Sunday, April 24, 2011

Taking Candy from a Baby

, I don’t know who originally thought taking candy from a baby was all that easy. Instead, I think talking candy from a baby should be a metaphor for something that people think will be a snap, but in reality turns out to be really, really hard.

Case in point:

It is well established with my family members, among my friends and in nursery school, that I limit my daughter’s sugar intake. I have to emphasize the word limit—I do not deny her altogether as I once did. I’m not an extremist, but I refuse to buy into our society’s obsession with sugar. I maintain that we do not have to frost the first meal of the day. We do not have to eat a dessert after dinner every night. And we do not have to celebrate every holiday—from Earth Day to Birthdays—with pounds and pounds of sugar.

All this refined sugar—whether it’s from organic beets or high fructose corn syrup is making us sick: replacing nutritious calories with empty ones; causing tooth decay; fostering insulin resistance, and possibly even leading to metabolic syndrome, which is now thought to be the culprit behind heart disease.

I am tired of being the mom who says “no” all the time: When everyone else is piling their plates high with homemade macaroons, and chocolate matzoh crunch, and jellied candies at the end of the seder. When I’ve promised my daughter a special treat after dinner, but I’ve found out that she’s already been slipped a goodie by a well-intended grandparent. When it’s a Spring Celebration in nursery school, and, right after the kids have just celebrated a birthday party with cake, juice and strawberries they return to their classroom for a second celebration—with cupcakes, chocolate, marshmallows, and lemonade.

The last episode occurred this week. I had gone into the classroom to return a book, but when I saw Sophie mainlining frosting at celebration number two, I lost it. I went to my mother, the director, and told her I was upset. My mother (who agreed with me this time) went vigilante—before I said anything, she walked into the classroom and took said candy from my baby.

Needless to say, my daughter was neither oblivious to the pilfering of her cupcake, nor was she down with it. She instantly fell to the floor screaming and crying. I hid in the adjacent classroom, debating, for a moment, whether to let her teachers work through it. But I also knew that none of this was Sophie’s fault, and she was just reacting the way any addict would if you blew the coke out from under her nose. I came in to clean up the mess. “Mommy, uppy!” she cried, when she saw me.

“What’s going on, Sophie?”

“Read me a book to calm me down!” was her response.

So I took her out of the room, read her a couple of books, explained why, grandma took her cupcake. “You had too much sugar, Soph. One slice of cake is fine, but cake AND chocolate AND a cupcake AND juice AND marshmallow peeps is way too much. All that sugar will make you sick and give you cavities.”

“I want it back!” she wailed.

“Of course you do. And its fine to have another treat another day. But we’re done for today.” Grandma came in the room. Sophie wouldn’t look at her. Grandma, after all, was responsible for the cupcake caper.

“Sophie, I wrapped up your cupcake for you to have another time.”

“After lunch?”

“No Sophie. Another day,” I jumped in.

“After dinner?” Ach. This kid.

“No Sophie. Dinner happens later on today. You can have it ANOTHER day.”

Of course, I’m lying. The truth of the matter is she will never see that cupcake, full of nasty artificial ingredients and dyes, again. I will be throwing it out. Right behind it would be the marshmallow peeps and the jelly beans.

And by the time I do, she will have forgotten all about it.

Here’s the thing. Children are not inherently sugar-crazy. We create the desire (this being the royal we—marketing, peers, the institutionalization of bad nutrition every where, from schools to hospitals). And once kids have that first lick of a lolly, that first spoonful of ice cream, it’s all over. Perhaps, before this introduction it might have been possible to take candy from our babies. But once the get a taste of the stuff, I pity the one who attempts to pry it from their grasp.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

What's Good for the Grandchild Is Not Good for the Daughter

This post was inspired by Adena Halpern’s novel, 29, the April selection of the online book club, From Left to Write. I received a complementary copy of the book from the publisher, but was not otherwise compensated to write this piece. Find out how other writers were inspired by the book here.

My mother does not spoil my daughter, Sophia, as much as she would like to. I won’t let her. After dinner one night, she asks if she can give Sophia a second helping of ice cream. A disappointed look crosses her face as I shake my head no. I watch her mouth tighten, and I know she’s holding her tongue. Still, she tries to back me up, saying, “Sorry, Sophia, Mommy says ‘no.’” It isn’t until Sophia is out of ear shot that she asks, “Come on, Melissa. Is a little bit more going to kill her?”

In my lectury teacher voice I tell her, “No, of course not, Mom. But she had already had a cupcake in nursery school today and I want treats to be special, not something that is routinely doled out after each meal.” My mother sighs. She knows I’m right. And then I remind her, “Besides, when I was a kid you were adamant about limiting our sweets. Have you forgotten? Why is it different with Sophia?”

It’s true. We were never allowed to have sugar cereals and the cookie drawer was strictly off-limits. There was always stuff around (my father had an insatiable sweet tooth), and there were no locks on the cookie drawer, but I was a pretty rule-bound kid. I tended to obey the guidelines my parents set forth, indulging only when my younger sister goaded me on. Jenny would barge into my room on a Sunday morning, before our parents were awake. “You wanna take some of mom’s truffles and melt them on the radiator and smear them on bread to make chocolate sandwiches?” she’d ask, a gleam in her eye. “Uh, okay,” and we’d do it, though I knew there’d be hell to pay.

Also, I can’t remember my mother indulging in sweets when I was a child the way she does now. A half-gallon of Edy’s Flavor of the Month is lucky to last a night in her freezer. And if you’re sharing with her, your wrist better be limber and ready for battle. So, maybe it’s part of a broader loosening of her rules as she gets older.

