Friday, July 22, 2011

Recently at the Grocery Store

The other day, I was standing in line at the grocery store to pay for my food order. At a certain point, I heard some serious wailing coming from another register nearby.

Right away, the mother in me kicked in. "How old is the baby?" I wondered. The screaming continued.

My order bagged and ready to go, I proceeded to push my cart down the aisle and looked over surreptitiously to get a good luck at the little screamer. Just as I thought, the child was about 18 months to 2 years old. She was twisting around in great distress in her stroller, clearly dying to get the heck out of that horrible contraption. Maybe she was hot (yes, the weather here is just broiling), despite the air conditioning. Maybe she was hungry. Maybe she was tired. That wraps up most of the reasons a child that age would be screaming in her stroller.

Just as I walked by, I heard her mother say something like "there, that better?" in a very matter-of-fact way. The kid continued to scream. Curious, I again shot a quick glance over at the child. She was now holding a chocolate bar, which was still wrapped up tight.

"Horrors!" thought I. And then I immediately looked at the mother, my subconscious expecting to see the quintessential fat, slovenly mother who is pushing her little girl into morbid obesity. Come on, didn't you think the same thing?

Well, of course, the truth was quite different. The little girl's mom was a slender woman, probably in her early thirties, wearing a lovely summer dress. She looked fairly well off.

Oh, the assumptions we make...


  1. So many things to think about here, in this simple scenario. The presumption that the mother was overweight/obsese. The relationship we form in our minds between chocolate and being overweight/obese. Using food to quell unhappiness or discomfort. The responsibility of parents to teach good eating habits. The failure of parents to teach good eating habits.

    Interestingly, the mother didn't open the wrapper and actually give the chocolate to the child. Maybe they shared it in the car!

    The lesson I'm taking away from this?

    Do not fear the chocolate bar.

  2. I really liked your response. Yes, indeed, the scenario provides lots of food for thought!

  3. Never fear the chocolate bar, only the baggage we find that comes with it. :)

  4. Funny, the chocolate part didn't even strike me. But using food to quiet the child did. Then I realized--of course that's what we do as mothers. Feeding a child who is crying is not simply feeding them to settle their emotions. The "emotion" might very well be hunger, making it perfectly appropriate to nourish the child. Would we have thought differently had she nursed the child? Before children can speak and communicate, we aways assume that hunger (or a messy diaper) is the main reason for distress. And so we feed them.

  5. I don' tlike the idea of feeding a kid to shut it up, irregardless of the mother's weight. Unless that was what the child wanted all along. But apparently not. I have seen plenty of skinny chicks with fat kids. I was a fat mom with thin kids. Number 1 lesson I had decided to not impart to my children. CLEAN YOUR PLATE. number 2....I never uttered the words 'eat till your full'.... i SAID Eat till you are comfortable. Nor did I insist they eat three meals a day....they graze. Nor did I make them eat what I made....I think we eat correctly till someone messes us up and gives us a complex about food.

  6. Eating, especially when the food is highly palatable and culturally constructed as a "treat", imbued almost with magical properties (if you're a kid and watch any t.v. at all), is a way to feel better. All kinds of mothers give their children food to help them feel better (less hungry, loved, cared for, heard, noticed, etc). Sometimes what the child needs most is a demonstration of undivided and unconditional love in the form of TIME and attention and affection (hugs, listening, and so forth). Many times that kind of demonstration to a child is not possible for practical reasons. Mothers must multi task even the role of mothering. It is all so complex. Sometimes a bit of chocolate is enough, and not problematic, and in fact very sweet. Yet sometimes chocolate is not an appropriate substitute, sometimes anything more than a bit of food, however, becomes almost impossible to provide, especially if the child already has experience which shows how good eating can make you feel, and how quickly that can happen. And especially when mothers have limited options--some MUCH more limited than others. We can remain aware of these complexities and show compassion and empathy for each other--to continue acknowledging how very hard it is to be a mother (even under ideal conditions, which are extremely rare) and also to SEE the hardships of children.