At six months old, our son is nearly unrecognisable from when he was first born. It’s odd looking at pictures of him as a tiny baby. In some, he’s days old, with sallow, jaundiced skin and eyes so big he looks like an anime seal calf. It’s also noticeable that he was a little underweight, as those features of his newborn self are even less familiar now he’s caught up a bit. And to say he’s caught up a bit is putting it mildly. He is, we can all agree, a roly-poly sort of chap, which feels good after being terrorised by his low grading on his weight percentile – that odd league table of chubbiness that gives parents an inscrutable metric by which they can (a) compete with other babies, and (b) bore their non-child-having friends to bitter, salty tears.
Now he’s at or above his target weight we’re just happy not to be worried any more. But we also enjoy his chubbiness for other, less logical reasons. For one thing, it’s an unavoidable fact of life that babies get cuter the fatter they are, even if the images on his sleepsuits tend to warp and malform around his belly, and we end up retiring bibs after one week’s use, since they have a habit of fitting round his neck like one of those Greenpeace images of a sea turtle wearing a six-pack grid.
Carrying around a plump little baby, tiring as it is for the arms and back, also allows us to witness the gymnastic contortions people deploy to avoid calling him ‘fat’. ‘He’s really… healthy, isn’t he?’ is a common refrain. ‘Growing lad’ another. Also common are epithets like ‘sturdy’, ‘solid’, and – my personal favourite – ‘robust’. Terms more commonly applied to scaffolds or mining apparatus are now wielded for a six-month-old out of fear of causing offence.
Have we stigmatised fat to the point that it’s more acceptable to describe my child like one of those big crane machines they use to build aircraft carriers, than imply for one second that he might be a little tubby?
In Ireland, of course, people are more frank. ‘Jesus, he’s half-reared,’ was one particularly delightful exclamation from my auntie Moyra. ‘The wind wouldn’t blow him away, anyway,’ exclaimed a family friend. Insulting a child’s appearance is a ritual in Irish households. It’s why most UK workplaces have at least two Irish staff members; should their colleagues ever show baby pics, each will have a partner with whom they can then discreetly discuss the ugliness of said child shortly afterward.
For our son, however, his days as a buttery wee spud could soon be at an end. Next week we begin weaning him on to solids, a process that, when combined with increased activity, has usually precipitated weight loss among other kids we know. We’ll be sad to say goodbye to his knuckle dimples and thigh rolls, but we may, at least, get a bit more use out of those bibs.