Good Night and Good Luck

Let us discuss sleep.

Critical to our physical and mental well-being, sleep is a very important process when it comes to continuing health. Sleep is a natural restorative cycle. It allows the body to rest and properly regenerate itself. So that the body can continue to function appropriately.

You don’t know what restorative means? You can’t understand regenerate?

Well, if you want me to be nice to you, to be overjoyed to see you, to give you loves and tickles and rainbows all day, to happily drive you around from about 8 am to 6 pm, five days a week, and provide you with at least three meals and several dozen snacks of a wide and nutritious variety, let me sleep.

If you want me to read you Ricky Ricotta’s Mighty Robot vs. the Mutant Mosquitoes from Mercury at least once and possibly several times—in a row—without rolling my eyes, barfing or losing my mind, let me sleep.

If you want me to listen to one hundred and four rather unfunny variations of:

Knock, knock.

Who’s there?

Orange.

Orange who?

Orange you glad I didn’t say banana?

Let me sleep!

And just so we’re clear: By “sleep” I mean a solid 6, 7 or even 8 (*gasp*) hours of me, lying in a reclining position, covered with some form of a blanket. In the dark. And quiet. With my eyes closed.

Here’s what sleep isn’t:

If I’m fetching you anything, even water, at 2 am, I’m not asleep.

If we’re hugging, I’m not asleep.

Conversation of any kind means I’m not asleep.

If I’m freezing cold and have no blankets because you’ve decided you’re sweating and the covers must be kicked off, it is quite likely I’m not asleep.

And if you’re using your cute little chubby fingers to force up my eyelids, then I’m definitely not asleep.

I’m sure you’ve noticed but not sleeping makes me bitter. It also makes me look ragged and that makes me really bitter because then I don’t just look tired—I look tired and old.

So … either sleep—without moving, talking or doing the macarena—or go back to your own bed.

Or even better, you stay here with your dad and I will go sleep in your bed. Alone.

Good night.


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Come Summer

I may be imagining it but somehow it seems like the stakes in raising children are so much higher than they used to be. My parents were no slackers (in terms of education at least) but my brother and I spent long, languid summers at home, had absolutely no enrichment outside of formal school and certainly never discussed our feelings with anyone. It is debatable whether we turned out “okay” in the long run but you could say that we more or less found our way in the world.

Why is it necessary for me to read that latest book about raising children—especially when theories of child-rearing seem to shift as quickly as the earth in Northern California? Why must I spend so much money on enrichment classes? Why do I feel so much angst about whether my child is at the “right” school or whether I should have tried harder to get her in to that one particular program?

I think sometimes that the urgency of it all takes some of the joy out of parenting. It feels oddly competitive, weirdly Type-A, as if you’re always trying to keep up with the Joneses, the Sakamakis, the Khans and the Adichies.

Since late December I’ve been asked about my plans for my four and five-year-olds’ summer just about every week. And every time I get another note or call, all I feel is … resistance. Of course once summer begins and the class, program or camp is about to start, I will question myself a dozen times: should I have enrolled them, shelled out the money, sucked it up and chauffeured them back and forth for yet another one?

I hear about “the research” every week from my husband. The latest research says this. The latest research says that. I nod and do my best to process what has his drawers in a bunch this time. But somewhere in the back of my head, I wonder.

I think my kids are going to be ok. Better than ok. I think they will flourish. Not because we spent thousands of dollars we didn’t really have to send them to this school or that program. But because we loved them. And we loved each other. We spoke about service and compassion at the dinner table. We told them what they needed to do in order to fulfill their dreams. And we did our best to be happy people, to do the right thing.

I think what will make the biggest difference in the long-run will be the day-to-day intangibles that had nothing to do with how well we networked, how hard we worked our contacts, how much money we spent, and how furiously we drove to and fro.

Or at least I hope.

A Lesson Best Learned Early

Unlike most California babies who start swim classes virtually at birth, my two New York City-born transplants didn’t begin classes until the relatively ancient ages of 4 and 5.

With summer approaching, I realized there was no ducking the classes any longer and so I signed up my kids at one of a handful of swim schools around where we live: a little school with a somewhat pretentious French name and three locations.

