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Friday, November 28, 2014

Fritos, Cheetos and Coke: the parent trap

Because I don’t live near my children, when I visit, I stay with them, for anywhere from a few days to a week. (I hope they still leave the light on after this.) The common wisdom is for us grandmas to paste on a smile, close our mouths and open our pocketbooks. If our child and his/her partner fight, it is critically important to be suddenly struck blind and deaf.

From an anthropological standpoint, these visits allow me to observe a fascinating but foreign culture: my kids and grandkids in their native habitat.

My report from the field:

I returned last week from San Francisco, where I visited my daughter and son-in-law and two of the grandkids, ages 7 and 5. My daughter recently completed a seminar on nutrition, so healthy eating was a major theme of this visit. As a doctor, she believes the takeaway, for all of us, is to stop eating sugar and processed foods. Not a news flash, but a reminder to cut down on the junk foods that clog our arteries and melt our brains.

One might think that all parents try to serve healthy food, but they absolutely do not. (See my field notes on Florida grandchildren.) My California grandkids, like all little ones, demand food all day, before meals and after meals, from the time they wake up until they go to sleep.

My daughter has taken on the necessary and truly onerous job of setting limits. She notices what they eat, and offers food values that complement one another during the day. These kids do not ever drink orange juice or apple juice, both of which are liquid sugar. They don’t eat chips or candy or ice cream, except in carefully limited amounts.

They have “fruit night” every night for dessert, except for the occasional “sweet night.” Dinner must be eaten first. They do not have free access to the refrigerator.

What I observed is that setting and maintaining limits is a full-time job. The kids push back hard, all the time, against rules that restrict sweets. They become professional advocates for “just one more Tootsie Roll” or a cupcake that is technically an “extra” because it’s someone’s birthday cupcake, not officially “dessert.” They search out loopholes. They find neighbors who give them treats. They hide birthday bags under their beds. Snickers wrappers float in the bathtub.

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