Or maybe, this is the grandmother dynamic. Be the person you could not be as a parent. The person who says “yes” to everything. The person who elicits broad smiles instead of tantrums. The person who for whom my daughter only has positive associations: going to her nursery school, visiting museums, reading books, staying up late, eating ice cream. Maybe after all those hard years of trying to shape, and instill, and promote, and push back, there is great joy to be had in indulgence. In letting go.

It might be different if Sophia was with my mother on a daily basis, and Sophia had to comply with requests my mother makes. But I am usually there, waiting in the wings to be the heavy: Listen to your grandmother. Sit in your chair. Eat your broccoli. Brush your teeth. Put your pajamas on. I deal with the push back; I dole out the consequences. My mother did it for me, and now it’s her turn to relax.

I suppose I just have to wait my turn, when Sophia has a child of her own who I can lavish attention on, and then hand back for the tough stuff. In the meanwhile, I am earning my stripes. Laying down the law. Following through on what I say. Teaching Sophia self control, because it is not the treats in and of themselves that are so sweet, but the departure from restrictions. Appreciation and gratitude are born out of limits, not excess. If Sophia is going to be able to pass along this lesson to her daughter, she has to first learn it from me.

Grandma is my foil and my counterpart.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Big Gurl Bed

My mother has been on my case to transition Sophia to a big girl bed, but I’ve been very reluctant to do so. Sophia likes her cozy little house, a crib with a tent over it that zips shut, and I like having a place to put her in from which she can’t escape. I adopted a don’t ask, don’t suggest policy…if Sophia wasn’t asking to move, I wasn’t going to bring it up. Then, about a week ago, something happened to change my mind. First, a little back story: Oddly, Sophia was dry all night before she was dry during the day. Since she’s been in underwear full time, she’s only had two nighttime accidents. The first occurred UIB, under the influence of Benedryl, (She had a viral rash that covered most of her body.) She slept so soundly that she peed herself while sleeping and never woke up. The second was completely my fault—I gave her too much to drink at dinner time and forgot to toilet her before bed. She was so ashamed when it happened….I swore I would never make that mistake again. Back to a week ago: I hadn’t been sleeping much and so I took a little OTC sleep medication (coincidentally, the generic equivalent of Benedryl), popped in my ear plugs, and tried to make up for lost time. In a dream and far away I heard a voice calling, “Mommy! I need to go to the bathroom!” By the time I realized that the voice belonged to Sophia, she was screaming desperately, “Mommy! Help! I’m pee-peeing! I’m pee-peeing in my bed.” I ran into the room, unzipped the crib tent, but it was too late. She was already midstream, crying hysterically. Unthinkingly, I picked her up and carried her to the bathroom, as she continued to pee—in the crib, on me, across the rug, onto the tile—where I placed her on the toilet, still in her pajamas and still peeing. Her silky polka-dot pants ballooned out as it captured her urine before it soaked through and into the bowl. Humiliated and filthy, Sophie continued to bawl. I looked at my watch. 1 am. I had work the next day, but there was no other option. I had to clean her and the mess up. Sophie hates baths, and, as it turns out, she hates them even more when they are given at 1 am, particularly after she’s traumatized herself by wetting the bed. I tackled Sophie first, then the bed, then the floor. And I said out loud, as I shook my first up at the sky, clutching my sponge, “With God as my witness, I’ll never clean up a mess like this at 1 am again.” And then I sobbed a little myself. In the nights that followed, before I had an opportunity to put together Sophia’s toddler bed, I slept very poorly. Kevin offered to listen for her as well, keeping the monitor on in proximity to his room. But I couldn’t sleep knowing at any moment we could have a repeat performance of that terrible night. Finally, the next weekend while Kevin was away on business, I had a couple hours to assemble the bed. When I was finished, Sophie was elated. She immediately set to making it, covering it with blankets, pillows, and her entourage of 58 stuffed animals. At 5:30 pm, she began begging to go to sleep. “Please, Mommy? Please can I sleep in my new big gurl bed.” I was encouraged by this. Fool that I was. Three hours later: Over the monitor, I heard Sophia jiggling her bedroom door handle, the patter of her feet as she made her way across the carpet to the top of the stairs, and then her voice, punctuated by sobs, “Mommy, I can handle it! I can!” Apparently, she could not. This was now the fifth time she had climbed out of her big gurl bed in the last hour, and I was not having it. The first three times, I patiently returned her to her room and shut the door. The fourth time I gave her a warning: “You get out of bed one more time, Sophia, and you’re telling me that you can’t handle it and you’re not ready for a big girl bed.” “I can handle it,” she assured me, and climbed into bed. The monitor was silent for all of five minutes. Though it pained me to go upstairs, transfer the mattress from her bed to the crib, and lift her back into it as she sobbed, I was relived. This wasn’t going to go on all night. Once inside her crib, Sophia seemed to be relieved, too. She stopped crying almost instantly, popped a thumb in her mouth, cuddled Snakey-Pie and went to sleep. It was the last I heard of her until 7 am. Thank god. When I dragged my ass in there the next morning to retrieve Sophie from the crib, she patted her big girl bed thoughtfully, “I’m not ready for the bed yet.” She told me, “maybe when I’m a bigger gurl. Maybe when I’m four. Much much MUCH bigger,” she stood on her toes and reached upwards with her hands to emphasize her point. Could it be that Sophie is reluctant to let go of this last vestige of her babyhood? For all of her posturing, “I’m not a baby. I’m a big gurl,” and insistence that, “I can do it myself,” might there be a part of her that clings to the comfort of having all her needs met by another? Autonomy comes with a cost—personal responsibility. I think, intuitively, she knows this. And so for now, two beds fill Sophie’s room, one that offers boundaries and another that offers freedom. Each night the choice is available to her. I am confident she’ll opt for the latter when she is ready. Until then, I’ll keep my night job.