It was a picture-perfect autumn Saturday. I was walking hand in hand with my daughter, Bea, on a quiet downtown block dotted with cute boutiques and trendy restaurants. Suddenly, something in a store window stopped me dead in my tracks.
“Oh, my God,” I muttered breathlessly.
Following my gaze, Bea squeezed my hand tight. We stood still for a minute, taking in the sight before us: row upon row of pastel-hued, buttercream-frosted, expertly decorated cupcakes. Some had cute little flower appliqués. Others bore a playful smattering of sprinkles. They were beautiful.
“Can I have one?” Bea asked.
“No,” I answered quickly. A mother’s reflex, based on any number of ingrained, “good” parenting tenets: setting limits, the avoidance of sugary processed foods and protecting her appetite for dinner among them.
“Share one?” she ventured.
Well played, Bea. With those words, she had turned a kid’s innocent request into an opportunity for mother/daughter bonding. A chance to connect over our shared love of—obsession with—the indisputably empty calories of cupcakes. Once I was cut in on the deal, I saw the value of the proposition. I grinned at her, and we giddily went inside.
We feasted our eyes on the contents of the display case. Chocolate frosted, red velvet or classic vanilla? I didn’t even have to ask. Classic vanilla, obviously. Where cupcakes are concerned, Bea and I are invariably on the same page, and vanilla is our shared favorite. I bought one.
I took the cupcake from the woman behind the counter, and handed it down to Bea for the first bite. Her big brown eyes widened, and her lips parted in an expectant smile, revealing a prominently missing front tooth. I watched the crumbs collect on her lips as her teeth sank into the thick layer of frosting, and down through the fluffy wall of cake.
My turn: I closed my eyes for a second, savoring the flavor of the delectable treat but more so the exquisite pleasure of spending time with this delightful child. At nearly seven years old, she still thought most of my stupid jokes were funny, and the unselfconscious abandon with which she emitted her hearty laugh made me try all the harder to provoke it. At nearly seven years old, she still generously shared what was on her mind, and I never knew what amazing, hilarious, fascinating thing she might say next. At nearly seven years old, Bea was so easy to please. Why would I begrudge her this simple delight?
If passersby had looked into that cupcake shop window, they would have seen a gleeful little girl enjoying a sweet bite of childhood and a mother happily aglow in the small experience.
If they had children themselves, they might have recognized the kind of ineffable, joyful moment that makes parenting so special.
But our idyll was about to end.
The pediatrician walked briskly into the examining room, grabbed the folder from the pocket on the door, and looked at the chart. Bea sat on the examining table in her underwear, her arms crossed over her body.
“She’s four foot four and ninety-three pounds,” the doctor read. Like all observations she’d made about Bea’s health during the previous seven years, this one was made matter-of-factly, almost breezily. But I knew what was coming.
“I need to get some help with her weight,” I said, preempting the inevitable reprobation.
“I think it’s time,” the doctor agreed.
This was a moment I’d dreaded, and now that it had arrived, my heart sank. I’d chided myself about Bea’s eating in the months leading to this annual checkup. The pediatrician and I had discussed Bea’s escalating weight at our annual appointments for half her life. A year earlier, at the pediatrician’s urging, I’d acknowledged that the problem had gone too far, and I’d promised to deal with it.
I’d tried. I’d failed miserably. In the intervening year, my little girl’s height had increased normally, while her weight had spiked a stunning twenty-three pounds.
Bea’s weight was now equivalent to someone my height (just under five feet four inches tall) weighing 175 pounds. Her blood pressure was 124 over 80, up from 100 over 68 a year before.
There was something about seeing those numbers written into Bea’s permanent health record that triggered something primal in me. My reaction was the same as if I’d been told Bea had a potentially fatal allergy, or diabetes. Her weight pattern was no longer a simple parenting hurdle; it was a medical crisis. Something was threatening Bea’s health, and I needed to protect her. I needed to figure out how to make the change happen.
If I can look back through time and pinpoint the moment I sat up straight and buckled down, it was then. I knew that I couldn’t let my own hang-ups (more on those later), my parenting shortcomings (plenty of those), my fears of screwing Bea up (always, always), my concern about other people’s reactions (ingrained, hard to ignore), and the overwhelming difficulty of the task stand in the way of helping Bea become a happy, healthy child. I didn’t want my daughter to suffer the health hazards, the emotional pain, the social stigma of being overweight. The buck had to stop there. Even if Bea was only seven years old.
Excerpted from THE HEAVY by Dara-Lynn Weiss. Copyright © 2013 by Dara-Lynn Weiss. Excerpted by permission of Bantam, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.