With some difficulty we pinned down the instruction time. I paid no mind to who the teacher would be; I figured they must all be somewhat decent.

On the first day I delivered my bathing suit-clad children to a somber-looking young woman by the pool. She did not smile at me or the kids. I noticed this but tucked it away and didn’t think twice about it.

I sat behind the glass partition and looked hither and thither, reading, chatting with other waiting caretakers, every once in a while watching the kids. There seemed to be some serious business at hand in the class. Once the class finished, I got the kids showered, dressed and off we went.

The following week: same drill. Delivered the kids to an unsmiling teacher. Watched them through the glass. Picked them up afterwards.

Except this time, my daughter, the five-year-old, said: “Mommy, is it possible, if it’s not too much trouble, could we maybe get a new teacher?” (She really said it that way.)

“Why?” I asked. “What happened?”

“Nothing. I just was wondering if we could get a new teacher.”

Unlike my boy, who often protests classes, school or anything organized, my daughter loves classes. She has always adored teachers, babysitters, caretakers. She never once cried when we left her for an evening out.

“But why?” I pressed.

“This teacher is too … grouchy. She doesn’t seem happy. She’s not that nice to us.” And then: “Life’s too short to be unhappy.”

I almost fell over. Obviously she’s heard it from an adult. Probably me. Maybe her father. But here’s what blows me away: It stuck! She gets it. She doesn’t want to be around someone who makes her feel bad. Who doesn’t treat her well.

Do you know how long it took me to learn this lesson? Decades! And I still struggle with it. Recognizing in the moment that something doesn’t feel right or is not okay.  Then taking steps to remove yourself from the situation. My daughter has learned to intuit this at five. What I was still trying to learn at thirty five.

It was a proud moment for me.

Rat Race, Continued

So my daughter didn’t get in to the one private school we had our hearts set on—the only one we applied to. Or rather, she failed to procure one of the two “girl” spots that were available to the pool of 41 applicants for first grade—one spot went to the sibling of a student and the other went to, who knows, some miracle-child whose parents have undoubtedly been doing their happy dance all weekend.  Or maybe not, maybe they were some high-flying billionaires or society folk who knew they had it like that all along.

My girl made it through the first several hoops—the IQ test, the interview, the playdate—only to stall at the very last stage, the actual selection part. I got the letter telling us we were in the “wait pool” on Friday, spent the Persian new year over the weekend just slightly bummed out, and called the school first thing on Monday to see what “wait pool” means exactly. We had been told in the past that everyone is put on the wait list, that they don’t reject folks for political reasons.

By the time 48 hours had passed and I hadn’t gotten a call back, I started to read all kinds of things into it. I was also talking to a couple of other moms whose kids were in the wait pool too—albeit for different grades. I started observing an interesting trend: we were all talking about our rejection letters in language that I’ve used in the past only to describe relationships. As in: “I thought things were going so well.” Or “The things that were said made me think it was meant to be.” Or “I felt so much at home that I thought maybe the feeling was mutual.”

And once I recognized that, I just had to step back and laugh. What the heck were we all talking about exactly? Was this still about our children? Or something else entirely?

I decided to consciously separate my wish for my daughter to have the best education, the best possible early start and the most conducive learning environment separate from my own EGO!

This is not about me. Or at the very least, it shouldn’t be.

I also decided to accept that things happen for a reason and we almost never know why a path takes an unexpected or undesired turn.

I decided to accept and submit.

And just when I began to feel detached, the phone rang.

It was the school.

There were only two wait pool letters sent out to girls and my daughter is one of them. She is a strong match and will likely be the next person to be offered a spot if one becomes available.

Having said that, there’s not a huge likelihood that a spot will become available before the end of the summer.

Either way, we’re fine. Healthy. Thriving. Grateful.

Rat Race: One Mile Up and to the Left

In a little more than a week from today, we will be receiving a slip of paper in the mail that may change our lives in quite significant ways for many years to come.

