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The Skinny

I avoid social media for the simple fact that I don’t want my kids smeared all over the internet before they have a choice in the matter. When they’re eighteen they can post pictures of themselves naked covered in body paint. When they’re three, those images remain in the family collection.

So it’s with some hesitation that I talk about Otis’s (4.5) weight here. It doesn’t seem fair that something we don’t talk honestly to him about should be shared with the untold strangers that troll this blog for a handsome and earnest picture of fatherhood. (Who are you people? Are you people? Hi!) This struggle, which began not long after the boy was born, has been ours to hold in private.

But in the effort of painting a picture that’s as accurate in both highlight and shadow, I tell you that since Otis has been five months old, there have been concerns with his tiny appetite and low weight. Our second child holds down the bottom of his growth curve as well, but Otis gives the thing a little twist with a worrisome poop schedule. As an infant, he’d go two weeks between movements. Two weeks. There was no foreshadowing. It just started happening.

His pediatrician was unconcerned. “He’s using everything you give him,” we were told. “There’s not much left over.” Prune juice was recommended and became his first food. A little ghee on the nipple of the bottle. It was weird, but seemed like a blip that would get sorted out.

To some degree, it did. The two week digestion period lasted a short while. The span shortened, but never become “normal.” His intake remained light, his digestion sluggish. We sought the second opinion of a renowned and beloved pediatrician whose concern was also minimal. “Don’t listen to the curves. Listen to me,” he said. “Be thankful he’s thin and not overweight. It’s much healthier.”

After such reassurance, we’d return to life and not worry. Little would change, Otis would continue to starve himself and slowly Elizabeth’s intuition that something wasn’t right would get too loud to ignore.

Specialists were called in. The nutritionist was the worst. After assessing what we fed him, she determined he needed more calories and suggested McDonalds Chicken McNuggets. A nutritionist from the hospital prescribed McDonalds. (Though not vegetarian, we are the “Eat Fresh & Local” hippie types you see wandering through farmers markets.)

The eating behaviorist had some interesting ideas. Our Waldorf community was supportive. The naturopath was helpful. We’ve tried homeopathics, probiotics, dried fruits, scheduled potty sits, tinctures, chicory bitters, helping with food preparation, staged meals, special plates, special foods, special introduction of special foods and on and on.

This recent illness was hard on my boy’s little body. He went from being small to looking seriously tiny. Unhealthy tiny. Nothing to his arms and legs, shoulder bones popping out, snaking vertebrae down the back. It looked close to what you’d see in a UNICEF ad, only here, where the fridge overflows with the most organic whole foods money can buy (and children can refuse).

We fell victim to worry again and took the boy to see our most recent witch doctor, a Doctor of Osteopathic and Anthroposophical Medicine. (I told you: we’re hippies.) He again reassured us that the slim kids are at their slimmest between ages 4-7 and that both illness and winter will have their numbers down. We talked about more chores as appetite stimulation, rhythmic play (jump rope, e.g.) for bowel regularity and a new slate of homeopathics.

Since recovering from last week’s flu and cold, Otis has been sweeter than sweet. He’s suddenly full of kisses for his brother, cuddles for us, spirited and independent play, and lusty renditions of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles theme song. Life has returned to the boy, the spark is back in him. He’s still small, he’s still slim. He is who he is, and he’s happy. The doctors can talk until they’re blue in the gills. Seeing that spark take hold in the boy, seeing the fire back — that’s the only reassurance there is.

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