La Fille is due a visit to the paediatrician, a prospect that sends my heart burrowing into my socks. It was worse when the visits were once a month, but even every six months brings me out in a rash.
It is not sitting in the waiting room surrounded by delicate, fine-boned French children that gets to me; the moment I dread is when the doctor tells La Fille to hop on the scales. It is not what she says: she says nothing. But her lips purse like they could open bottles of 1664. I just know she is thinking: "You English mother, you are feeding her chips and sticky buns." Then she consults a chart, frowns, purses some more and says: "Hmmm...she's putting on too much weight. We won't worry about it this time, but the next time...". Cue much wittering from me about how La Fille rarely eats biscuits, and never - heaven forbid - cakes, chips or crisps and that she is force fed vegetables and fruit. In fact, this is not that far from the truth, but I can read her mind and I know she does not believe a word.
Thankfully La Fille, who is not fat but must have bones the weight of gold, is a cheerful soul blessed with toddler ignorance of this French obsession with weight that began while she was still guzzling amniotic fluid. Then it was the radiographer - another Frenchwoman as thin as a hungry rattlesnake - who declared La Fille-to-be "fat". Not "chubby", or "bouncy" or "chunky" or another euphemism but plain "gros" (fat). High on hormones, I wept into my scarf all the way home trying to identify which part of the ethereal little mite sucking her thumb in the scan picture was overweight. Later, I convinced myself I had misunderstood. But no, nothing had been waylaid in translation. The next scan brought the same comment, as did every subsequent one for the rest of the nine months. It was to be a recurrent theme of the pregnancy: at the very first consultation at the maternity hospital I was told she was going to be so very "gros" a baby that a natural birth was out of the question. I should have argued, but when the head obstetrician tells you the "fat baby" is coming out by Caesarian - emergency or planned - you think, "she must know what she is talking about". She did not. La Fille was a perfectly average 3.5 kilos.
Then the paediatrician started. Each month, we had a scales moment and the same conversation. At first I worried. Then I stressed. Then I became obsessed. Her creche chums scoffed butter croissants and pain-au-chocolat; she ate cardboard-flavoured rice cakes. Her grandmother bought her sweets; I ate them. She was 20 months old before she tasted chocolate. The sugar ban made no difference whatsoever. At one point in her second year, the paediatrician prodded La Fille's admittedly impressive sticking-out tummy and suggested I try portion control. "Do you mean put her on a diet?" I asked. "Not exactly, just watch how much she eats." "Isn't that the same thing?" I muttered to myself. A diet at 18-months-old? "Surely that way lie eating disorders."
As feeding her gallons of vegetable soup made no difference, I decided to loosen up and let La Fille eat cake and croissants and chocolate biscuits every now and then. This was before the last visit to the paediatrician and La Fille quickly discovered what she had been missing. I found the occasional chocolate biscuit a useful tool for those "won't" moments and especially for her regular eye tests. "Answer all the questions and you can have a chocolate biscuit," I would promise. I am not beyond outright bribery. I thought it best not to mention this to the paediatrician fearing she would carry out her threat to send us to a dietician. What I had forgotten was that I call the eye specialist "the doctor", so when I said we were going to see "the doctor" La Fille thought it was a chocolate biscuit opportunity. Two seconds into the consultation and she was cooing "gateau chocolat?..gateau chocolat?..gateau chocolat?..". "SHUT UP," I hissed in her ear. Pursed lips all round.