Lots of Landmines, No Metal Detector: Part the Second

If that bitch, World, isn’t open to negotiating with parents and insists on staring down the well-intentioned sleep deprived, hands on its Costco-shopping, NASCAR-jacket-wearing, Miley-Cyrus-twitching hips,

then maybe the compromises have to take place elsewhere. 

Like within the well-intentioned sleep deprived.

Certainly, new parents have a few blissful months–even years–in which their personal values dominate, in which they can shape their child’s life into an approximation of an ideal.

For example, after My Unmentionables first squozed out our Girl, we took great care with her diet.  Breastfeeding made that job easy (if plugged ducts and mastitis qualify as “easy”), but then, eventually, she needed solids.  Naturally, we went naturally.  Didn’t she love her organic beets?!  Didn’t she reach for her pureed spinach and smooshed-up pears?! Didn’t she smear locally-grown and home-prepared peas all over her rosy cheeks?!  And didn’t we assert our desire for her to get the best-possible start in life by keeping all processed sugar away from her for the first 16 months?

On her first birthday, her cake was sugarless, pineapple, and upside down.  Diabetics asked for the recipe! 

Making careful, informed decisions in the first years would lay down a foundation for lifelong health.  Remembering our own childhoods of frozen Zingers in the freezer and “hot dog casserole” for dinner, we vowed to model better eating behaviors.

Our intention, in fact, was to keep processed sugars (and nearly all processed foods) away from her until, well, The Time of Forever…or  middle school, whichever came first.

But then there was this road trip from Minnesota to California, during which toddler Girl and Groom drove the first stint by themselves, camping along the way, while I remained behind and finished teaching a summer session.  A few days before I was to fly to Denver and meet them midway, Groom called to check in and tell me about their day on the road.

To his credit, he was laughing at himself.

Turns out, western Nebraska gets swelteringly hot in June.  If one is camping, there is little relief from the heat, and if one isn’t a fan of air-conditioning in the car, then the hot never abates. 

And when the hot never abates, the soul becomes weak.  It’s a Hell issue.

When the soul stops at a gas station in a tiny Nebraskan burg where the asphalt is mushy underfoot from the heat, the soul might spot a Very Special Machine of Delights when it goes inside to pay.  This machine is the home of a hallowed beverage christened ICEE.  The very name cools down a sweating soul at least three degrees. 

That day, Groom’s soul marched right up to the ICEE machine and pulled a big ole blue raspberry (a flavor that, um, does TOO exist in nature) slushy for himself.   Girl, in his arms, couldn’t believe the magic pouring into the cup.  “Me!  Me! Me dwink!”

Eyeing her damp hair and flushed cheeks, Groom gave an “it’s only fair” shrug and pulled Girl her own cup of Soul Coolant.

This situation is called “going from 0 to 120”–from having never had a granule of sugar pass her lips to sucking on a blue raspberry ICEE slushy, all in the space of two minutes.

While that moment, that act, opened the door to sugar (“Why, hello, Sugar,” drawled the butler), we did still use restraint and aimed for that elusive thing called “moderation.”  However, we were no longer committed to a hasty exit from any situation where a beaming chef carried out a platter of cupcakes.  That ability to shrug and say, “What the heck; it’s only a cupcake” allowed us to relax, to enjoy, to remain a part of gatherings.

What we discovered is that it’s not so much denial and avoidance of World’s temptations that leads to good parenting.  In fact, I get a little annoyed by the idea of “good” parenting; we’re all just people, doing what we can.  At our house, we’ve tried to assuage our hippie instincts by overtly talking about temptations and discussing when they’re worth it and when they’re not.  We had ample opportunity to practice our skills at this when Girl began school.

Starting kindergarten, Girl was tremendously excited that every child was invited to the cafeteria for a free breakfast.  When you’re five, and only when you’re five, a cafeteria beckons as something sparkly and glamorous.  Because Girl is reserved, and because she has to eye glamour for a bit before stroking it, she took awhile before trying the free breakfast.  But one day.  One day.  She did.

The experience proved startling, for the first time she got up the courage to head into the cafeteria instead of the classroom, she had to stand for a few minutes, surveying the options, wondering where the real food was.  You see, her only choices, thanks to the crazy corporate machinations that fuel federal sponsorship of school meals, were sugared cereals, which she’d never seen before, and fruit in a heavy-syrup-laden cup; looking for plain Cheerios or even a banana, she was bewildered.  She was–and let’s all love her here–disappointed.

So she never again availed herself of the free breakfast buffet offered by Seductive World; mostly, as she’s continued through elementary school, she’s been aware of the poor food choices in the lunches, too, and has opted to bring her lunch from home.  Lest we do too much of a happy dance, though, 4th grade is signaling a shift in what guides her choices. Nowadays, she wants to eat the provided lunch about half the time; not only has she decided she likes the cafeteria’s nachos and chicken patties, but she also knows that she can only sit by her friends, who generally choose hot lunch, if she, too, has hot lunch.  If she brings a lunch from home, she has to stand in line and sit with the other brown baggers.  At any age where friends are everything, she has to decide between eating healthily or hanging out with people who make her feel good.

