It was a beautiful car ride to the house where the birthday party was being held. Our three-year-old was excited, as he was about to play with many of his friends and cousins. As we arrived, we could see the giant water slide rented by the parents for the birthday boy, sitting on top of the hill, towering above the other houses. Water from the slide poured down the sloping street unto the road below, creating a sizable puddle–something unseen after months of little rain. Our boy’s face was full of excitement and anticipation as we tried to put his swimsuit on as quickly as possible.
While watching our child jump, sing and rejoice on the water slide, it didn’t take much to see an unwanted scenario on the horizon before us starting to unfold. An elderly lady who babysat the hosts’ children approached the slide with a plate full of fried treats. The plate was carefully lined with several white napkins to absorb the grease, and it seemed like they had reached their saturation limits. Most children didn’t pay any attention to her nor the unhealthy snacks. But she was on a mission.
“Treat anyone?” she asked the noisy crowd. When no one answered, she moved closer to the splashing water, calling some children by name to get their attention. Eventually, she finally fixed her gaze upon our boy, who, being the youngest one, couldn’t scramble away as the others did. “Would you like some chicken nuggets?” she asked sweetly. “They are freshly fried”. He wasn’t ready to pause his jumping, sliding and screaming at the moment, so he only decided to share a happy grin with her (of course, while still jumping and sliding).
But she wasn’t ready to take no for an answer. “Fried nuggets?” she asked once again while smiling at him. Our child leaped toward her, reached over and grabbed one as we winced with disapproval, while attempting to figure out a diplomatic way to deal with the situation. It was hard to tell whether the streams of fluid running down his little fingers were water or hydrogenated oil. What felt like an eternity must not have been too long, and before we could sputter a word, he took a bite of the nugget and continued the fun with his buddies. Full of satisfaction, the lady leaned toward us and said, “Keep an eye on him, these water slide things are dangerous and you don’t want him to get hurt”! We, both speechless from what had just happened, and now soaked waist down from all the splashing water, could only feel defeated.
But the party was far from being over, and as the kids got hungry from all the energy-burning activity, the snacks started pouring out. The dining table was full of various chips and cookies, bowls with varieties of soft and hard candy, hot dogs, hamburger patties-which I later learned had not much to do with real meat, and sodas. Kids were all over it like hungry flies. We looked for fruit, veggies, plain water or whole wheat bread or cookies. There was none. “Clink, clink, clink. Time for the Happy Birthday song and a cake!” That’s our boy’s favorite song in the whole world-he sings on anytime of the day and usually also blows the candles before the birthday boy or girl can take a breath. We did allow our son to have some cake, yet we found ourselves explaining the whole way home why we couldn’t take home one of the goodie bags of candy.
As implied earlier, similar events had happened in the past. About a year ago we were at a different birthday party. At one point the father of the birthday boy came over and offered our kid a bag full of candy. On that occasion we were able to intervene and suggested we hang on to the bag for later while our son ran wildly around the backyard.
The father asked us if we were OK with him running around in the backyard, implying that the boy could fall and scratch himself on the concrete sidewalk or while climbing a tree. We said we weren’t really concerned with that; kids will be kids, and little scratches can’t really do much harm. With a look of bewilderment, the parent walked away. On another occasion a parent insisted–repeatedly–on offering our child a bag of Easter candy. Luckily our kid was otherwise occupied at the time and I kindly declined the offer. The parent gave our child a sorrowful look and walked away, but not before giving us the kind of half-smile that makes you wonder if you’re being judged and found wanting.
Before our son was born, we had agreed to rise our child on healthy food. We agreed that occasional “unhealthy” treats were OK. But these days, unhealthy treats are so commonplace that we realized that there was no need to buy them ourselves. We stopped buying soda, potato chips and processed candy, although we have some reasonably healthy cookies, and other snacks at home. One day, as our son arrived from day care, we asked what he wanted for a snack. “Potato chips” was his response. Potato chips? we thought. We’ve been told that at day care children do not share snacks, and that all parents are encouraged to bring healthy snacks.
Grandma has been partially indoctrinated about what type of foods she can give him, and many of our closest friends tend to eat nutritious foods. So how is it possible that he could come up with such a request? There’s more. A few days ago we went to the pharmacy. Our boy was quick to run toward the lollipops. When we said no, he went for the chocolates. “Uh-uh” we said. He appeared to already expect this response and before we finished our negative answer he was already exchanging these for cookies. We answered no once more and that’s when he went back to the lollipops and the loop continued.
One can only conjecture on the reasons why our son, who as far as we know has never even tried a soda, has been recently requesting bad snacks. For one, kids find unhealthy snacks delicious. And why not? They come with either a thick coat of sugar, or are loaded with salt, fat and sometimes all of the above. Two, he is exposed to it everywhere.
Be it at birthday parties or while playing at the park or going to the store and being hypnotized by the colorful candy wrappings. In American culture there is no escape from it. Third, try as we may to avoid indulging his desires for these treats, he will inevitably get them from somebody else–the little buddy who wants to share his chips while going down the slide, Grandma thinking that a ‘little bit’ of chocolate pudding is not going to hurt him or Grandpa not knowing the difference between plain yogurt and processed, sweetened yogurt. I guess all of this–and what is yet to come–should be expected. If facing these and other challenges on a daily basis is what it takes to raise a green child, then so be it.