Living Vicariously Through my Children?

I just returned from my annual summer vacation to Waterford, Maine with my husband and three sons. We travel the distance from sc to me for 10 days of cool, sunny days on Keoka lake, a lake where my dad’s side of the family has been visiting for almost 100 years every August.

SC in August is dripping, melting hot. It’s the kind of hot that forces you to stay inside even when the sky is blue and the sunlight streams through the window, beckoning. When we arrive at the cottage, we hurry to the cool lake and jump in, grateful to be outside, free from the oppression of a southern summer.

This summer my husband invited his brother Jim and Jim’s partner John to stay with us at the lake house. Jim and John live outside of Boston, just a few hours away. They arrived late one night, and the next morning we awoke to a gray, rainy day. We had hoped to share all the best parts of the lake and take them canoeing, hiking and for a swim to Turtle Rock. However, the rain made it more of a stay inside and work on a crossword puzzle while eating soup kind of day, so I headed to the grocery store with Jim and John for soup supplies. While we wandered through the aisles of Hannaford’s, I picked up a plastic container of donut holes for my three sons and John gasped in mock disbelief as I dropped them into the cart.

“Donuts for a diabetic?” he said. I’d explained to him that morning while he cooked “Johnny Cakes” with slices of fresh fruit (blueberries, nectarines, bananas, and peaches) that I would stick to my eggs and avoid the sugar rush of his delicious but dangerous breakfast.

“There for the boys,” I said, (defensively.)

“A mother with diabetes is going to feed her kids all this sugar?” he said and I laughed now at his ridiculous tone.

“These are a treat,” I said.

“You are living vicariously through your children.” John shook his head at me and we continued down the aisle. As I passed by the colorful shelves of processed foods, I couldn’t lose the nagging feeling of guilt. Was he right? Walking down the aisles, I stared at the items I normally threw in the cart at home: chocolate chip cookies, frozen toaster strudels, chocolate milk, drinkable yogurts, Doritos, cinnamon toast crunch cereal and fruit snacks. There were other foods too-vegetables, chicken and fruit-but most of that was for my husband and me. Maybe John was right. Maybe in denying myself all these years, I was now overindulging my children.

When we got back to the cottage my boys cheered, “Thanks Mom!” at the donuts and my heart sank. I realized I’d been giving them the foods I couldn’t eat because it (partly) satisfied a repressed longing in me. And it wasn’t doing my children any good. It was, more likely, doing them harm. But this revelation doesn’t allow for a quick fix, I can’t sweep my hands of this habit and say, “Well, know that my eyes have been opened, things are going to change around here.” I’m not sure how to change, or how much to change, I just need to remember when I reach for the cookies or the donuts at the grocery store, to ask myself who I am shopping for and why….

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