February 7, 2012 § Leave a comment
Do we really want ice cream to be this available? This picture was taken at a local elementary school… Gotta love the image of the skateboarder being ridiculously active at the bottom, which of course makes it all okay. At least the machine is out of order!
November 3, 2011 § 1 Comment
Ah, Halloween. Parents have developed many strategies for dealing with it, this mother-of-all-candy-holidays. Let me count the ways…
- My friend Miles says that in Dayton, Ohio the “Switch Witch” comes to visit many of her fellow parents houses the night after Halloween, leaving toys in place of sweets.
- There’s always bribery. I hear many parents follow the example of the dentist I heard about on NPR: offer to buy the crap to keep it out of their kids tummies. In the case of the dentist, the going rate was $1 per pound, up to 5 pounds. Not bad!
- I’m pretty sure my Mom adhered to the “Out of sight, out of mind” policy, in which we would eat one piece of candy after dinner for a week or so, and then we’d forget all about it. The remainder would, I’m quite certain, end up in the trash well before it was time to worry about pumpkin pie and cranberry sauce.
- I know at least one family who simply opts out altogether. They stay home and pick a special family dessert to make instead.
Even if you’re not convinced that sugar is a toxin, most parents seem to get that consuming candy on Halloween-scale is not good. Maybe it’s because of the unfortunate kid every year at the parade or the party who overdoes it and throws up, or maybe we just know, instinctively that consuming a pillowcase full of anything, anything at all, can’t be good.
Of course, nobody eats ALL their Halloween candy, do they? Here’s what we always used to do when I was a kid: after trick-or-treating till our lips turned blue from the late October air (“Mo-oooom! If I wear my coat no one can see my costume!!”) we’d all congregate on the floor of someone’s living room and pour our bags of cheap treats out on the floor to sort and count and trade. I always liked this part the best- we were like little pirates, or maybe bankers, gleefully portioning out the gold coins.
And now that I have kids, they do this. Monday night our gaggle of kids racing ahead and dutiful parents lagging behind all trooped back to my friend Katrina’s house where the kids immediately took over the living room by unceremoniously dumping several tons of high fructose corn syrup in a variety of colorful wrappers onto her carpet. A frenzy of sorting and showing off and bartering began.
“I have NERDS!”
“Look! A mint-flavored Milky Way!”
“What are these?”
“Who gives out BBQ chips?”
“Oo! What do you want for your Sour Patches?”
Meanwhile, Katrina’s dog Inky was wasting no time. Ignoring the candy completely, he made like a Hoover vacuum when an entire baggie filled with popcorn ended up on the floor, deftly maneuvering around the Tootsie Rolls and tiny boxes of Junior Mints.
I laughed when I saw that our friend Robin had brought homemade mini-cupcakes along for everyone. It reminded me of the Farmer’s Market last weekend when virtually every vendor was plying my children with candy- pressing Starbursts and — into my hand before I could say no… of course they went directly into the trash when we got home.
Nonetheless, I have to admit I was astounded on Halloween day to walk into my older daughter’s sixth grade classroom to find all the kids having a Halloween treat consisting of a sugar doughnut and a large handful of assorted candy. My eyes got big. What, did they not feel tonight was going to be sufficient? Did they have to be primed with sugar, pre-event too?
People just can’t seem to help themselves when it comes to the idea of making a child happy. And what easier way to make a child happy than with an inexpensive little bit of sugar? Of course, the problem is, it’s too easy, so everyone everyone EVERYONE wants to get into the act. Robin’s adorable, homemade cupcakes aren’t the problem, it’s all the junk which likely came before that, and will likely come after that too. I know I sound like a broken record, but I truly do think that we’ve simply forgotten that everyone loves to see that smile on that kids face… everyone loves the feeling of making a kid happy. What we need to realize is that it has become SO cheap and SO easy to hand a child a treat, that inflation has set in. No longer is it sufficient for the teacher to bring the kids doughnuts- there has to be a pile of candy next to it. No longer is it sufficient for kids to get a single treat at each house, now many houses go to the trouble of packing little paper candy bags full of several treats each. No longer is it sufficient to have a treat or two (or fourteen) from the candy bag that night, we have to provide dessert on top of that. Because, what else do you do? It’s Halloween! Or Christmas! Or Valentine’s Day! Or somebody’s birthday! Or you’re just feeling depressed! Or happy! You see what I’m getting at here.
