This one’s an oldie but a goodie. I hope you enjoy!
My kids are little toothpicks. Skinny, all lean limbed with very little body fat on them. I don’t like it. I wish they were, I don’t know. Meatier? Chubbier? When they get sick, they quickly lose what little weight they already have and fall into the 0-5 percentile on the charts that they show you at the Doctor’s office.
Those charts are a little silly, don’t you think? A child’s height and weight is going to be some indicator of health, but you can’t abide too much by those charts. I mean, they are comparing my little children to the rest of the American population. Since my background is Indian and my husband’s is Italian and Puerto Rican, it would be much more accurate if they compared my kids to other kids who are:
1/4 Puerto Rican
But that’s hard to do. And since America is a melting pot of cultures, we are a melting pot of genetic makeup as well.
A lot of times my kids aren’t even on the chart.
“Zero Percent?” I ask at the Doctor’s office. “What the hell does that even mean?” Can you even exist at 0%? Do they have a negative scale, like -5 – 0%, -10 to -5%? I mean, WTF? How do you categorize all the 0% kids? (These are the questions that keep me up at night, apparently).
We do feed them. I promise. If anything we try to give them fattier foods to put some meat on the bones. The net result of that is that John, me and Heather, our Au Pair, all gain weight while the kids stubbornly hold their positions at their 0 – 10% mark.
I try not to worry about it. I mean, they are healthy kids. Just little.
John gets freaked out about it more than me. I try to remind him of what both of us looked like in our childhood pictures. Not that different from our kids in that way.
Gangly, stick figured like. You could see my ribs till I was about ten. I had teeth that were too big for my face, until I was about 20. Then I remind John about his mullet, which has nothing to do with being skinny, but it’s still important that we humiliate each other about these things.
Seeing how freaked out John gets reminds me of how concerned my own parents used to be about it when I was younger.
“Yeh kitni skinny hai?” (She is so skinny!) an auntie would say while literally squeezing what flesh I had off of my cheekbones, shaking my head from side to side. “Khahti he?” (Does this little punk eat?)
“Ha, lekin kya karenge? Khaathi hai nahin, na? Oos par bhi, zero percent mai hai!” (Yes, but what are we going to do? Bitch never eats. She’s in the zero percent.)
“Arey, zero percent hai bhi? Kaise, kya baat?” (What, they have a zero percent? I always wondered what they did to those little bastards!)
My parents would take me to the doctors. They were sure something was wrong with me. My pediatrician, Doctor Rahill, who oddly reminded me of a mix of Mr. Rogers and Steve Winwood, would tell them again and again that I was fine.
Finally, Dr. Rahill just broke down under the weight of my parents’ constant concerns over my weight and their good for nothing visits. I always got the feeling that he wanted to shake them and say, “I mean hello, there are starving children in India!” Instead, he suggested that my mother just give me the most fattening foods we had on hand. And basically to give me what I wanted to eat.
“But aahll she vaunts to eat is potahto chip and ice cur-ream. Vhat ca-an I do?” My mom asked.
“I like bacon. And pepperoni,” I volunteered, quietly from the examination table.
“VHAT?” my mom asked.
“Bacon. Pepperoni. I love that,” I said, piping up this time. My mother was giving me “the look.” But I didn’t care.
In unison, both Dr. Rahill and my mother spoke.
“That’s great! Bacon and pepperoni will put some meat on her bones,” said Dr. Rahill, happy with the solution. I think he even gave my mom a prescription that said, bacon.
“Ay, hey Raam! Hey Raam!” (Oh, my lord Raam. How did you give me this child of the demon, Raavana?) my mother said with her hands on her forehead, shaking her head in disbelief.
My parents do NOT eat beef. They do NOT eat pork. My parents think that eating pigs is like, the grossest idea in the world. Because pigs will eat everything. And so if you eat a pig, you are eating everything. I mean, there is an accepted analogy that is used in popular culture that even talks about pigs in conjunction with shit. Examples are:
“Kate was like a pig in shit when she got those tickets to see Neil Diamond!”
“Brad was like a pig in shit when his “Penthouse Magazine” got delivered earlier than expected!”
It’s so gross for them, that it’s like how I imagine I would feel if someone told me I had to eat horse meat. Or my neighbors’ little kitty cat down the street. Or watch “Full House” reruns all day.
A little like N to the O.
Hell to the NO.
So here is my mom, with basically a prescription to just let me eat shit, like literally, SHIT, in her mind. She went to Food-Town, dragging me by the arm and muttering under her breath, where she threw a few packs of bacon into the cart. She threw in a stick of pepperoni for good measure. I’m surprised she didn’t throw it at my head, to be honest. When touching these packets, she did it gingerly with her fingers, as if to minimize contamination. She then went to the drugstore and bought those face masks. You know, they kind you might wear in a hospital, while painting, protecting yourself from disease.
OR about to serve shit to your kids.
It was like she was packing to go to war. A soldier. Armed only with some packs of Smithfield brand cured meats.
We got home and the first thing she did was open ALL the windows. She turned on the attic fan. She put on her mask and brand new plastic gloves and was finally prepared.
This was turning out to be quite the operation.
With the exhaust fan running on the stove, my masked mother made me a whole pack of bacon. She never cooked bacon so she didn’t know what it was supposed to look like, but I remember it being really burnt. She also didn’t know what a serving was, so she made me a whole pack in one sitting. The smell was noxious to her. “Oh Gawd” she muttered over and over again, slightly muffled through the mask, as I joyfully inhaled the sweetest scent of burning fat.
And so I sat at that table, in heaven. Eating a plate full of bacon that was burnt beyond recognition. Sitting in the small kitchen of my childhood home in the freezing cold. Like a pig in shit, I couldn’t have been happier.
I will never forget the taste of that bacon.
Parents make sacrifices for their kids every day. In that moment, on that day, I never really considered how challenging it might have been for my mother to do those things to make me happy. There are moments when I parent now that a memory will strike me from out of the blue and I will think to myself, “Did I even say ‘thank you?'” As a sometimes overly angst-ridden individual, I seem to remember the times my parents and I have been at odds with each other, and I focus on those.
But in these other things? These memories that go beyond money, ceremonies, celebrations or accomplishments?
There is a richness in them that I sometimes forget.
But one blast of the smell of bacon, even today, 30 years later, and I am right back there. At that table. Goosebumps on my arms.
Saying thank you.
“I don’t know what it is about food your mother makes for you, especially when it’s something that anyone can make – pancakes, meat loaf, tuna salad – but it carries a certain taste of memory.” – Mitch Albom