There’s a new Assistant Principal of discipline at the high school. According to my daughter, she has spent the first week of school calling students out for their clothing that is not in compliance with the dress code. On Friday, this new authority selected Emily, my 17-year-old, and some other students to step out of class because of “inappropriate” attire. Emily wears one of many pairs of Nike running shorts to school almost every warm day. They are not particularly short, and certainly not tight fitting. When the Principal happened to walk by, she told Emily to go back into class. Her attire was suitable.
Still, my daughter is not one to rebel against authority. She’s a “good girl” and likes it that way. This weekend, she asked me to take her shopping for longer shorts. We made a trip to the Mall, beginning at the store where she last bought jeans that fit. However, the selection of longer shorts – now on clearance to make way for winter-wear — was poor. Emily tried on what they had, but nothing fit quite right. This past season’s styles include shorts with ample space for rear-ends, but are tight in the thighs. Many are knee-length shorts that roll up. This is not the fit for Emily who is small in the butt, but larger in the thighs. Like me, she dislikes the look that knee-length shorts give because they accentuate the larger calves we have.
We moved on to store after store, but Emily quickly became discouraged. How do I know? She was grouchy with me. When I asked if I could help, she said, “No. Nothing fits me. I’m too fat.”
All mothers know those words alert you to tread carefully. “You’re not fat!” doesn’t work. It just proves you are out of touch with reality. But saying nothing is implicit consent to the truth of the statement. There is always the option to blame the designers and look forward to next year’s styles. Yet, I could see in the look on my child’s face that she felt bad about herself and I wanted to uplift her. I chose a different option: “You are beautiful just the way you are.” Of course, Emily responded: “You are my mother. You have to say that.” But, at least, I had the opportunity to let her know I was on her side.
I haven’t forgotten what it felt like to be a teenager at her age. I was almost 5’10” and a mere 120 lbs., but I got it in my head that I was fat. Two of the people I admired most were our female PE teachers, and they were always on diets. They ate nothing, or very little during the day, and I tried to follow their example – starving myself. By the time I got home from school, I was ravenous. There is a picture of me from that time eating – what looks like – an entire chocolate cake while our dog looks on. I remember how guilty I felt about my hunger and “closet eating.” It seems so foolish now.
There are times and places to talk about diet and exercise when kids can absorb that information. There are other times when the same words feel like condemnation of the person to whom you are speaking. When Emily is swimming every day and doing other kinds of workouts, she is open to ideas for enhancing her fitness and appearance. Today was not one of those times.
I recently read a Blog entry by another adoptive mother who went on and on about how her adopted child was SO MUCH like the other biologically related members of their family. Though the mother, father, and sons were white, the dark-skinned child had the same shaped face and mannerisms and interests, etc. She marveled at this. Other adoptive parents had commented on the Blog entry and affirmed that they had the same experience with their adopted child. I wanted to pick up my computer and shake it. Who were they kidding?! Take off those rose-colored glasses and get a grip on reality!
As an adoptive mother, I am not THE SAME as my children in looks, in interests, in temperament, or in talents. We are very different from each other. We share many of the same experiences. We live in the same house, go to the same church, share the same neighbors, and go on the same trips. But even our perspectives on these shared experiences are different from one another. I work very hard at finding similarities, but I’m well aware that it is a struggle to find them and claim them.
In fact, I feel it’s my duty to acknowledge our differences and value the work we do as a family to knit ourselves together as ONE.
What I didn’t say to Emily today – but have said on other occasions – goes something like this: “You get your body shape from your birth family, as I get mine from my birth family. It isn’t fair that some of us can eat more or exercise less and still look like models in magazines. It isn’t fair that Skye can eat bowl after bowl of ice cream and still be thin. It isn’t fair that Journey has always been precisely the shape to fit most clothes with a number size corresponding to her age. But we have to work with the body we are given. And if we treat it with loving care, we can feel beautiful no matter what its shape or size.”