When we first moved to California from New York City, our kids were still so young (1 and 2) that we hadn’t given a whole lot of thought to schooling. Right before we were leaving New York, though, I had the opportunity to observe how several of my friends—both the ones whose kids were going private and the ones who were going public—began maneuvering for the schools they were interested in. Now I have NEVER been good at “maneuvering.” My personality is such that I can speak to anyone and everyone unless I have an agenda or need something and then I can barely look them in the eye! It’s something of an oddity.  

And so I breathed a sigh of relief at the idea that we would be bypassing the competitive NYC school scene by moving to the “wide open” schools of Northern California.

Someone hand this woman a clue!

Since we had no idea where we would be living in the Bay Area, I decided to put in an application at the preschool where the child of one of our few friends here—a Stanford professor—attended school. I applied in May for a September start date, which I thought was more than reasonable. I also thought that once I arrived, I could look around and see if there were any other alternatives that would work better for us.

Once I got to Northern Cali, it became clear quickly that the school scene, though less overt, was no different from the one in New York. All the “good” schools—that is, the highly sought-after ones—were, well, highly sought after and so completely jam-packed to capacity. The remaining options reminded me of one of those stores where, at first glance, the clothes looks cute but then once you start trying things on, everything’s just a tiny little bit jacked—the sleeves are too long or the middle’s too baggy or the logo says Prado instead of Prada.

What about the school for which we had already submitted an application? Well, we had quite unwittingly applied to what was probably the hardest-to-get-into preschool in the entire state, a university lab-school where people put their kids on the waiting list the moment they are born. I’m sure you’re having a good laugh and indeed it was funny once we were told the full story. And we heard not a word from them until quite literally the day before school started when I got a phone call from the director of admissions who told me they had a spot for my daughter. (The off-topic moral of the story here: Don’t ever assume something can’t be happen because other people tell you it can’t happen.) I don’t know why we got in. I have my suspicions—though I don’t think it’s the obvious because the school is very diverse—but there you have it.

When it came time for Kindergarten, our natural and first choice was our local public school. It’s close by, lovely and there is a Spanish immersion program we were excited about. At some point during the school year, though, it became clear that as much as we loved the school and the parents, it was not going to meet the particular needs of our child.  And so we started looking for an alternative. We found it in the form of an innovative private school, just up the hill from us. It was love at first sight from the moment we stepped on campus—the kind of school that makes you want to go back to being a child so you could go there! And it just got better as we learned about their philosophy, programs and teaching.

Alas, as with all things in life there is a downside or two:  1) It is quite difficult to get into; and 2) It is wildly expensive.

Boy, am I having déjà vu of the Manhattan schooling rat race.

We threw caution to the wind—I do that well and drag my poor husband along—and applied. And with each step, we fell in love with the school and its philosophy of teaching more and more. We know our daughter’s chances of getting in are remote at best. And we also have no idea how we are going to pay if she does get in. Seriously. No idea.

But I keep repeating to myself:  If it’s meant to be, God and the universe will provide.

Who is the “Fairest” of the Them All?

Don’t want to beat a dead horse here. But last month’s issue of Vanity Fair with the nine lily-skinned–albeit lovely and talented–young women with the banner declaring them the acting talent for the next decade really pissed me off. And I’m just not over it. 

The whole decade?

The last time I was this bitter was back in 2000 when Vogue featured Gwyneth Paltrow with a headline that screamed something about her being the “It-girl for the Millennium.” I’m sure that Ms. Paltrow is a fine human being but wasn’t the last millennium the millennium of the blonde, blue-eyed beauties? Do they get this one too?

Just so that we are clear: I am committed to the principle of unity. I believe at my core that at the end of the day there is only one race and that is the human race. And everything in my life bears witness to this belief.

Here is what I don’t love: Unfairness. Injustice. And piles of crap handed to me like it’s chocolate cake.

Have you ever heard of the doll experiments conducted in Harlem by Drs. Kenneth and Mamie Clark back in the late 1930s? These series of experiments found that black children often preferred to play with white dolls over black ones. That when asked to fill in a human figure with the color of their own skin, they frequently chose a lighter shade than was accurate. And most devastatingly, that when asked, African American children gave the color “white” attributes such as good and pretty, and the color “black,” bad and ugly. These experiments caused an uproar back in the 30s and contributed to the Supreme Court’s ruling in Brown vs. Board of Education.   

