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Who's That Girl?

As I listened to my daughter singing with a friend in her room the other day, I couldn’t help popping my head in and smiling. Of course I got the eye roll and the “Mom! Please!” but as I ducked out, I suddenly flashed back to one of my own such moments.

I was in fifth grade, playing at my friend Katie’s house. We were eating bananas with peanut butter and singing “Truly Scrumptious” from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. In the middle of the refrain, the peanut butter jar got knocked to the floor and shattered into a million pieces—all of which stuck to the peanut butter. Katie and I laughed until we cried.

I shared the story with my daughter and to my surprise, I again laughed until I cried. The memory—the emotion behind the memory—is that powerful still. I emailed Katie about it, because we’re still friends, and she said she’d recently been thinking the same thing. It’s amazing to think our children are having experiences now that could be this vivid after four decades.

This compelled me to delve a little deeper into my fifth-grade memories, mainly because it made me realize that I have them; my life before then reappears in snapshots occasionally, but nothing more. Fifth grade, for some reason, I remember. It was when I made my first lifelong friend, my first intentional attempt at humor in class (in a vote, I chose to “recline”), and my first serious attempts at writing.

And it matters, because until now, with little clear memory of my earlier childhood, mothering has been instinctive. From here on out, it’s going to be tinged more with experience: How did I feel back then? What was important to the 10-year-old me? Is my girl feeling the way I did, or is she completely different?

As I ask myself those questions, I can’t help but hope that she is completely different, because when I was my daughter’s age, I also had my first bout with anorexia.

I remember some parts of it so clearly. We used to get weighed in school every year in those days, and in fifth grade my best friend weighed five pounds less than me. I don’t remember the first decade of my life, but I remember those five pounds. I weighed 74 and she weighed 69. And that was all it took. I began to starve myself with the hope that no one would notice, although of course they did.

I remember eating a candy bar during that time, and then going outside and running around the house for an hour. When I came in, my brother asked simply, “Wouldn’t it have been easier to not eat the candy bar?” In my head, clearly, it was not that simple. It was the first of many years of body image issues, with which I continue to struggle, and with which my mother was unable to help me, despite her best efforts.

I watch my daughter growing up, developing her own style, adopting her own way of doing things, pushing her boundaries (as well as my buttons), and begin to see how my mother must have struggled when I was that age. How do I keep her strong? How do I help her maintain a sense of belief in herself—one so strong now that it can be irritating at times but will help ensure her happiness in the future?

I keep coming back to the same answer, one that my own mom probably realized years ago. I can’t do those things for her. She has to be able to do them for herself. What I can do is give her unconditional love and support. I can help her develop healthy eating and exercise habits so that they’re simply a part of her life. I can be there if she starts questioning her body type, her looks or her abilities, because I’ve been there before. This time, I might be able to help.

I can’t make my girl’s life pain-free, nor would I if I could. That’s not real life. My wish for her is that when she’s my age, she has at least one “Truly Scrumptious” moment to remind her that even in the midst of real life, there was—is—still joy. Because some things are just worth remembering.

Maggie Lamond Simone is an award-winning writer and mother of two living in Baldwinsville. Reach her at maggiesimone@verizon.net.

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