The Unexpected Conversations

I’ve been obsessed for a week solid and think blogging might help.

I’ve written about my oldest daughter before.  She really is a gem (ok, they both are, but this one deals with her.).  In the past 10 days, she and I have learned that her best (new) friend has anorexia.  It’s had me pretty shaken since I learned of it.  Yes, I’m immediately thankful it’s not my daughter.   I am atwitter because it’s so close.  And because they are so young. And because this young lady is the first real friend my Olivia connected to who is a girl. She has lots of friends. Her longest, oldest friends are boys.  This young lady is the first girl she could identify with — she is athletic, she hates dresses, her parents have pretty tight rules, she’s book-smart.

Over the past few weeks her mother had mentioned to me that their daughter seemed to be obsessed with food. Wondered if Olivia was too.  She and her husband worried about her losing muscle mass.  At the time, I was still thinking she was a bit health-over-conscious.

Anyway, it all came to a head on the weekend of Olivia’s 11th birthday. Yes, these girls are E.L.E.V.E.N years old.  Her friend came over for Olivia’s birthday and watched me cook dinner. She was interested. Admired my carrots. I offered her an apple for a snack. She asked if my refried beans were the no-fat kind her parents buy. I lied and said “yes”.  She called her mom before dinner because she had a headache and wanted to go home. Unsuccessfully. I knew it was because the prospect of eating dinner with her classmates was too much on top of a long day at school where she had to skip the chocolate covered strawberries Olivia brought in to share with her class for her birthday, and lunch, where she routinely skipped most of her home-packed lunch.

While Olivia and two other classmates tore through three made-to-order tacos each, Olivia’s startlingly skinny friend ate a dollop of refried beans and some lettuce. No milk. No brownie. Then she talked about how much she likes english muffins — the whole wheat kind. She tried to engage her friends on the subject of beans and brown rice as the perfect protein. The others acknowledged her, but over a “please pass the cheese” and a reach.

The friend would not play soccer as she usually does. She stood in the middle of the back yard while the others played and laughed and kicked.  And this is HER sport.

The next day, while watching sports on television with Olivia, the commentator spoke of how the figure skater was competing again after two years off battling Anorexia. Then Olivia said “That’s what ___ has”.

I tried not to panic.

I played it cool.

I asked a few questions, but not too many.

But now we have a regular dialog on the subject. Fortunately, the friend is getting counseling with her family.  Unfortunately, she does not seem to be on the upswing yet, and yesterday missed a soccer game because of the family’s rule that she must meet the doctor’s weight target or no soccer. So yesterday was the first – of what I suspect will be many – missed soccers.

But now I am hypervigilant.

And Olivia is getting frustrated.

She said she wishes she could talk to her friend’s brain. To tell her to eat.

I know my girl. She is strong. She is healthy. She is courageous.  She will want to help “fix” her friend and she will get frustrated when the efforts fail.

But she is also intensely loyal, and so I think she will want to stick by her friend and do what she can.

Meanwhile, I have tried to find a fiction book that involves a friendship between girls when one of them gets an eating disorder.  But I can’t find one that doesn’t deal with the grisly details of bulimia, or imply something tragic that has happened at home — death of a parent, incest, or involves older teen topics of sexuality, attracting boys, etc.

Remember, my daughter is 11. She is in the fifth grade. She is a sports girl.  Boys are still her friends. I don’t want to frighten her with topics that are not age appropriate.

And so, perhaps for the best, we just talk. We talk about anorexia. We talk about being friends. About not being able to fix her friend. About how this can take a long time to change.  About staying healthy herself. About showing her you can drink milk, eat a peanut butter sandwich, a kiwi and a brownie and still be a great, healthy, happy kid.

As the subject seems to come up daily now, we’re working up to “why” this happens.

I realize as I have this precious time with my newly 11-year old, how special my kid is.  I am trying to protect her from the pain of watching a friend withdraw, as she might, and to help my daughter to remain the strong, wise, courageous and loyal friend that she is. So that she might emerge from this unexpected education even stronger.

Truthfully, I am scared. Scared for my daughter — for having to face these trials so young in life. Scared for her friend. Scared for my friends, her parents.  Trying not to show it, I do want to hug Olivia just a little bit longer and a little bit tighter. To protect her just a little bit better.

4 responses to “The Unexpected Conversations

  1. That is so incredibly sad. I am recovering from anorexia myself, however I’m a fully grown adult and cannot imagine how devastating it must be to see a young child suffer like that.

    Your daughter sounds very mature in the way she has handled this, I agree that she will be a stronger person for it and the fact she is able to talk openly with you about the struggles her friend has is a good sign. Another good sign is the fact she can see her friends way of eating is in no way normal, and it is painful. No child should have to see a friend go through that. I hate that children of such a young age are consumed by such a horrible thing, they should be out playing football with their mates and eating all the brownies they can get their hands on. I wish your daughter and her friend well.

  2. I have a copy of LHA’s Wintergirls. I can send it to you, if you’d like. It does have some scary scenes, through the eyes of an eleven-year-old girl, but they’re the kind that make startlingly clear the consequences of anorexia.

    Even if you don’t find the book’s appropriate for your daughter, it’s a powerful read, and one that might help shape your discussions on the subject.

    Oh, how this post breaks my heart.

    • Thank you. I’ve seen Wintergirls in my quest to find something age appropriate, but I hadn’t thought to read it for ways to fuel my conversations. I’m sure I can pick it up at the local public library. I will do so with the plan to better understand and help my daughter to understand, too.

  3. This is such an important topic and a tough one to balance for teens and parents who need to talk to their girls, especially about image and hunger and eating healthy .. I had a few friends struggle with it when I was a young girl. And as my own daughter just starts to hit her stride heading gleefully toward puberty, it is a topic while fielding questions about bras, tampons, moodiness and so many other things I never would have ventured to talk about with my own mother .. anorexia is one I hadn’t thought to process yet. Thank you for sharing your thoughts ..

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