Ava turned 11 and the school said she needed two shots.
Before that she was weighed and measured.
The doctor came in and showed me her growth chart. She’s right on track, the red height line ticking up on her iPad. She thumped the weight line beside it. “And there’s this,” she said.
Then she went to work on Ava.
Tell me about what you eat for breakfast, the doctor asked.
Ava, perched on the squishy, paper-clad exam table, was thinking about needles. But she answered anyway. She doesn’t like breakfast, she said, but she’ll take Cinnamon Toast Crunch if offered anywhere, anytime, though it rarely is.
The questioning continued.
- Do you eat cookies with your lunch? How many?
- What kind of desserts do you eat, how often?
- Do you snack when you’re bored?
- How much screen time do you have at home?
- When the other kids are running at recess can you keep up with them?
Then she gets it. Things get real. Ava asked:
“Are you saying I’m fat?”
The bluntness surprised everyone. Myself, the doctor, her younger sister, who also was in the room.
This was the beginning, I thought. The start of a young girl’s self-esteem plunging. An eating disorder to follow.
Was she overweight? The doctor seemed to suggest she was, as did the iPad weight chart.
But what happened in that moment turned out not to be the epic juncture for my daughter’s self-worth that I imagined in the seconds her words hung in the air. Rather, it was a testament to my daughter’s kick-ass assertiveness.
This freshly turned 11-year-old didn’t cower, didn’t look to me for help. This is the daughter who landed the lead in the school play because she’s not afraid to put herself out there.
So is it any wonder she challenged the authority figure in the room to stop with the reproachful questions and GET TO THE POINT?
Yes, what exactly are you saying, Doctor?
My youngest daughter and I swiveled in our seats to face the doctor. Ava’s paper seat crinkled beneath her as she, too, faced the doctor.
The doctor drew herself to full height and delivered a ready-made response:
“It doesn’t matter what the number on the scale says, only that you eat a healthy variety of foods.”
My daughter sighed.
Relieved. But also wary because if “variety” was what the doctor ordered, that might mean less of her favorite, daily food — peanut butter and jelly.
And, too, there was the matter of the shots. Her real concern.
Only, it wasn’t OK with me.
Wouldn’t it have been better if the doctor had from the beginning explained the importance of a healthy diet, rather than beat around the bush and affect a more-damaging bully mentality?
The next day, Ava found the literature the doctor gave me about the importance of eating a variety of foods while picking up dance shoes for her theater performance.
“Is this for me?” she asked.
“For us,” I clarified, wondering if Ava had lingering thoughts about the doctor’s less-than-subtle digs about her weight. “As a family.”
She glanced through it. And dropped it back on the floor of the car.
“We know all this already. Eating the colors of the rainbow and all that.
“She should have just said that.”
Yes, she should have.