Oh no, you say! That was eighty years ago! These are different times! This is the age of Obama, Winfrey and … I don’t know … lots of other folks. Well, sure, some things are different. There has no doubt been progress. But consider this: in 2006 a filmmaker recreated the doll study and documented it in a film entitled A Girl Like Me. In spite of everything that has changed, she found the same results that the Drs. Clark did in the 1930s and 40s.

I could have told you that watching my five year old and her friends these past few years, in spite of very explicit lessons that my friends and I have attempted to instill in our children of color. I myself have seen and heard things that have triggered a hysterical phone call or two to my girlfriends.

We don’t know exactly why children attribute negative characteristics to their beautiful brown and black skin. But many of us have our suspicions. And somewhere at the top of my personal list sits the images and messages they are bombarded with every day of their lives–very much like the one on the cover of Vanity Fair last month. Yes, Disney, you do get credit for Tiana and we do appreciate the bone you threw us but how about a true reflection of who we are and what we look like as a human family every single day and not just on special occasions? How about it, Hollywood? Are you in?

When I arrived in America on the cusp of my teens 30 years ago, I didn’t NOT feel beautiful. But I wised up very quickly. The message was loud and clear and explicit! Not only was I hearing: “You’re not pretty” (actually what I heard was: “You’re ugly” but … tomatoes, tom-ah-toes …), I also never saw anyone on TV, in the movies, in the magazines, anywhere, that looked like me (and who was considered beautiful). Remember, there was no bevy of ethnic beauties like Eva Mendes or Salma Hayek or Shohreh Aghdashloo back then. There was, however, Iman and Naomi and Tyra and a handful of Huxtable women. Oh and Diann Carroll.

Reflecting back, I realize that at some point I developed a coping mechanism: I started to interpret select images I saw in the media very literally as evidence of the possibility that I, too, may be beautiful. Here’s the short version of how it went:

I’m hearing some very negative messages about my beauty.

I’m not seeing anyone who looks like me who is considered beautiful.

I do see a few black women on TV and in the movies.

Black women have brown skin.

I have brown skin.

They’re brown like me.

These women are beautiful.

Maybe I’m beautiful too.

The bottom line is that our brown and black girls and boys need to see people who look like them achieving, inventing, excelling, curing, leading, creating, thinking, innovating, writing, being lauded, being recognized. They deserve it. They are entitled to it. (There, I said it! The word that makes so many people so uncomfortable. But I don’t understand why entitlement is treated like a natural-born right of some and as a favor for others.)

Our Caucasian children need to see people of color achieving, inventing, excelling, curing, leading, creating, thinking, innovating, writing, being lauded, being recognized.

You are doing every last one of our kids–no matter what race they are–a disservice. That includes you, Vanity Fair, and every one of your brethren across all media.

Stop barraging our children with the nonstop madness. Really! Because you might have gotten away with robbing us of our ability to feel beautiful–and comfortable–in our own skins but we have no intention of letting you do it to our sons and daughters too.

Who’s Loving You?

Is your child in front of you? Take a really good look at him or her. Did he just make you laugh? Did she do something that made you furious? Did you feel a burst of joy when he said something loving?

What if in fifteen minutes, the phone rings. You get up. You walk over. You pick up the phone. It’s your doctor. You went in for a routine checkup late last week. She has the results. You were expecting them Friday, and today’s Tuesday. Four days late but you’re not worried and so you hadn’t called to follow up. You’ve always been healthy. You’re almost always the last person to catch whatever virus is going around—if you catch it at all.

The doctor cuts to the chase. She says three words in quick succession: “It is cancer.” You hear the words but you don’t understand. It’s almost like someone is speaking to you underwater.

Then the walls crash in on you. In one instant, the decades you saw stretching before you are reduced to months. If that.

And the first thing you think is: What about my babies? What is going to happen to my babies? What are they going to do without a mother?

