Monday, July 18, 2011

Like Water for Chocolate Elephants

This one's a rant. There's your warning.

Dear World,

Please stop making up for my parenting lapses by jumping in and fixing everything for my kids. I'm trying to do a thing here. You're wrecking it. Go away.

Hatefully yours,

Of course there is a specific event that precipitated this but it is not an isolated event. Oh no. But that it were.

Once upon a time, I was the kind of parent that didn't leave the house without enough provisions to sustain a smallish army division for two weeks. Snacks, water bottles, extra snacks (in case we hit traffic), back-up canteens, blankets, toys for sand, toys for water, toys for watery sand, jackets, umbrellas, cyanide capsules, notebooks, crayons and spare undies. We'd be headed out for a trip to the park but if we changed our minds and decided to hike the Appalachian Trail instead, it was cool because we'd be ready.

Now, this could not be further from the way I remembered being a kid if I'd been a kid on Pluto. But, as a new parent I had a formula for deciding how I was going to do things. It was: Take whatever MY mom did and divide it by 5. Then set it on fire. Look at what other moms are doing and multiply by 1000. That led to a lot of conversations like this:

Zelda's Mom: Should Eleanor be outside in her bathing suit?
Zelda: What's your opinion?
Z's Mom: Well, it is January. In Michigan. I say no.
Zelda: Stop telling me how to raise my children. This is how it's done now. It's called, "Frostbite Parenting", and you wouldn't understand.
Or this:

Annoyika: I'm going to have balloons at Paisley's party. Are you going to have balloons.
Zelda: Well, yeah.
Annoyika: How many?
Zelda: How many are you having?
Annoyika: 24, I think.
Zelda: Oh. I'm having 24,000. WINNER!
My mom never carried water or snacks for us. Parents of my peer group always did. Do the math = Appalachian Trail. But at some point (third child) I said, "No mas!" I was taking more notice of what we were stuffing down our gullets. I mean, I have no doubt that our livers would have made an impossibly rich paté but I was skeptical that being the fattest family in the universe was as noble as it sounded. And I got tired of lugging all that gear everywhere. Tired enough to just not go places because it was too much trouble to get ready to go out for a 30 minute excursion that would involve 2 snack breaks.

And I was getting progressively more disgusted by the level of snacking in my kids' lives. Before, during and after every athletic event there was food or drink. Usually something that came in a palett. I'd feed my kids well all week just to have them play basketball on Saturday morning and chase their 27 water breaks and 15 minutes of skipping and flapping with a bag of Cheetos and a Hi-C.

Unless we were leaving for more than 2 hours I stopped bringing anything. Even water.

When did kids get so freaking thirsty? When did it become bad parenting for your children to experience thirst once in a while? I'm pretty sure the next generation of kids will be born with a bottle of water growing out of the place where a hand used to be.

When we are out and my kids say, "I'm thirsty." I say, "You may have a drink when we get home."

Try this some time, if you haven't already, and watch the heads snap around.

"She's not going to let them have water!"
"Shut up!"
"No, really. She just said they had to wait."
"For water? Oh my gaw!"
"I think the little one is turning into stone!"
"I can't look!"
Moms will dig furiously through their gear packs, "I have an extra bottle! It's here somewhere. Please don't let them die!" I will try to politely decline, "No, thank you. We're fine." But, if they press I will accept the water. Sometimes I just leave it unopened. Sometimes I open the bottle and pour it out in front of them and then toss the empty bottle over my shoulder and say, "Mmmm. That's was delicious. Wasn't that delicious kids? So refreshing."

No. But I want to. Because I'm sick of people interfering with my parenting.

It occurs to me lately that my children are tender. Like delicate, flaky French pastries. They are incredibly sensitive to fluctuations in temperature and humidity. They need a little toughening up. For the past year this has been my goal and I've stepped it up in recent months. Hiking. Bike rides. Enduring blistering temps in the low 80s without central air. Sparkling mineral water without a lemon wedge. All to the disapproving stares of other parents.

And here's what the kids have been hearing:

E: I'm hot.
Zelda: Good.

H: I'm hungry.
Zelda: Good.

S: I'm thirsty.
Zelda: Good.

M: Noodles?
Zelda: No.

Well, almost.

They've also heard:

"It's good to be hot and thirsty sometimes. Life isn't about sitting in your air conditioned living room in total comfort at a perfect level of hydration."


"You're supposed to get hungry during the day. If you never get hungry you are eating too much."


"None of you are going to be prepared for the zombie apocalypse if you can't go a few hours without nourishment. I am not going to get my brains eaten because you're feeling peckish."

Today, I was told, among other things, that my kids should be bringing a midmorning snack to camp because all the other kids did and they "might feel left out". What? We're eating to fit in? Fit into what? A size 42? When I said that we didn't eat midmorning snacks I was told that it could be something healthy. I found that pretty revealing, that I didn't HAVE to pack something unhealthy although that would clearly be the optimal choice.

I thanked the director for the suggestion and walked out to my van to try to figure out what had just happened. Ever try to flesh out the real story from a 9-year old that knows he is in trouble? Yeah. That. I'm still not clear on what happened but it may or may not involve robot alligators from Mars.

After I turned back into Bruce Banner, righted the van and started toward home I considered how to proceed. My inclination was to set my phasers to stun and come back in the morning with guns blazing. But then I remembered my new resolution which is to stop trying to save the world from itself because, frankly, it doesn't deserve my efforts (aka "Choose your battles", but mine's better). So, tomorrow, my kids will show up with a snack in their backpacks. But, they have been ordered not to eat them on penalty of no video games for a million years.

Next time: "Social Services: Which one of you called them?"


  1. Take it from me, a gal who was always given food to make her feel better, to celebrate, or to just have something to do to keep her busy and out of her mom's hair -- and who then ended up battling obesity all of her adult life (so far) -- your kids will love you later in life for not making food the center of their universe.

    Wait-- that sounded like parental advice, which means you might be tempted to do the exact opposite of what I just suggested. Don't. Er, I mean... do? (If that means you won't.)

    Whatev. Do what you want.

  2. LOL, Cecily! Somehow I've never bristled at the kind of advice that starts out, "You're doing exactly the right thing."

  3. Yeep. I've offered you a bottle of water at park day. At least you didn't pour it out in front of me. You probably realized that might make me cry and risk the possibility of becoming dehydrated, right? Right??? PS--You're doing exactly the right thing. Kids these days have it too easy. Drink of water, indeed...