Last time we were in Italy Camila had just turned one.
In Italy fat on children is proudly interpreted as a display of health. Camila didn’t pass the test then nor this time around when I returned for a month long visit.
In sight of this visit, my mum was very anxious to inflate Camila to a reassuring standard of chubbiness, see her granddaughter explode in fulfilling adipose tissue and witness multiple chins and sumo wrestler thighs appearing on her 22 months old body under her gluttonous cooking, before waving her bye bye again.
But it didn’t happen. Camila is a real fussy eater who would aristocratically touch the food presented to her to determine if its consistency feels right, she analyses its texture and colour and overall appearance before -9 times out of 10- refusing it. And she does so with a lovely lady like gentle push of the offering hand as if to say “you have it”. And reacts to repeated offerings with a vehement head shake and a string of no’s.
Ever since, my mum always asks me “How’s Camila? Is she eating?” and almost fainted when she learnt Camila’s weight was still below 10 kilos! She thinks, quite openly, that I am doing it all wrong and I should be reported to social services for my care free attitude towards my daughter’s eating disorder!
Weight has never been my concern, nor her overall well being which she shows through her vitality, energy and happiness. I was simply puzzled by her reluctance to try food. And remained a firm believer of not forcing it to her, like not forcing anything she shows no interest in (like reading books!).
With all the worries and anxieties that motherhood brought along, it never occurred to me that my daughter could be a fussy eater. I considered and prepared myself to having to deal with an array of stressful circumstances like having a super clingy baby, or one who’s repeatedly sick, I feared accidents, tantrums, constipation, diaper rashes, hyperactivity, sleep problems. But eating? No way.
I love to eat, I love to cook. “I can make so many different tasty things, Camila would love to explore all the different flavours and textures”, I thought to myself. “She’ll love healthy food and will beg me to give her more broccoli!” And here I am instead, with a little princess who seems to live off air and raisins.
When surrounded by friends with similar age children who stuff their mouths with whatever is offered to them, my confidence would shake.
There have been times when at someone’s house for dinner they’d ask “so, what shall I make for Camila?” and I felt embarrassed to reply “ahem..don’t worry. Maybe this time she’d go for a piece of bread?”
Let alone the rage when people would start comparing their children to mine with comments like “…when Sara was two she’d eat a whole boar with a plate of potatoes!!”
I’d alternate periods of just trying everything, to periods of saying whatever, you don’t wanna eat?? suit yourself! And then comes the surge of guilt and wonders if I am making it worse for not pushing her, and what if she is missing out on vital nutrients?
But then I found the strength in me to stop letting all those unsolicited comments and scaremongering preaching suffocate my intuition. I knew Camila was fine, every child is different. She’ll eat when she’s hungry. It’s just a phase.
The Irish grandmother once wisely said to me: eating will become an issue only if you make it so.
And it’s so true.
Once I stopped caring whether she ate or not, and stopped getting annoyed if she wouldn’t eat, everything became more relaxed.
And although she’s still not eating a whole boar with a plate of potatoes, she had started to accept more food, quite a small repertoire still, but she eats at every meal and even wakes up in the morning and after her afternoon nap demanding food!
Upon our return in Ecuador I put Camila on a scale and checked her weight. She was 10.1Kg!!
When I told my mum, she wasn’t as excited as I imagined her to be. She told me that I shouldn’t worry, and that when she sees pictures of African children starving on charities adverts, she thinks of Camila and she knows she’ll make it.