Out walking as a family, we got onto the topic of how fast-growing our kids now are. Flanking their mum, side by side, the youngest is now the exact same height as her, and the eldest is shooting past.
Walking ahead, my daughter turned to me. “I bet I’m going to be taller than you too,” she said.
“Well, of course,” I replied, “all kids are taller than their parents nowadays. That’s because kids are always better nourished than the generation before.”
Saying that, it seemed I’d touched on something she’s been thinking about. She decided now was the time to raise it. “That photo of you in Tanzania when you were a teenager: your cheekbones were sticking out of your face. You were sooo thin. Like a skeleton. You wore such baggy clothes. That wasn’t normal, right?”
Her question made me smile. “You’re right,” I told her.
“What was wrong with you?” she asked me.
“We’ll talk about that in a few years’ time,” I said, which seemed to satisfy her. She’s not stupid, this girl.
But it got me thinking. How come my fourteen year-old daughter could immediately see that something wasn’t right in those old photos of me, taken when I had just turned nineteen, but those around me at the time saw nothing at all?
Or perhaps they did, but they just never bothered talking to me about it. Those days were so horrendous for me. Just as she noted, I was a skeleton, so unbelievably thin. At the time, I thought I had an eating disorder — and I may well have done — but it was more fundamental than that.
Fortunately, two decades of good, home-cooked Turkish tucker has helped fatten me up, combined with an injection every three months, giving me greater strength and bulk. I feel content now that my kids call me fatso: anything to escape what I was.
In years to come, once she has grown up a bit, I may decide to tell our daughter what was wrong with me back then. Certainly, she will know more about it than my wider family ever did. Those were humiliating times. I hated the way I was.
If only somebody had thought to ask probing questions when it afflicted me so badly. If only someone had taken a good hard look at me then and asked, “That’s not normal, right?”