If you’ve been following my articles, you know me by now. I’ll talk about anything. Masturbation. Boobs. Pot. Open relationships. [Looks both ways. Covers mouth. Whispers] Therapy. But I soon have to have a very difficult conversation with my teenager. Not about sex or drugs or (her disturbing lack of interest in) rock-n-roll, but about her weight.
Weight, Weight, Don’t Tell Me
I was a very skinny kid. My husband was also pretty scrawny for most of his life. We never thought we’d have a kid who met the recommended weight for her size range. Plus, my kid is an active kid. She walks ¾ a mile to the bus stop and back every day. Her classes at school required multiple trips up and down stairs and all over the oversized campus. She plays field hockey. She does Kung Fu 3 – 4 days a week. She volunteers at the local farm weekly, which requires at least a mile in walking around feeding and caretaking for livestock. She runs agility with our dog. She rides horses and paddleboards. She swims, surfs, skateboards, and snowboards, depending on the season.
Correction: She USED to do all these things.
And Then, Everything Changed
As you all well know, the last few months have been challenging. None of those things are an option any longer. Field hockey is somehow considered a level-three dangerous sport. Kung Fu school is closed. Farm is shut down. Agility is canceled.
And it’s not all on her. I haven’t been the best mom given the weird circumstances and easy access to junk food. I don’t do well with uncertainty. The magical thinker in me assumes everything will be FINNNEEEE tomorrow, we’ll wake up, get back on a schedule, and things will go back to normal, so fighting with my teenager today about spending 10 hours on the sofa and eating ramen noodles while watching TV isn’t worth it—especially when we’re all in quarantine and stuck together. Some say I’m a marshmallow mom. I say pick your battles, and marshmallows are delicious.
Besides, I’ve felt bad that her life is so shaken up. Her first year of high school was a debacle. And now, all the stuff she’s relied on is being yanked away. No more friends. No more clubs. No more socialization. So, yeah, if you need to comfort eat, have a mug cake or three. Snack on some chips. Let me hand you that box of cookies. I get it.
In seven months (since her last check-up), she’s put on almost 20 pounds, pushing her above the recommended weight for her size.
All the Cares Given by Me: Zero by Her
Our doctor noted she was both concerned about the amount of weight she put on and how quickly she put it on. And I was too. I was concerned but I was also a Molotov cocktail of embarrassment, shame, remorse, anger, guilt, and confusion—and much like a Molotov cocktail, I was on the verge of exploding. But no. That is not the right response. There’s such a fine line of what to say when faced with this conversation—how do you work to fix the situation without making your teenage daughter totally self-conscious and ruin whatever shreds of confidence she might still hold on to?
As soon as we closed the car doors to head home from the doctor, I turned to her.
“So. How do you feel about what the doctor said?”
<Insert generic teenage noise here>
(note: I assume she meant “meh” since most generic teenage noises translate to “meh.”)
Deep breath. “Look. I think you’re beautiful. I think you’re healthy. You’re a teenage girl. Your hormones are going bonkers. Bouts of weight gain are totally normal. Added to that, you’re stressed about the current situation. Your access to daily exercise has been completely cut off. All of these things are typical, and I don’t want you to feel embarrassed about how you look or feel like you’ve been body shamed. I do agree with the doctor that this was a good bit of weight to put on in a short amount of time. Our whole family can all stand to improve our eating habits and exercise more, if you are willing. I love you.”
(note: it’s possible she was reeling from shock and embarrassment and wasn’t ready to talk about it yet.) (also note: It’s entirely possible she had earbuds on, hidden behind her hair, and didn’t hear a word of my heart-felt speech.)
Either way, I knew we’d have to have this conversation again.
A Solution Without a Talk
We still haven’t *really* had the full talk that should have stemmed from what I tried to tell her in the car. But in a short-term attempt at getting healthy—especially in the days of Corona when people who are overweight run into greater risks of complications—the whole household has
For every two hours of TV watched, we need to do one hour of activities: walking the dog, hula hooping (something she and I used to love to do together), walk up and down the stairs, jump rope, practice Kung Fu in the basement, go to the gym (if safe), take a run, etc.
Ditch the Junk
Junk food is not readily accessible. And where we have it, we’ve posted notes that outline how much exercise it takes to offset various this particular junk food. It’s a lot easier to bypass that mug cake when you know it requires 55 minutes of Zumba to burn off those calories. Ug, Zumba is the WORST.
Stay on Track
Schedules matter. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are required as “real” meals and they will contain “real” foods – nothing where your only cooking options are the microwave. There will be no mindless snacking all day or skipping a meal and doubling up on the next.
At some point, I will have *THAT* conversation with her. The one hard one I’m avoiding but that hopefully helps her understand that even in our enlightened era, people are still @##holes. They’ll still make fat jokes and dismiss you based on how you look. That conversation that reminds her that, as a teenager, her metabolism is the BEST it will ever be, so getting into terrible eating habits now will result in a future of potential obesity and diabetes, high cholesterol, or other health problems.
I know the Quarantine 15 is a thing that people laugh about. But, when it comes to your 15-year-old and the Quarantine 15, it’s no laughing matter. No matter how much she fights me… No matter how many of the things she looked forward to that fell through… No matter how completely disappointed with the world she is—and with me (because any mom with a teenager can tell you, no matter what is wrong with the world, it’s somehow mom’s fault) I’m trying not to give in and be a marshmallow mom. Meanwhile at the same time, all I want to do is hunker down in bed and hide from everything going on in the world with an actual bag of marshmallows. Any advice from other parents who have dealt with similar situations is very welcome, so please weigh in.
A full-time copywriter, Lilly Winters lives outside Washington, D.C. in a house full of animals—which include her husband and teenager. Under a different name, she’s written a book of short stories, a Young Adult novel, and was most recently published in Gravity Dancers. Lilly Winters isn’t posting her real picture because it’s possible she is currently wanted by the Mexican drug cartel. It’s also possible she watches too much Ozark.