.
Me: Yeah. I know what you mean. But don't let bullies mistreat you because you feel sorry for them. Always stick up for yourself. But understand that they are probably coming from a sad place.
Kate: I know, Mom. I know.
*Name changed to protect identity.