Sweet Poison author David Gillespie told me that he’s always interested to watch what happens to American kids after Halloween: they all start getting sick. Sure, you could blame it on the change of temperature, but what if it’s not just that? Would we all be so quick to dole out those easy-to-come-by bits of happiness to children if we knew it was going to hinder their immune systems? Would we view it the way we view handing out free cartons of cigarettes to soldiers now?
Then again, I still love Halloween. I spend much of the month of October getting ready for it, picking out costume patterns and fabric with my children, and then sewing like a madwoman. When the appointed night comes, we venture forth, armed with flashlights and reflective tote-bags and cameras, not to mention the optional umbrellas or long-underwear . We tromp around West Pawlet Village with our friends, often running into other groups and joining up like packs of amiable, gaudily-dressed and highly-supervised wild animals.
Then, this year, the most amazing thing happened. Early on, our group had effectively snowballed to an impressive size- perhaps thirty or more adults and kids found ourselves congregated in the parking lot of the West Pawlet Fire Department. Out of nowhere something was happening. Grown-ups were yelling “Stop! Stop! Everybody come over here! Everybody join hands!”
As we all looked around blankly, trying to discern what exactly was going on, it became clear that my friend Sue was orchestrating something. All thirty or so of us large and small and costumed and not put down our flashlights and bags of candy and joined hands.
Once we were all in an enormous circle, Sue let go hands at just one spot so we formed a curved line. Then she began walking around the interior of our circle, making a spiral inward, inward. And because we had all joined hands, we were all walking too, following her, passing each other, giggling and making faces and talking to one another animatedly.
Once she got to the middle-middle-middle and could go no further she turned 180 degrees and began to walk a spiral back out again. Have you ever done this game? It seems like something I must’ve done at camp or elementary school or something, but never, never had I done it on a moonlit night in the parking lot of the West Pawlet Fire Department with a group of parents and children I love so well. And never before with a group of tiny Mad Hatters and queens and monkeys and fairies and zombie monsters. As we spun around and around the wheel of our friends and children, it felt like we had joined the witches themselves to perform a rite of autumn. It felt positively pre-Christian.
Isn’t it something like this- that is so much harder to achieve than that fleeting bit of happiness that comes in a plastic wrapper- that we really want from our holidays? A sense of connection, of community, of ritual, of transformation? You can’t buy that by the bag down at Rite Aid, and I suppose that’s how it should be.
July 2, 2011 § 5 Comments
In case anyone was suspicious I was over-exaggerating the state of our current sugar-addiction epidemic, I would like to point out some key items from the last day of school.
Now before I go any further let me reiterate that I love our daughters’ school. Furthermore, we have been lucky enough to love every teacher either of our two daughter’s has had so far- which is really quite impressive (by the time I got to sixth grade I seem to recall having had my share of doozies in the teacher department, including Mr. Major who liked to have the girls sit on his lap and “give him some sugar.” Oo! Do you think that’s where this all started? Hmmmm.)
We especially loved Greta’s fifth grade teacher this year: Mrs. Roberts. Mrs. Roberts is the kind of teacher who seems to take each student under her wing in some protective, affectionate, almost aunt-like or grandmotherly way. To celebrate the end of the annual school-wide reading program, she invited the entire fifth grade over to her house for movies, a picnic and swimming. I mean, can I retake fifth grade but have Mrs. Roberts this time?
Like any treasured aunt or beloved grandmother, Mrs. Roberts does give the kids treats- hot chocolate in the winter, candy at Halloween, Skittles if a kid is having a particularly hard day, and Twizzlers on the last day of school. But what astounded me on the last day of school wasn’t the fact that Mrs. Roberts’ had given out Twizzlers, but rather the Hershey Company’s savvy marketing of Twizzlers as a way to practice fractions. Yes, in fact, there was a whole book about it, which Mrs. Roberts was kind enough to let me photograph in my astonishment.