That’s like me having to decide if I want to meet Jon Stewart at the micro-brewery for gossip and an oatmeal stout, or if I want to meet Pat Robinson on a park bench to share a zucchini. 

At some point, it’s hard to quantify what’s “bad for you” and what’s “good for you” because nothing Harpie World trots in front of us is that simple, a fact which, consequently, calls into play entire subsets of values (i.e., I’d rather eat and spew crap with a great person than eat great food with a f***tard, which, apparently, reveals I honor a certain kind of humanity above a strict adherence to purity of eats…and then all that gets stirred up by World even more with her Nasty Stick, and eventually I have to lay down on the couch for awhile and put a dishcloth over my eyes).

Thus, it’s all a continuum that ranges from “ideal” to “compromise” to “trade-off,” and mostly, if the kids are still breathing at the end of the day, if they’ve smiled at some point during it, if they’ve asked even a single question, if they’ve managed to demonstrate a thought of kindness (even if it’s picking up a toddler’s dropped McNugget and setting it back into her french fry-festooned high chair tray),

then we parents have satisfied all that matters.

Hell, yea, there’s more coming.








18 responses to “Lots of Landmines, No Metal Detector: Part the Second”

  1. flutter Avatar

    I hope you squoze out more of this story

  2. Jenn @ Juggling Life Avatar
    Jenn @ Juggling Life

    Can I please join you and Jon?!

  3. diane Avatar

    They manage to come around full circle once they're adults. Funny how that works.
    Where I grew up, we had Slushies. mmmmm.

  4. kmkat Avatar

    Yep, if they are still breathing, etc., you have done your job well. Congratulations!

  5. geewits Avatar

    The only thing I was ever a stickler about was caffeine. I grew up in the old south where even toddlers drank cokes and iced tea. My daughter was allowed only milk, fruit juice or Sprite. One evening at a restaurant my 14 or 15 year old daughter, in that very serious tone that a teen may use to tell you they've had sex or gotten drunk, said to me, "Mom, you know I've had cokes, right?" And I let her order her very first cola. At 25, she's still not a giant cola drinker and although she'll get an iced tea here or there, she usually orders water. To have with her beer.

  6. Jane Avatar

    Hi there…(de-lurking is always little awkward)..I have enjoyed reading your blog for AHEM a few years now. I have some cultural questions for you (which you prob. have no time to answer!) Why, o why do school lunches exist in the USA? And have they always been of such dubious quality? The school lunch features in American Tv and I often wonder…In Australia it's usual to bring lunch in a bag and eat in the playground together. There's often a parent run "canteen" where kids buy the occasional lunch. But you know, weekly or less often; and they can always buy a sandwich there. Also WHY ON EARTH can't the bag lunch kids eat with the cafeteria kids? Of course girl is going to chose to eat deep fried gunk in that situation.
    The dishcloth on eyes treatment sounds effective.

    I hope I don't sound strident. Just am seriously curious.

  7. middle-aged-woman Avatar

    It's not "lowering the standards" it's "arranging the priorities."

  8. Shieldmaiden96 Avatar

    What an insane setup re: the lunches. Everyone knows that you get your group of firends together, and the 'bringers', who don't have to get in any lines, save seats for the 'buyers' so you can all sit together.

  9. Liv Avatar

    it's as my son told me: EDP (extended day program) takes longer, but it's more funner with the snacks.

    so he went when i forgot to get him from school yesterday…and, i do believe it was more funner with the snacks.

  10. Midlife Jobhunter Avatar
    Midlife Jobhunter

    Yes, how we try to control that world – and how it can so easily go to hell. I fed them well (okay I won't mention the fish stick and frenchfry dinners) and kept Nintendo and cable TV away from them. Made them play outside, nature walk, think. Then I got tired.

    I love blue raspberry – mainly because of the blue color. Don't even want to know what's in it.

  11. Jocelyn Avatar

    Jane: The great thing about de-lurking is it then allows me to LUFF you! Sometimes, I look at my site meter and see all the numbers, and then I look at my fabulous and beloved 20 steady commenters, and I wonder if the numbers on my meter come from me clicking onto my own site hundreds of times each week. It's reassuring to know it's not all just me.