You don’t think it could happen?

I didn’t either. But it did.

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in my 30s—two and a half years ago—I thought I had been handed a death sentence. It was advanced. It was serious. It had spread. All three typical of women of color at diagnosis.

I was so confused. I had nursed both of my babies for over a year each. I was still nursing my youngest. I had no family history. I had no risk factors. How could this be?

I was in such a fog those first few weeks.

Almost immediately I started beating myself up. This could have been prevented—or hugely mitigated—if only I had looked out for myself as well as I did for every single other person around me. If one of my babies as much as cried funny, I would run her to the doctor. Why had I ignored all of my own warning signs?

I had been so incredibly tired and run down for a few years. I assumed it was because I was a new mother.

I had felt something lumpy in my breast. I assumed it was a clogged milk duct.

I had been angry, furious, raging for a long time. I assumed it was a post-partum something or other.

I seemed to have a chronic yeast infection.

I was catching colds and flu constantly—not like me at all.

By the time I finally got a mammogram, it had been over a year since I hadn’t felt right. The mammogram showed nothing. I had to insist on an ultrasound. The ultrasound picked up a mass. They biopsied it and there it was. All 9 centimeters of it.

It is well known that women of color—and particularly black women—don’t detect their breast cancer until much later. As a result by the time they’re diagnosed, the cancer is much more advanced and thus much more likely to be deadly.

A few months ago at the CNN Heroes event, I had the honor to meet a beautiful angel of a human being—an African American woman from Florida—who, following a breast cancer diagnosis, made it her mission in life to go knocking on doors every weekend to make sure that every single woman who would like a mammogram but can’t afford it, can have access to one. For the obvious reason, I’m a bit hostile toward mammograms (it didn’t pick up my nine centimeter tumor) but I could see how they are of value in certain situations. And there are certainly many other diagnostic tools out there that can detect whatever may be wrong with great accuracy.

The one thing modern medicine is pretty good at is detection and diagnosis.

I’m now two and a half years out. I passed a major milestone at two years post-diagnosis and will pass another one in another two-and-a-half years at the five-year mark. I remember when they had put me into an MRI machine to see whether the cancer had metastasized elsewhere, just praying and visualizing myself dancing at my daughter’s wedding. “Please God, let me raise my children. Please give me the honor of raising my babies,” is what I repeated over and over again in my head those days.

My kids got me through some of the darkest times that followed.

I love my kids. I intend to be around to raise my kids. For that reason, I now take really good care of myself as well.

And I am asking in all seriousness: Are you loving YOU?

An Ode to Entitlement

Last Monday was “Bat Day” at my daughter’s school. She had been talking about seeing these bats for days so after school I was expecting her to bound over like she usually does, talking one hundred miles a minutes about bats. What I got instead was a subdued child, chewing on her bottom lip.

“Not the bottom lip!” I thought. My girl has been chewing on her bottom lip since she was about six months old. She does it when her lips are dry—and when she’s upset about something.

“What’s up?” I asked.

She shook her head without saying a word. But something was clearly off. She was moody and petulant in the car, picking silly fights with her little brother and behaving unreasonably. It got so bad I had to pull over.

“What is going on with you?” I demanded again.

This time she burst into tears. The story came out in heartbreaking sobs. Two kindergarten classes had consolidated to look at the bats together. Mina’s little friend had gotten up to hang her jacket. Mina got up to do the same. The teacher from the other kindergarten class had yelled at Mina: “Sit down! You don’t get to get up!” Mina had sat back down, scared.

“Well was she far away so she had to yell for you to hear?” I inquired.

“She was right in front of my face, mama.”

“Were you doing something that you were not supposed to be doing?”

“No, I was hot and I wanted to hang up my jacket.”

“I’m sorry you had your feelings hurt, sweetie.”

“I felt scared mommy. When she yelled at me, I got scared!”

I gave a her a hug and a kiss and that was the end of it for me.

Before you judge, let me explain myself here: I come from a LOUD family. If you are a Star Trek fan and have ever seen an episode involving Klingons talking, then you’ve pretty much seen a casual conversation between my family members. We all sound mad all the time—even when we’re not. That’s just us.

