Anybody who has hung out here for very long has probably been acquainted with the trials and tribulations of L.’s weight.  If you haven’t been a part of that particular conversation, you can catch up here, here, and here; but the shorthand version is that pretty much since he was two and a half years old, my six-year-old son has been deemed overweight by his pediatrician.  Not by his clothing size, not by the naked eye of anyone who knows him, but strictly by his BMI.  And J. and I have tried our best to manage it, to deal with it, without resorting to the suggested tactics — restricting portions of healthy foods, eating only nonfat dairy, giving low-fat and low-calorie snack alternatives instead of real food items.  We’ve also tried to deal with it as a parenting issue without losing our everloving minds.  One of us was more successful at that particular trick than the other — want to wager a guess who was who?

Insert wry smirk here.

I haven’t said this before on this blog.  I’ve thought about it a lot, and I thought maybe I never would.  I thought maybe it wasn’t relevant and maybe it was a lens through which you’d all see me, and through which I didn’t want to be seen.  But it’s SO relevant.  It’s absolutely a part of this conversation for me to tell you that when I was a child, and a teenager, and a young adult, and really up until L. was just about a year old, I struggled mightily against disordered eating and severe body image issues. Yes, I threw up.  Yes, I tried (and was never much good at) severely limiting calories.  Yes, I binge ate.  Yes, I obsessed over calories and I hated myself, and I once — as a grown woman — called my mother in tears because I was having something very closely approaching a panic attack over the fact that my graduate-school friends wanted to order a pizza and the entire thought of having to be in a group and figure out whether or not to eat pizza in front of others was so overwhelming that it was actually, almost literally, crushing.  I loved to swim and be in water when I was a child, but once I hit my twenties I stopped wearing bathing suits, ever, and would never go in a pool or to the beach.  I’d wear long pants to cover my fat, fat legs and I’d just cuff them to stick my toes in the water and pretend I was having a great time. And the final straw was being a first-time mother with a wonderful baby who was so terrified of an upcoming family vacation to the shore, so conflicted about whether or not I could actually enjoy that time with my son and be the mother I wanted to be for him, that I ended up in counseling with a very nice, very puzzled woman who handed me tissues and talked to me about trying on bathing suits while L. crawled around my ankles.

So that’s my stuff.  And it’s better now.  But I’ve got to own it, I have realized, because it has taken every bit of emotional wherewithal I have to NOT allow all of that past shadowy craziness color the way I view L. and his perfect, God-given body….and to not allow it to make me feel guilt, shame, and humiliation over being the mother who possibly “made” him “overweight.”

All this by way of saying: It’s been a weird place, inside my head.

I maybe didn’t realize how weird it’s been, actually, until today.  Today was L.’s six-year checkup.  It occurred to me last night that I had been subconsciously tensing up for about a week, girding my emotional loins, as it were, for a fight.  I have been so used to taking my kid to the doctor and having to defend his weight and my feeding practices and…US…that I was already stressed out about it before I ever even got in the car to take him there.  When I figured out that my new tooth-grinding habit was possibly a premature reaction to something as simple, and yet not simple, as a pediatric visit, I knew I had to acknowledge why this bothers me so much.

It bothers me because of my own history.  Obviously.  It bothers me because L. is a beautiful, bright kid who also has sensory-neuro disabilities, and motor issues, and therefore there’s a whole lot of stuff to talk about when it comes to him and his health that I feel like we’ve glossed over at these appointments in the past, in favor of discussing the relative merits (!) of restricting portions of raw oats and dried fruit.  It bothers me because, due to some of his symptoms and some of his problems, managing his sense of hunger and fullness is complicated; managing his activity level is even more complicated; and frankly, when you’re working with an academically advanced preschooler who also can’t hold a crayon or go up and down stairs properly, the last thing you’re really worrying about — to be one hundred percent honest — is “Eat Less, Move More.”