    Your questions are excellent. As I understand it, hot lunches offered in schools came about as a way for the government to make sure kids in poverty were getting to eat…and then it grew from there. It's gotten increasingly complex, in terms of why the worst of junk is offered to the smallest bodies. Here's a quote from an article written by astute food critic Michael Pollan:

    "The farm bill helps determine what sort of food your children will have for lunch in school tomorrow. The school-lunch program began at a time when the public-health problem of America's children was undernourishment, so feeding surplus agricultural commodities to kids seemed like a win-win strategy. Today the problem is overnutrition, but a school lunch lady trying to prepare healthful fresh food is apt to get dinged by U.S.D.A. inspectors for failing to serve enough calories; if she dishes up a lunch that includes chicken nuggets and Tater Tots, however, the inspector smiles and the reimbursements flow. The farm bill essentially treats our children as a human Disposall for all the unhealthful calories that the farm bill has encouraged American farmers to overproduce."

    The entire article (which explains the farm bill better) can be read at: http://www.michaelpollan.com/article.php?id=88

    As far as hot lunchers sitting with hot lunchers and brown baggers sitting with brown baggers, I think it's school specific (it wasn't that way where I went as a kid…nor does it seem to be that way in the schools of some commenters here); it must be some sort of crowd control mechanism so that the cafeteria isn't full of splinter groups and cliques or something. I dunno.

    In other news, the standard hot lunch menu was switched up this week, so it's not pizza every Wednesday but now it's MINI-HOT DOGS, which, clearly, is an improvement. Also, "shrimp poppers" have been added as a weekly offering…which is so cool, considering those shrimp had to fly thousands of miles to get to us–and because 8 year olds are really known for loving sea food.

    I hope you continue to comment, Jane. I promise not to hurt you.

  12. Green Girl in Wisconsin Avatar
    Green Girl in Wisconsin

    Ooh…I can just imagine her face when she tasted that ICEE!
    I'm like you, trying to find moderation. We're good with beverages, working on snacks. My kids would still opt for sugar over substance, but they recognize that too much makes them sick and then they crave carrots.

  13. jess Avatar

    We lunch bringers used to eat in the classroom at our desks while the hot lunch kids went to the cafeteria. I never minded though, because I just had my nose in a book the whole time. The lunch aides LOVED me.

    The only drawback was that instead of brown bags, all the other kids had cool She-ra (Princess of Power!) and Mr. T lunchboxes and I was stuck with the complete tupperware lunch set. Also I had carrot sticks instead of potato chips and apple slices instead of twinkies. Other than that though, it wasn't so bad.

  14. secret agent woman Avatar
    secret agent woman

    Ooh, the idea of meeting Jon Stewart for a beer just totally distracted me.

    I figure the kids are basically going to eat how I eat – so it's mostly healthy but we sure don't refrain from buying pizzas or cookies. Life is to be enjoyed.

  15. Jazz Avatar

    I figure if kids have a good base, it'll stay with the and eventually they'll wander back.

  16. lime Avatar

    ok, forgive me, because i get the main point here, really i do. my problem, where i got completely hung up, is pat robertson and a zucchini. that's just horrifyingly disturbing imagery, sis. really…and i like zucchini.

    my other aside is this. soul coolant would be an awesome name for a rock band.

    with that i will welcome you to the road of moderation and congratulate you on a girl who eschews cap'n crunch. in my efforts to provide excellent nutritious food options in house of lime my offspring have somehow developed the concept that hot pockets and lucky charms are great sometimes treats since i never purchase that crap.

  17. Jeni Avatar

    The bit about the buyers and the brown baggers tripped a bit of a memory in me from those dark ages when I went to school Back then, I think I was maybe in 3rd or 4th grade when we got a cafeteria in our school and then, it was merely a serving line as the food was cooked at the high school cafeteria about 2 miles away and transported to our school for serving. There were no free lunches then so if you ate in the cafeteria, you had to have cash on the barrel head, ya know. And cash was something that was often in very short supply in my home then (how some things never seem to change, huh?) and so my Mom usually would have me choose between a brown bag lunch or if I wanted to come home for lunch. (That was something we could do then too as the elementary school was within walking distance albeit a LONG walking distance of about 3/4 of a mile and it was "uphill, both ways" too!) So when the cafeteria came into being, I then had three choices: cafeteria, brown bag or home for lunch. And I, because I wanted to be part of the "in" crowd of course, would watch out the window to see my classmates as they came out to start our morning walk to school to see if they were carrying a brown bag or not. If they were, then I would take my brown bag lunch. No brown bag in their hands, presented a bit of a quandry (how the hell do you spell that anyway?) as I didn't know if they had cash for the cafeteria or if they were coming home and I had to make a choice, praying I would luck out and make the decision that would allow me to walk home for lunch with them or sit at the table in the cafeteria and enjoy a hot lunch. It's no wonder my Mom went gray as early as she did and if she'd had more kids than just me who may have had the same neediness to deal with, she probably would have been bald! The things we do as we strive towards acceptance.

  18. chelle Avatar

    You had me at hot dog casserole.


    We Canadians do not provide hot lunch till high school. We do have the breakfast thing .. but parent volunteers cook it so you know it is the hippie, goody goody two shoes parents that are signing up for that gig.

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