And let me give you a little more context: I remember getting slapped by a school administrator in maybe second or third grade. Not a little tap. A hard slap that left a mark on my face for a good couple of hours. I think my crime was giving a hug of support to a first grader who had gotten in trouble somehow. He looked so little and scared. I felt bad. My sympathy earned me one heck of a slap.

So with all this in mind, you will perhaps understand that the idea of a teacher yelling at my five year old didn’t exactly faze me. I thought the insult would pass. My daughter thought otherwise. She brought it up the next day. And the day after that.

On the third day, she said: “Mommy I want to explain something to you. I don’t think you understand that my teacher had told us that we don’t ever need to ask permission to get up to hang our jackets. That we can do it anytime we choose without asking.”

“Was your teacher there when you were yelled at?”

“Yes, she was sitting right there.”

“Did she say anything?”

“No.”

This was clearly going to be a problem and I was out of my depth. I brought it up to a few of my mommy friends.

One said: “This is a public school. If you go around looking for issues, you’re going to find them.”

Another said: “If this had happened to one of my daughters, I would not have been able to get them to go to school for a week or two.”

I got to thinking about how hard my husband and I work to draw my daughter out of her shell. She’s bright, she’s thoughtful and she’s sometimes shy. And so we encourage her to look doctors, store owners and other adults in the eye, to ask questions, to order her own meals, to pay sometimes (with our money, of course!)

My husband, who is Latino and who works in education reform, never stops talking about how the underlying sense of entitlement that white children feel about some of the most mundane things in life helps propel them in very significant ways later in life. That white kids are often encouraged to question and demand, while Hispanic and African American kids are taught the opposite.

My take-away from my husband’s quite frequent rants is that I need to raise some entitled children if I want them to succeed. No problem! I grew up in Iran. America’s baggage about color wasn’t handed to me until a little later in life. I’m loud and I’m proud, and can act entitled with the best of them!

But wasn’t I sending my child the exact opposite message here? You were yelled at unfairly. Hug, kiss and now drop it!

What about raising children who feel entitled to respect and fair treatment? Children who deserve not to feel scared because of a teacher yelling at them? Listen, I do yell at my kids (and quite often), and I can see circumstances where it would be more than warranted to yell like a banshee. But I also like to think I’m fair and appropriate—at least most of the time.

So I sat down with my daughter and I told her I could see that she was very upset. What did she think we could do to correct this situation? She wanted to write a letter to the principal. “Fine,” I said, “you dictate and I’ll write.” She expressed herself quite eloquently while I typed. She signed her name with great pride, and after we dropped off her letter on Monday, she finally seemed satisfied and resolved.

Today’s Thursday and we haven’t had a call from school yet to discuss the matter. That annoys me but I’m giving it a few more days and then going in like the crazy Klingon I was raised to be.

Here’s to raising some entitled brown and black kids. Are you in?

Raising Princess

I want to raise a child with character. I want my child to lead a life of service. I want my child to be of substance, to make a difference, to resonate with humanity during her time on this earth.

 Except my child is five.

 She wants to play princesses. She wants to dress up. She’s curious about high heels and makeup. And she’s so worried about disappointing me. I can see it in her eyes as she waits to see how I will react to her admiring one of those princesses, the ones she knows mommy can’t stand. And so I catch her watching for my approval (or disapproval) and I catch myself trying to twist my face to hide my dismay, to act like I’m okay with the blonde busty princess with the big gown and tiara, the one who obsesses about finding herself a prince and not much else. Both of us doing this dance, for the sake of the other.

“My mommy doesn’t like princesses,” I overhear her telling a friend recently.

“Why?” my friend asks. My ears perk up.

“Because she thinks they’re vain and shallow.”

I groan inside. I’ve done it! I’ve ruined the magic of princesses for my five year old. I’ve screwed up her childhood. She will be on some therapist’s couch in twenty years.

Later that night, I tell her I don’t dislike all princesses. I like some of them, the ones who do things for others, who are kind, who try to do service. I make a big deal out of the new Disney princess. I highlight the fact that she works so hard, that she has character and stands on her principles. “See? Mommy likes some princesses.”