So clearly, I was about as wired as I could get by the time I got poor L. to his appointment today.  Which I needn’t have been, as it turns out, because for the first time in years, I got a thumbs-up (what IS this, anyway?  A parenting report card?) and L. was complimented on how healthfully he eats.

All the ire is slowly leaking out of me.  He grew well over four inches this year, and he didn’t even gain three pounds.  His weight, percentile-wise, is lower than it’s been since he was two.  He hasn’t gone up a pants size (except for length) in a year.  And now, in kindergarten, in the beginning of his sixth year, L. is happy and healthy and thriving.

Well.  He was most of that before.  But I didn’t get to hear it and own it and feel pride about it, because he was also “the fat kid,” as his doctor memorably suggested once.  Which became all that mattered.

So somehow, we’ve come into another part of the forest — I won’t dare to suggest we’re out — that is the childhood obesity epidemic, and it would be easy to say that we’ve “rescued” L.’s weight or some such thing.  That we’ve done the right stuff and avoided the dreaded curse of fatness, and now I have the answers.  Of course I don’t.  Nobody has the answers.  But I know what I know.

Tonight, as I sit here typing this and wondering if I’m really brave enough to even hit “publish” on this manifesto of my angst, I know these things about childhood obesity:

1. You can do everything “right,” and still have the outcome — the all-exalted BMI — come out “wrong.”

2. When the BMI is “wrong,” the implication is that you, as a parent, are “wrong.”  It doesn’t matter how compassionately the subject is dealt with; at its very core, the subject of weight in this country is perceived to be a problem of personal responsibility, and however flawed that perception may be, try telling yourself that it’s all B.S. when the searchlights are trained on you and your kid.

3. If we allow the conversation to continue to center on weight, not on health, not on habits, but on WEIGHT, then inevitably the shame spiral is going to trickle down to our kids.  The fear of fatness, and the hatred of fatness, is going to become impossible for us to hide from them.

4. The mainstream medical establishment does not have all the answers about how to make our kids slimmer.  J. and I did not, in fact, take the advice of our mainstream pediatrician in “treating” L.’s weight.  We instead relied upon our own instincts, our own barometers, as parents — and gave him MORE fat.  MORE protein.  MORE real food.  LESS sugar.  LESS low-fat.  LESS processed food.  His appetite noticeably regulated.  His body — its size AND its vitality — followed.

5. If relying upon common sense and parental barometric pressure is going to be any part of the solution — which I fully believe it needs to be — then as a nation, we are in very significant trouble.

Sure, J. and I have a good handle on these things, relatively speaking.  We also have education, tools, resources, and skills…like the ability to cook, the ability to shop for and afford good food, the ability to prioritize good habits like family dinners and regular healthy breakfasts.  I don’t for a moment believe that the majority of the parents in our country have all of those assets at their disposal.  It’s not as easy as telling a whole nation of struggling families, “Just pull out your skillets and your grass-fed beef, try quinoa and other whole grains instead of white flour, and replace all your low-fat items with coconut oil and pastured organic butter!”  It’s not even as easy as telling everyone to eat more vegetables.  Or to “Eat Less and Move More.”

The contributing factors that are making our kids heavier and, in some cases, sicker, are vast and numerous and have been discussed at length by people far smarter and more articulate than I.  I won’t rehash them.  What I will say is that I believe we need a hard left turn, a major shift away from the “science” of losing weight, and a beeline to wherever it is that we need to go that will allow us to focus solely on really, honestly providing true nourishment and healthful habits to every child.  If we focus on calories and weight, we’re lost; if we focus on giving kids vital nutrition, real, living foods, and fresh air and love and freedom from our uptightness and judgment about fatness or thinness, we’ll be okay.

Yeah.  I really am a dreamer.

But I’m a dreamer who just enjoyed giving her son a mug of homemade hot cocoa, and for the first time in possibly two years or more, didn’t worry in some small part of her mind that she was ruining him.