What you need to know:
- My son turned six a few weeks ago, and his body has never gained noticeable weight.
- To this day I am yet to fully wrap my mind around why he was expected to be fatter than he is.
I had just set my then one-year-old son on a floor mat to play with his toys when one of my aunts walked into our compound.
“Irisimba,” she started, “this is not Milan’s body. He needs to be fatter than this; why are you underfeeding him?”
I gazed at my son to see if he had bloodshot eyes, weak limbs, pale skin, bones popping out of his skin, or anything that could have pointed to malnutrition. There was none.
My aunt’s question had caught me by surprise because, to the best of my knowledge, I was feeding him on the best possible diet.
That I had fired the house help months earlier meant I was fully in control of his feeding, otherwise, I would have toyed with the assumption that she was not taking good care of him when I was away.
“If food has become too expensive in Nairobi tell us to be sending you some from the farm,” she continued.
I may have been a novice at parenting those days, but had been a good student of both Home Science and Biology, to add on the tons of research I did online regarding baby nourishment.
I had learnt how to mix foods rich in proteins, vitamins, carbohydrates and minerals, then mash them into a fluid paste for him to eat. I would stash the paste into his mouth periodically until I could tell he was full, and the good thing about him was that he had an appetite.
If anything, I was overfeeding him, and hospital scales confirmed impressive gains in his weight whenever we went for immunisation.
Somehow, someone was worried that since my baby did not have cheeks that overflowed out of his face, nor limbs so thick you couldn’t see the joints, the boy was malnourished.
The one showing concern was a sister to one of my parents, so you can tell we are of the same gene-pool in a lineage that is not exactly endowed with weight. I am slender. My wife, Brenda, is petite, like her mother. My mum is not fat, and my late dad had remained slim even when he got some money to pacify his years of toil. Ours is a lineage of slim people.
As I sat there trying to come up with an answer that would get her out of my hair, I wondered why we Africans believe that a chubby baby is healthy while one who is slim is malnourished.
It is the same way we grew up convinced that men with pot bellies are rich, and those without are still struggling financially.
I remembered how a different aunt told me on my wedding day that marriage would ‘give me a body’ since I now had someone to ‘feed’ me. It has been a decade of marriage and I have not put on considerable body mass, yet I have enough food.
“He is fine,” I objected, amazed that someone who did not see my baby often knew what his correct body size should be.
The discussion did not go far, but I was to learn she was serious when a package was delivered to me that evening. Inside was a 5kg sack of ground millet flour, pumpkins, vegetables and sweet bananas.
The instructions were that the flour was for his daily jug of porridge in the morning, the pumpkins and vegetables would be mashed into a snack that followed the porridge before topping up with the sweet bananas.
The food was also accompanied by an ultimatum; that next time I went back to Vihiga I should have a fat baby with me.
My son turned six a few weeks ago, and his body has never gained noticeable weight. He is not sickly, he is dewormed, and he still eats well, but to this day I am yet to fully wrap my mind around why he was expected to be fatter than he is.
Hillary has raised his son on his own from the time he was six months. firstname.lastname@example.org