Today I spent a good deal of time with my middle daughter Hannah.
It’s not that I avoid contact with my middle child, that would be silly. I’m a middle kid…so was my Dad. It’s not that I avoid time with any of my children. The horribly accurate fact of the matter is that I have a finite amount of time and I have four children. Period. Now, you may chastise me for having so many kids to which I’d reply that it’s really not your place to judge. We had our children and the idea was that we’d care for them together.
But that wasn’t to be. I wish that I had all the time in the world, even the time to do every tiny detail with them. Instead I balance what time I do have between the four of them and most days I don’t do that very well.
The thing that touched me incredibly this weekend, though, was the fact that she shared with me something I knew was bothering her.
Hannah is built just like her mother but looks like her father. Those aren’t bad things, she’s gotten a lot of the best parts of the two of us. She has my hair, which is thick and dark. I always struggled with it, but I’m a guy. Every girl and woman I know is jealous of Hannah’s hair even though she, herself, takes little or no care of it.
But Middle School is an awkward time for even the most popular and beautiful of people. For a girl who is already 5 foot 8 and carrying her mother’s bone structure I think it’s more of a struggle than Hannah lets on, most of the time.
Please, before I go farther, don’t take this to mean I harp on this poor girl for her weight, her appearance or her demeanor. She was closest of all the kids to her Mom. She was a kindred spirit to her, which means she is a lot like me and therefore harder for me to keep my calm and not get frustrated. I’ve made her mistakes and don’t want her to make them, too. The hardest thing in the world for me is to be quiet and let her make them. Which I do, most of the time.
But this weekend saw her want two things: to start exercising with me; to lose weight. Neither is a bad thing, but her reasons were veiled, even though I could see through the fabric.
“I don’t want to look like this for my Middle School Graduation,” she told me. She wanted to get on my weight loss regimen, which is less regimen and more trying to eat less and exercise a little. I’ve also started using protein shakes for weight loss replacing a lunch meal. Hannah wanted to do the shakes.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea, Hannah,” was my response.
But Hannah wasn’t deterred yet. She told me her weight, which I won’t pass along, that’s not for you to know. But she said it was too much for someone her age, and she’s not wrong.
“That kind of weight loss program for a thirteen-year-old, though, Hannah just isn’t right.”
“But Dad, I shouldn’t weigh that much!”
I had to tell her the truth at this point.
“Hannah, your Mom, your uncle, even your sister gained weight in middle school. Unfortunately, you have the genetics. But look at your uncle, look at your sister . . . none of them are suffering from it now.”
“But Mom was overweight.”
“Yes, Hannah, she was and I have to be honest you’ll struggle with that your whole life. But bear in mind, Hannah, I was 60 pounds heavier two years ago. I’m still 15 overweight, but here’s what you need . . . you just need to move. Don’t come home and plop in your room and sit and listen to music. Go outside, go for a walk, do things. You can listen and move. Movement alone makes your heart pump. And you need to watch your portions. When you ask if you can have more dinner portions, think about whether you’re full or just want to eat more. I give you a decent portion size. Maybe stick with that.”
She still wanted to do the shakes.
“Hannah, your lunches are healthy. I give you a sandwich, a homemade treat, and most the time an apple or banana. You aren’t getting too many calories.”
She looked at the floor.
“Hannah you’re not in trouble and you’re really beautiful. You just need to wear more flattering clothes and take care of yourself. Trim your hair, wash up, learn to hold yourself . . . nobody will know otherwise then.”
So today her sister took her out for new clothes . . . clothes that aren’t shorts and a t-shirt . . . and she looks beautiful. She smiled from ear-to-ear and wouldn’t take off the new sweater and pants I’d paid for.
I was happy. More importantly, so was she.
She’s walking in her Mom’s shoes now, but I walked in hers for a bit. . . and took her for a walk. She realized she needed to be in better shape, but is going to walk each day – just a little.
My daughter suffers from what every kid her age does – being a pubescent middle-schooler. None of us, except maybe Brad Pitt, looked good at 13. But she does. She just doesn’t think so . . . and that’s okay. Because I know, whatever differences we have, I see the beauty of her Mom and her relatives in her.
I’ve walked in her shoes.