Chart Number 229

October 21, 2016

By Ekta R. Garg

As a parent I spend a lot of time talking to my kids. Teaching them. Occasionally yelling at them.

In the midst of all this, I also spend a lot of time reassuring them. Ten is getting older and has many questions on what growing up means. She’s started noticing her physical appearance and body structure more and is starting to exhibit that uncertainty that comes with growing up.

Eight really no longer is a baby, and she’s always been a wiggly child anyway. Getting her to sit or stand still for more than a few seconds is an inside joke in our family. She cheerfully acknowledges that it borders on impossible for her to stop moving for long. Part of that has to do with her brain constantly on the go, but a bigger part of it (I think) has to do with her own uncertainty at times. If she’s always moving, she doesn’t have acknowledge how unsettled she feels when her routine wavers.

When they were younger, a lot of what I had to teach them consisted of what I could show them. This is how we tie our shoes. This is how we brush our teeth. This is how we put on a pair of jeans without falling over and getting injured.

Within the last year, what I teach them has started to do with as much about the things that we can’t touch or hold. Why does my body look so different from everyone else’s? What happens if I’m five minutes late for something? Why is it fair for the grownups to stay up late and watch TV and not the kids?

So I spend a lot of time talking. Teaching. Reassuring. And, yes, yelling.

Sometimes I feel like the walls are the only ones listening, and I wonder whether what I say really matters. Do my messages even make it past the kids’ ears? Has it even registered that I’m talking to them? It’s easy, I’ll admit, to get discouraged because it feels like we’re saying and doing things that float into the air. Like that email you sent and were sure someone received, only to discover months later that it got lost in cyberspace.

Occasionally, however, the kids make the connection. When I’m there to see their eyes glow with understanding, when I’m able to hear that click as their brain flips the switch, then for a few moments I know that all the waiting I’ve endured is worth it. No doubt I’m making my share of mistakes as a parent, but in those instances I have tangible proof of doing something right.

Lately each of the girls has given me confirmation of this very idea.

*****

Eight, as I said, doesn’t sit still. If she’s playing soccer with her big sister and Ten calls a five-minute break, Eight will come and sit next to me and instantly say, “I’m bored.” She’s just that type of child, the kind who needs some sort of stimulation all the time.

I understand this about her and try to come up with suggestions on things to do. One of the girls’ teachers once told me this trait is typical of gifted kids. Once in a while, though, I encourage her to take a moment to appreciate just sitting still. It does have its own benefits, whether a person can identify them right away or not.

I think sometimes the constant need for activity is also a little bit of a cover. Eight’s sense of self starts to shudder a little when her routine gets altered, whether that’s self-induced or by some uncontrollable force. We’ve talked about the anxiety she feels when something happens and it changes our plans. I’ve also taken on the charge of informing the kids well in advance of anything we’re doing as a family or anything that affects them, in part to help Eight set her mind frame in that direction.

We’ve also discussed the changes in schedule that occur because of the elements within our control—namely, singing in the shower or playing a game with imaginary characters when she’s supposed to be getting ready for school. Because when Eight gets sidetracked, she really gets sidetracked. And then when I come in and scold her for not staying on task, she panics.

I didn’t realize how bad the panic was, however, until the day a couple of years ago when she got out of the shower and I was helping her get dressed. I told her there was a chance we’d be late for school because despite my repeated reminders to get moving she’d continued to play. Anxiety crossed her face right then, and her adrenaline forced a rush of perspiration so strong that the odor wafted in my direction.

I made her get in the shower again, all the while talking down her apprehension. We would be late, but it wasn’t the end of the world.

She’s gotten better since then, but I feel like we struggle with this a few days a week. Getting late, however, is half the battle, because once she looks at the clock and sees what time it is I also have to cajole and plead with her not to lose her head. That knee-jerk reaction of panicking when her routine is altered still happens.

I’ve wondered when this might change. And then we have a morning like we did last week.

Once again we were running late, and on this day (from an objective point of view) it was completely Eight’s fault. I went up to her room after packing lunches and kept my cool as I told her to look at the clock next to her bed. She noted the time and…didn’t panic. She simply nodded when I told her to hurry up.

I didn’t want to leave the room, afraid I might step into some alternative universe. Where were the almost-tears held back only by her impossibly long eyelashes? Where were the comments made in self-doubt, the wondering aloud whether she’d ever be able to get anything right?

