The Other F Word

by Beth Markley
Originally Published: 

“It’s probably best to leave Jack alone for a little while,” I hear Colin tell his dad in the other room. “He’s in a pretty bad mood. I bugged him just a little bit and he picked me up and threw me.”

Although not encouraged, these kinds of demonstrations of Hulk-like strength are not terribly uncommon around here. Otherwise, the boys generally get along. We’ve talked to them – and will likely continue to do so ad nauseam – about the virtues of managing their actions, particularly when they’re feeling angry or frustrated or humiliated, and want to lash out.

I grew up with girls: a sister, gobs of cousins, a gaggle of girlfriends. I can’t remember everything, but I can safely say no one ever expressed herself by picking someone up and throwing them.

Girls exhibit an entirely different kind of aggression, one that comes with words that can sound kind but still cut, and with sidelong glances and maybe a sympathetic pursing of the lips. Nothing is physically broken, but plenty of damage can be done.

I personally had a finely tuned sensitivity certain subjects early on. The topics of weight and body shape were popular weapons in girl warfare, and I had friends who were stealth bombers.

My eighth grade best friend and I talked about our respective dieting techniques on a regular basis. We compared notes and weighed ourselves at each other’s homes, in the interest of “testing” the accuracy of our own scales, donning different articles of clothing and shoes to test their impact on the numbers.

I saw her just slightly raise one eyebrow as I stepped on the scale one afternoon. We watched the numbers swish back and forth, ticking like a time bomb’s warning to jump out of the way.

“Well, I’d have thought that number would look a little chubbier on someone of your height.” She said.

BOOM. Too late to jump. I was a casualty.

“Huh.” I said, trying to sound neutral.

We never talked about fitness, my little weight-obsessed friend and I. We didn’t talk about nutrition either. We talked about how many meals we thought we could skip, about different tactics to stave off hunger.

In my household today, we don’t talk about body weight or self image all that much with the boys. I get the sense that neither of them dwell overmuch on the subject.

Nor should they.

We do talk about food. We’re dealing with multiple allergies, and my desire to accommodate everyone without being a short-order cook, so the topic of what’s for dinner is a frequent one.

We’re also concerned about exercise. Their dad and I run regularly. Depending upon the season, the boys alternate between swimming and skiing and kicking a soccer ball around. We talk about foods that will keep our energy up for sports. We talk about foods that could cause lethargy or asthma attacks due to allergies.

We talk about how the boys’ tastes are changing as they mature and they should try foods they once didn’t like because they may find their palates have changed. We talk about their being picky and how it makes me crazy. We talk about what goes into chicken nuggets and how a steady diet of nothing but white, starchy stuff will ultimately result in health consequences.

We never talk about weight with the boys. Ever.

When I heard an argument building between them recently, I didn’t intervene at first. I try not to get involved as long as no one’s bloody or broken or bothering me.

This time was different.

This time someone called someone else “fatty.”

This time I realized I have my own personal Hulk issues. When Mamma Hulk comes out, it’s because someone has just called someone I love ‘fat,’ and I go from mild mannered mom to a big, green, furniture-smashing monster in the space of a nanosecond.

“You don’t call your brother FAT. You don’t freaking call ANYBODY FAT. Do you HEAR ME?”

(This isn’t verbatim. Expletives may have been uttered. It happens).

“Uh, okay, mom.” They were rather stunned by Hulk Mom. What was the deal? No one had been thrown.

Later, we were all in the car. Things were calm. A perfect time to talk about body image, and explain how Hulk Mom had appeared.

I told them about where I was in my head at their age. I talked about feeling inferior and how it shaped the way I saw the person in the mirror for the next thirty years. I talked about how long it’s taken to get to a point where I value my body for what it can do, rather than the numbers on my clothing tags.

Everything was quiet for a couple seconds.

“We don’t think we’re fat mom,” Colin said from the back seat. “That’s just something we say.”

Clearly I’d over-thought this issue. What? I have baggage.

“I’m still gonna call you a turd bucket, Colin,” Jack said with a grin. “Because sometimes you are one.”

“Go ahead,” Colin said. “I’m going to punch you right, square in the face.”

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