I’m struggling! I’m struggling with trying to balance the whimsy of childhood and the need to teach character and spiritual qualities early on. I’m afraid that if I wait too long, it will be too late. I look around and see cause for alarm. I see girls bombarded night and day with images of women as sexual objects.  I see pre-teen girls wearing things I would expect to see on a thirty year old. I see women being rewarded for scandalous, immoral behavior. I see twelve and thirteen-year-olds whose milkshake brings all the boys to the yard. This makes me lose sleep.

I was no saint myself. I was no girl scout. But it seems like the situation has become dire for our little girls. They’re under assault, both explicitly and otherwise. They have become the playthings of the ignorant and they are cast in that role from an earlier and earlier age. And no matter how hard you work to stay on message, eventually they go to school. They make friends. Maybe some of those friends’ parents aren’t so bothered by the same things that bother you. Maybe during a play date, while you’re in the kitchen making lunch, you suddenly hear your daughter’s little friend teaching her some song about her “lovely lady lumps.” You feel a panic attack coming. You do your yoga breath to calm down.

And later that night you pray for guidance and wisdom … and balance.

Sweet Nothings

We were roaming the stores on Saturday when a sweet, well-meaning salesperson handed each of my kids animal crackers in a box that looked like a circus car, complete with a little white handle top. They were overjoyed and walking around, swinging their boxes of cookies, and talking about which animal they would eat first. We sat down a few minutes later to drink some coffee and tea. My daughter handed me her box, I slid it open, and gave her a cookie. Did the same for my boy.

“You don’t want to do that.” Says my husband.

“Why?”

“Look at the ingredients.”

And there were my old nemeses: No. 2: High Fructose Corn Syrup and No. 6: Partially Hydrogenated Cottonseed Oil.

I said to my kids: “I’m sorry but that one cookie’s going to have to be it.”

“Why mommy?”

“Because it has yucky ingredients that over the long term can make you sick.”

“Mommy, if they know kids eat these cookies, then why do they put yucky ingredients in them?” said my five year old.

There you go. If a five year old can point out the disconnect here, why can’t the food manufacturers? We all know why: MONEY.

Key disclosure: My household went fully militant about food after I had a health crisis in 2007. And by crisis, I mean CRISIS. The kind you don’t want to have with a one- and three-year-old in the house who need their mamas for a long time to come. And so, with a few exceptions at birthday parties, holidays and the like, no high fructose corn syrup, no trans fats, and low sugar and white flour. Mostly fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fish. Organic if it’s affordable.

I’m trying to balance letting my kids be ‘normal’ children who love to eat sweets and enjoy ice cream and cookies once in while with eating patterns that become habits that last a lifetime. My own parents’ permissiveness about cakes, cookies and candy translated into a lifelong sugar addiction which I was only able to kick when I was looking death in the face. And even now I struggle with those cravings daily.

Remember all the hoopla about the trans fats in Oreos a few years back? Well, have you checked the labels of your average candy bars lately? It’s highly likely that the ingredients will include some form of corn syrup and/or partially hydrogenated oils, artificial flavoring and coloring. (Ditto for some of the top brands of yogurt marketed directly to children. And don’t get me started on Nutrasweet.) Who are the primary consumers of these crap-laden foods? Children, of course! 

Which one of our stomachs didn’t turn when the research came out last year about the far higher prevalence of obesity among Black and Hispanic children? And that on the whole, obese children will have more and longer hospital stays? My oncologist friend once told me that the medical community is now seeing diseases among children that they only used to see in the elderly a few decades ago. And that blame for these illnesses can be laid squarely at the door of what our children are eating and being exposed to in their environment. 

Why wouldn’t manufacturers want the BEST stuff for our children? Because it translates into less dollars. Why does it ALWAYS have to be about dollars? (Am I starting to sound naive? Trust me, it’s one of my best qualities.)

How do we change this aspect of our society? If you have any ideas, let me know. For now, my efforts are mostly on the homefront.

Love Always.