I heard none of that. Instead, when I said she needed to hurry, all I got was a simple, “Okay, Mamma.”

Hurry she did, and we got into the car with a few minutes to spare. Once I’d started the engine and we were on our way, Eight spoke up.

“Are you proud of me for not getting frustrated?”

“I’m very proud of you,” I said immediately. “I knew you could do it.”

And I heard it. That click. That connection in her brain. Success. We were arriving at school just under the buzzer, but Eight had learned to master her terror.

My heart swelled with pride. Finally, all of the lectures and talking had yielded results.

*****

In her old school, Ten would get teased by kids about her body structure. Namely, the fact that she’s so thin. I like to think of her body frame as willowy. She’s got slender legs—her mile-long legs, we like to call them—and a thin torso. The fact that she’s almost as tall as me emphasizes her height and skinniness all at the same time.

I’ve blogged before about Ten’s self-consciousness about her body, and I’ve also explained to her on a number of occasions that (again, purely objectively) her body is the way most little kids should be. Let’s face it, folks, we have an obesity epidemic in this country. When I see young boys and girls with rounded tummies poking out of their clothes and thick limbs, it makes my heart cringe. The choices their parents are making in their eating habits is making these young people sick and setting them up for a life of illnesses.

Ironically, Ten has the kind of body that most of our fashion magazines hail and exalt. But I certainly don’t want to point her to those magazines because they go in the opposite extreme of emphasizing being thin. Someone in a major publication needs to find a viable method of emphasizing healthiness in every single issue and every single ad.

In any case, one of the greatest difficulties I have for both Ten and Eight is in buying clothes. The clothes that are labeled for their ages are way too big—almost twice their actual size. I end up buying clothes much smaller in the number size but closer to their body types. That’s why my ten-year-old is wearing size 7/8 shirts from Target.

The other day I was in Target looking for something else and came across the girls’ clothing section. I saw skirts hanging from a rack and smiled. Ten loves skirts, and there were several different colors. I rifled through the choices and picked up three as well as matching tops.

I held up the skirts and gauged their size. There was no way a Large, listed as 10/12, would fit her, and even a Medium, listed as 7/8 wouldn’t work. I finally picked up an Extra Small. Age range suggested: 4/5.

I hesitated. I knew she’d fall in love with the skirt, but I also knew she could get prickly about sizes. I refused to buy something that wouldn’t fit, though. She needed to wear clothes that worked with her body frame.

Later yesterday evening I presented her with one of the skirts and one of the tops to try on. Her eyes lit up and she started jumping up and down at seeing the skirt. Without bothering to check the labels, she took the clothes from me and ran into her closet to try them on. When she came out, she twirled around. I had her tuck the long-sleeved shirt into the skirt and pull it tight—none of this baggy overhang for her.

All of a sudden, my child went from a little girl to an elegantly dressed young woman.

We both looked at her reflection in the mirror, and she twirled around a few times.

“Do you like it?” I asked.

“Yes!” she exclaimed.

“And see?” I said. “Look at you. This outfit looks perfect on your body frame.”

She looked back at herself in the mirror, and I heard it. The click. The switch of comprehension had flipped on.

I explained to Ten what I’ve heard Stacy London say on dozens of What Not to Wear reruns. If an article of clothing doesn’t fit, that doesn’t automatically equate to the fact that something is wrong with your body. It just means that piece of clothing doesn’t fit. Unlike men’s clothing, women’s clothes don’t follow a standard set of sizing. A size 6 from the Gap is vastly different from a size 6 at Old Navy and different again from a size 6 of any of the clothing lines at Target.

“What we need to do is find the clothes that fit you,” I concluded. “It doesn’t matter what the tag says.”

“What does the tag say?” Ten asked, thinking of it for the first time since she’d seen the new outfit.

I held my breath. When she saw the “4/5,” I jumped in.

“Look at that,” I said. “The company thinks that a four or five-year-old can wear this skirt!”

“What?” she said in disbelief. “This could be a dress on a four-year-old!”

Ten dropped to her knees right away in imitation of a little kid and went through a funny routine of the kid falling over because the skirt didn’t fit right. We laughed, and inwardly I sighed with relief. Maybe me just telling her that her body is beautiful exactly the way it is wasn’t enough; I had to show her. Does this mean buying clothes will continue to be a challenge? Absolutely. But at least now she’ll look at those clothes—and herself—a little differently. Hopefully with more positivity.

*****

Parenting. Finally—finally—starting to get the hang of this gig.