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It happens to me every time we visit the pediatrician. I become a hawk. I can physically feel the transition happening, from tiny, over-smiley young woman to hawk-woman, watching any child that is plumper than Rumi with cold, calculating eyes and running my tongue over my lips (err… beak – do birds have tongues?) Then I politely turn to the mother and enquire very, very casually about the child’s age. If the baby is older than Rums by even a few days I sigh with relief (of course she’s chubbier, she had two whole days extra!) But hawk-woman quickly transforms into a panic-stricken flapping pigeon if the child in question happens to be of the same age, or in many cases even younger than my daughter. A quick pressed-lip glance at Abhi follows, who has obviously come to expect it after having known me for six years. He smiles kindly, reassuringly. At the first given opportunity, he will tell me “Trust me sweetie, the weight does not matter. Look how active she is, how happy!” “Hmmmph active!” I snort. “Active is the go-to word for every mum with a skinny or not-so-plump child.”
When Rumi is put on the weighing scale in the doctor’s office, I can feel the beads of sweat on my upper lip. As the doctor maps her progress on the growth chart I need a hanky to mop my forehead.
“Are you alright, Mrs. Purandare?” the doctor asks kindly.
“Well, her weight has only increased by 400 grams in the last three months” I blurt out desperately.
He guffaws loudly and at this moment I am convinced that we need a new pediatrician.
“When was the last time you checked your weight in grams?” he asks.
“It’s just that I can see her growth curve dropping, it was rising upward and now it has started to drop a little” I reply in what I hope is a cold and dignified voice. He smiles again.
“She’s just burning more calories, now that she’s more active.” Oh how I hate that word! “But if you worry about weight gain, try giving her some high-calorie foods. Potatoes, cheese, even ice-cream.” (I have never given Rumi sugar even once up till now). I smile weakly and we leave.
Next morning it is Mission-Weight-Gain-Rumi – Mission WGR , I say grimly – and Abhi shakes his head knowing that the time ahead is going to be difficult for him. I make Rumi’s kheer with extra jaggery and ghee in it. There it is, brown ragi, positively swimming in fatty goodness. Except that my baby won’t open her mouth. She’s clamped it tightly shut and not even her favorite Fluffy Chicks story is making her open it. I goad, make funny faces, sing “Old McDonald’s” – but nothing.” “Try Mission-Have-Fun-With-Rumi instead” remarks Abhi wryly as he leaves, ignoring my glare. “Maushi, jaude, tichi nehmichi bin-goad kheer aana” (“bring her regular non-sweet porridge”) I scream at the maid. Now my baby gobbles away happily and I fume away, letting my coffee grow cold.
This continues over the next couple of weeks. Rumi refuses to eat mashed potatoes with cheese, vanilla ice-cream or rawa suji. She’s happy to stick to her usual dal-rice, carrots and beetroots. I’m continually fretful and dejected. Abhiraj and Shobha Maushi tiptoe when they’re around me. Mealtimes stop being fun. It takes over an hour to chase Rumi all over the house to get her to eat a few spoons of high-calorie stuff as opposed to a bowl of varan-bhaat that she samples in 10 minutes. It has definitely stopped being fun.
At the next pediatrician’s visit I march into the office and grimly drop Rumi onto the weighing scale. Surprisingly she’s back on track with her weight. A very temporary fluctuation, as is common with all kids. Abhiraj’s sigh of relief is much louder than mine, the ordeal is over.
Now that I have no reason to be a worried, nervous wreck (only till something new comes by, but still!), I can stop to pause and think about it. Healthy is important, but when did fat become a priority for me? Especially since, as an adult I always want to lose it from various parts of my body?
I think all moms in India feel like this or rather, are MADE to feel like this. The words “chubby” and “healthy” are used interchangeably, as if they were synonyms. Aajis, Ajobas, Kakas, Kakus - the entire Brady Bunch of relatives wants to see a fat baby. “Kitttnnnaaa dubla hua re mera baccha, Allu kuch khilati nahi kya usko?” (“Look hoooowww thin my poor baby’s looking, Allu don’t you feed her properly?”) remarks my own Phuppi, every time we visit her. Her remarks always upset me and I fret the entire day about how my baby doesn’t gain weight. No amount of rationalizing helps, and I end up almost in tears wondering why my baby isn’t fat.
There are millions of other moms in the same boat. Some get defensive (Oh he’ s just become taller and he’ s sooo active!), others complain and fret about it (She just won’t eat, I don’t know what to do!) and I even know some mothers that hound doctors for a ‘tonic’ that will “increase appetite”!
I am about an inch away from doing the same myself when I chance upon this wonderful book called My Child Won’t Eat. Oh, if only I could squeeze Dr. Carlos González into a bear hug for his writings! All you worried mommies, just grab a copy and read it, read it, read it!
Dr. González doesn’t encourage making food into funny shapes for children or trying to hide vegetables or making plane noises. He believes in giving children healthy options and then leaving them to it: no coercion, no punishments for not eating, nothing. His basic philosophy when it comes to feeding your infant/child is to chill out, parents! Society pressures us to feed them sooner and more than they really need or even is good for them. A baby’s stomach is so small, it should be obvious why they might start crying halfway through their meal – they’re stuffed! Another point he makes is that the growth charts we use today do not take into account the parent’s genetics: I’m small (and was very small as a child), my husband is small (and was very small as a child), so how realistic is it for me to expect Rumi to be otherwise?
Funny and sensible, the book makes me weep with relief and laugh at myself. Abhiraj is delighted when I open the door with a maniacal grin instead of a worried frown. It’s Mission-Just-Chill I inform him. He laughs and peace prevails at B-301 Anurag Society, if only for the time being.