Yesterday was Ainsley's seven-year-old checkup. There were few surprises; she's in the 85th percentile for height, which has been her stronghold since around her three-month checkup. Her blood pressure was fine, eyes and ears were fine, and everything looked normal under the hood. But then we got to her weight.
Ainsley has a problem many of us would sell our red-meat-eating American souls for: she's underweight. While she's always been in the 85th or 90th percentile for height, her weight has always been much lower. In past checkups, though, her weight percentile was consistent and her weight chart had a nice little upward curve in it that the nurse would show me.
"Look, mom," the nurse would always say. "Her weight is lower than her height, but it's always the same lower percentile. She's just long and lean."
This visit, though, the nurse just said,
Ainsley's weight this year did not keep the same little upward curve. While she gained a few pounds, she would need to weigh 5 pounds more to have stayed in the same weight percentile as last year.
The doctor didn't see any cause for alarm. She seems healthy, and for now we're attributing her skinniness to the fact that she was on a competitive sports team for the first time this summer and probably burned off the little bit of fat that she had going into the season.
"Is she a good eater?" the doctor asked.
I paused for a minute.
"Yes," I said. "Yes, she is."
The reason I paused is that the knee-jerk reaction to that question when you're a mother of a seven-year-old is to say, "No, we have to twist her arm to get her to eat anything besides chicken nuggets and pizza." And while Ainsley has moments of culinary pickiness, this summer she has become something of a foodie.
I've written before about her strange love for sushi and Chipotle's black beans and rice that trumps her love for a Happy Meal. This summer she expanded on what I already thought were weird tastes for a child.
"Mommy, can we have lima beans one night with dinner?" she asked one afternoon in the car. After I recovered from the shock and a near accident, I asked her why in the world she wanted lima beans, usually the most dreaded vegetable for anyone under the age of 25 (and for some older than that.)
"They were in that vegetable soup I had that one time, and I thought they were yummy. If you can make them the way you cook your peas with a lot of butter I think it might be really good."
Rock on with your bad self, Paula Deen Junior.
I assured her we would have buttery limas someday soon, though we will have to pick a night Jason won't be joining us; lima beans ain't his thing.
Later in the summer, she chose shrimp cocktail each night as an appetizer on our cruise, surprising our waiter and our tablemates when she devoured them and asked for more. This was also the summer that I started to make her a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and she asked me if we had any salami instead. So now I keep salami in the house, and more often than not she chooses that with some "white cheese" over the perennial kid favorite. She goes gaga over homemade quesadillas and dips her Frisch's onion rings into tartar sauce just like her mom. This may not be so different from other kids, but Ainsley gets really excited by this stuff.
Everyday the first thing she asks when she gets home from school is what we're having for dinner. She jumps for joy when we're having one of her favorites like something with rice or "butter salad" (this is what she calls Caesar salad.) She wants to help me in the kitchen and talks knowledgeably about the ingredients we choose and how to cook things and suggests menu items for our dinner table. She's like a future Food Network star.
Last week, on the day of her seventh birthday, we teachers had to stay at school until 7pm for an open house. To sweeten the deal, our principal had Buffalo Wild Wings brought in. Since Ains was here for a couple of hours until her dad could pick her up, I let her share my plate.
She held up a chicken wing spun in mild buffalo sauce.
"Are these any good?"
"I like them a lot. But that's a wing, and you've never eaten chicken off the bone before. Give it a try, if you want."
She held the little drumette and tentatively took a bite. Her eyes grew wide and her hands grew greasy as she took down her first real chicken wing.
"I like chicken this way. It tastes better when it's on the bone."
A teacher stopped in front of our table and looked at her, amused.
"She's really into her food, isn't she?"
And though you can't tell by her slender physique, she really and truly is into her food.