Not so long ago, my husband took our son with him to get a haircut, where the boy was offered a lollipop, something he previously didn’t know existed. In my world, we would just say no thank you. It’s just Not. Something. We. Eat. End of story. If he asked, I would have just said “We don’t eat those. Those aren’t healthy.” Without tasting it or being around other kids who eat them, he would probably just accept that answer, at least for the time being.
Daddy, however, figured “What could be the harm in one Dum-Dum sucker?” Just like the boy’s grandma has argued, “What’s the harm in me taking him to Johnny Rockets where he gets just a little bit of ketchup in a smiley face?”
The thing is, nothing is an exception for a four-year-old. Once you’ve done something one time, it must be done again. The door is opened. After you have licked of the forbidden lollipop, you can never go back to not knowing that lollipops exist.
So the one-time experience becomes something mystical, magical. It is the hoped-for and unattainable ,where it used to just not even be part of the boy’s consciousness, cluttering up his brain. The mother-in-law is now following orders on the fast food thing, which has our son wistfully saying things like “We used to go there…” When I suggested LJ take little E with him to get a haircut at a different place, the boy said, “No! I want to go where they’ll give me a lollipop!”
When you’re a mom whose personal health has suffered greatly because of what she ate, it’s a pisser to see your kid get geeked about crappy food, especially when you don’t have school or other kids to blame but your own family.
My son accepts that he doesn’t eat food containing gluten. I went gluten-free six years ago when I learned — while trying to heal from a thyroid disorder and to regain my fertility — that I was gluten-intolerant and have the genetic markers for celiac disease. So, while his dad occasionally eats bread and pasta, our son has a gluten-free model in me, and so far he’s cool with it. We talk about how other kids can’t eat nuts, and some can’t eat eggs… Everyone needs to do what’s best for his or her body.
When junk food is at issue, though, sometimes we are tempted to lie. Just a little bit.
The other day he came home from a friend’s birthday party with some goodie bag toys. “There was bubble gum, but it had gluten,” he announced. I was home with the newborn while his dad shuttled him to the party, so this was news to me.
I haven’t much invoked gluten as an escape hatch like this, but I didn’t object to my husband doing so. According to the “Chewing Gum” entries on About.com and Wikipedia, gum doesn’t appear to contain gluten ingredients. But it does have a whole lot of crap, with high fructose corn syrup and artificial colors and flavors being my biggest areas of concern.
I know people think that if you’re too strict about things, kids will just go in the other direction. Maybe. But my hope is that 1) his future health will be built on a solid foundation so that he can better withstand whatever choices he makes later on and that 2) he won’t be so interested in eating bad food if he hasn’t learned to associate those flavors and textures with happy, warm-fuzzy vibes.
Since we are in such a developmental period of discovery, and since my son has such a desire for consistency and regularity, I would like to stick to the party line of “We just don’t eat that.”
I do get the “Why?” question, though. If an exception has been made and he’s already had the thing once, it’s a lot harder for me to keep my righteousness in check and not start pontificating about how much I care about his health and that I don’t want him to get sick like I did…
If we’ve never had it, we just don’t have it. Period. It is so much easier to just keep things as a non-issue than to make exceptions. When I reported my concern about a really young kid with a lot of health issues eating cake and ice cream at a birthday party, my husband shrugged, “People just figure parties are special occasions.”
But if it’s okay sometimes, a young child just gets the message that it’s okay. And it’s hard to keep hold to the reins after that. So even though something might physically be okay on special occasions, savvy kids will find ways to make the exception the rule. These things are cycles: parents complain that their kids will eat only cheesy pasta but then turn around and refer to cheesy pasta as “kid food.” That’s another discussion, but we do have to think about the role we play in our kids’ preferences and habits and, most importantly, how they see things.
I know this will get harder, and after reading Petula Dvorak’s recent piece in the Post on school food and chocolate milk, I feel like keeping him out of public school forever.
But thus far it really has been possible to raise my son on a diet with very little processed food and zero gluten, high fructose corn syrup (which the Corn Refiners Association wants to rename “corn sugar”), or artificial colors & flavors. He doesn’t care about what he’s missing because he just enjoys what he is given and, for the most part, he doesn’t get mixed messages from his folks. We don’t drink soda or much juice or eat and drink stuff we tell him he can’t have (except alcohol and coffee, which are imbibed in moderation, to put it mildly).