My understanding is that the book-directed exercise went something like this: if you have ten Twizzlers, and you eat three of them, what fraction represents the amount of Twizzlers you have left? Voila! Twizzler math.
Really, the marketing possibilities are endless: coming soon to a classroom near you: M&Ms addition, Sour Patch Subtraction, Jelly Bean Geometry…
Exhibit B: The PTO picnic.
Actually, we did fairly well at the Last Day of School Picnic. Every year each grade is assigned a food to bring, while the PTO provides volunteers and the hot dogs. In addition to the dogs (probably okay, but being strict hold the bun), there were chips (go for the Smartfood, skip the Sun Chips and Doritos), macaroni salads (skip these- mayo has sugar) tossed salads, watermelon and chopped veggies (yay!). All in all, not a communal meal in which we need fear starving to death. Of course, there was dessert, and I had the watermelon while my kids opted for the little paper cups of ice cream, but I did manage to steer them away from the lemonade and in the direction of water or milk, so I figured we had done okay.
But a funny thing happened. In addition to my green salad contribution I brought along a bottle of my homemade lemon juice and olive oil salad dressing, mainly for our family’s benefit. I placed the bottle on the table with a whole regiment of other bottles, every other one of which had come from the store.
Here’s where it gets interesting. As I helped one of my daughters add items to her plate, one of the volunteers was asking kids what kind of dressing they wanted to dip veggies in. Did they want Ranch? Thousand Island? Blue Cheese? Then she came to my bottle, picked it up and paused, eyeing it with suspicion.
“I don’t know what this is.” she said, dismissively.
I could have pointed out that “this” was homemade, whereas all other options were store-bought. I could have mentioned that “this” had four ingredients, whereas all other options had about forty. I could have mentioned that, of all the bottles on the table, “this” was the only one without any unpronounceable or unfamiliar ingredients, including stabilizers (plastic on your salad anyone?) MSG (check your Ranch!) or (need I even say it?) sugar.
But I didn’t. Instead I just felt keenly how topsy turvy things have gotten when we are suspicious of foods for not being processed or manufactured enough.
Exhibit C: Candy-Based Summer Reading
When we got home from the festivities that afternoon I literally poured our kids back-packs out on the floor- papers, workbooks, projects, bottom of the desk dregs, and art class masterpieces were everywhere. No to mention flyers advertising summer library programs, suggesting summer projects and the Mother Myrick’s Summer Reading Program Sheet… I saw that last one and my heart sank.
It sank because we’ve done the Mother Myrick’s Reading Program for the last few years; Mother Myrick’s is a nearby bakery and confectioner of some renown, and they offer special prizes to kids who bring in lists of the books they’ve been reading over the summer.
It’s a great idea. It’s also very generous. It’s also a whole freakin lot of candy. For every two books a kid reads there is a corresponding bag of candy and maybe some plastic toys or stickers. Last year we actually made it to all five levels and Greta was up to her eyeballs in chocolate-this and gummi-that. It was a little overwhelming, but who was I to question the rules of the Summer Reading “game”?
However, this year I’m the Sugar Nazi, and the Sugar Nazi questions bloody everything. I was in a bit of despair about having to sacrifice yet one more fun thing to the Gods of No Sugar, but I smiled and proposed an alternative to the kids: how about we make up our own Summer Reading Program? Within minutes, Greta and Ilsa had found a large sheet of paper and were brainstorming prizes: how about berry picking? We could get a book at the bookstore… Swimming! No wait- bowling! Ooo! How about… going to the amusement park!? They were giggling and squealing over the endless possibilities.
All at once I was relieved, impressed and kind of humbled too. Look at them go, I thought, they’re taking on the challenge of retooling their world, their habits, their rewards system- they’re excited about it! We grown ups, I think- so often stuck in our store-bought salad-dressing ruts- would do well to take a page from their book. Let the summer reading begin.