I can’t be the only one who’s been thinking about the Sarah Palin incident. Nope, not the “Russia from my house” thing, and not the shooting moose from a helicopter to make chili thing, and not the quitting-governor-before-the-term-limit thing either…those are sooo last year. I’m not even trying to be political, I swear. I’m talking about S.P.’s recent publicity stunt: bringing sugar cookies to kids at a Pennsylvania school because she was worried that their Big Bad District was taking away their God-given right to eat junk. I swear, she actually said that she equates Pennsylvania with Hershey’s, and therefore telling parents that they can’t bring in sugary treats for their kids’ birthdays anymore is tantamount to violating those kids’ birthright as citizens of the Hershey State. *Puke.*
I’m not (believe it or not) going to go into an analysis of whether or not I think the sugary treat ban in Bucks County is good or bad, or anything like it, and I’m not going to talk about what I think of S.P.’s actions (though you can probably guess). However, I will say this: whatever your opinion of banning treats in schools might be, it is a far faster, slipperier slope than any of us might want to admit. Witness the following experience, which J. and I had this morning as we dropped our boys off at school.
As we brought P. to the toddler room, where he and other 18-30 month-olds will spend their day, he started (predictably) to fuss. P. doesn’t fuss at drop-off because he’ll miss Mommy and Daddy, really — he fusses because he likes L.’s big Pre-K room better. There’s more room to run in there, more toys that do cool stuff (like a computer! Awesome!), and his brother is there, which adds to the cache for him. He can’t fathom why we continually remove him from that fascinating scene and bring him upstairs to the age-appropriate area, where he’ll be relegated to a world without technology and where none of his peers are old enough to be suckered into doing his bidding.
When P. fusses at drop-off and tries to claw his way back to the gate that leads to the lobby (and, by logical extension, the stairway to Pre-K), the best tactic is obviously distraction. This morning, as I wrestled his jacket off him, one of the teachers knelt down and said enthusiastically, “P.! Guess what! We’re going to make chocolate-chip cookies today!”
I didn’t blink, by the way — I expect that most of you think I would have. But I know that they’re doing lots of kids and cooking activities this month; I understand that baking is a fun science/math extension activity for toddlers; and I can support the idea that, once in a while, making chocolate chip cookies as a class, rather than whole-wheat pancakes, veggie platters, or the like, is just plain fun. Cookies are exciting. I was fine with it.
Until, seeing how I exclaimed and oohed and aahed and tried to use the cookie project as a viable distraction for my squirming child (whose newest addition to his vocabulary is, in fact, “cookie” — spoken this week for banana-oatmeal cookies made with whole wheat flour), the teacher continued. “Aaaaand,” she squealed enthusiastically, “we also have Munchkins, AND cupcakes today! LOTS of treats!”
Sorry — that screeching sound you just heard was my brain coming to an abrupt halt as it tried to process that particular piece of information. Um. What?
Nervous laughter ensued. There I stood, holding my red-faced child as he attempted to catapult himself (using my cleavage as a foothold, thank you very much) out of my arms and over the offending baby gate, staring at his teacher and the now-evident box of Dunkin’ Donuts Munchkins on the shelf beside her. And I had a million things to say, but I couldn’t let most of them out, and the rest were so busy jockeying for position that there was just a logjam of comments building up inside me and nothing at all actually came out of my mouth but “Heh heh…heh…”
J., by this point, had astutely left the room and was studying the lobby bulletin board with laser-like focus (the construction-paper leaves were apparently fascinating to him). I finally burst out with “Ummm, could we maybe NOT have all of those today?” I think I sounded a little more shrill and alarmist than I intended to, but honestly, I was trying to be restrained.
The teacher’s smile only faltered for a moment. “Oh, um, yeah, sure,” she said. “No problem.”
The next minute or two was a jumble of the two of us trying to defend our positions without being awkward (disastrously, I might add). She started explaining sort of hastily how it was just an accident that this had happened because the activity was already planned, but then it was somebody’s birthday, so hence the cupcakes, and then the Munchkins came on the scene… (I still haven’t figured out quite how those wound up in the equation, unless they appeared by some Twilight Zone junk food portal.) And I started tripping over myself to try not to appear like the Food Fuhrer, saying things like “I just can’t imagine how tired you guys will be this afternoon if all these little people get so sugared up!” and passing it all off like a big joke. When the truth is, I’m really disturbed.
In the end, we agreed that she’d limit P. to one treat as far as she was able, which I appreciate, but I’m not totally confident in that arrangement — only because I know firsthand how hard it is to tell a child, especially a strong-willed toddler, that they can’t have the sweets their classmates are eating. But I couldn’t in good conscience leave that school under the assumption that he’d just gorge on sugary snacks all day, either. She suggested letting him have a cupcake when they do the birthday celebration for his friend, which I said was fine; but then, on the other hand, P. loves cookies — probably far more than cupcakes — and he might prefer that. I don’t know. It just feels like a big junk food mess gone completely out of control.
For the record, I am going to email the director of the school and ask about all of this, because it’s NOT just one instance, much as I would like to say it is. This is the first time such a blatant sugarfest has come to my attention; but the Dunkin’ Donuts Munchkins? I’ve seen them in the classroom — and on P.’s daily snack report — more often than I would care to admit. There’s even a parent J. has dubbed “Munchkin Mom” after seeing her carrying the telltale paper cartons into the school more than once in a single week.
I’m not usually in favor of out-and-out restrictions on certain foods, unless it’s an allergy policy. But this morning, I have to confess, I was tempted to switch sides. If a school as generally pro-active as ours is, when it comes to healthy eating, can’t get control of the junk…then we, as parents, need to. We shouldn’t be naive enough to think that we’ll control the sugar simply at home, because frankly, I’m planning to bake a whole big mess of cookies this weekend, and I’m planning to enjoy it, and I’m planning to let my kids enjoy it with me. And now, knowing that the treatfest of the century has erupted for my TODDLER in his school environment, letting him enjoy those cookies in our own kitchen will be just a little bit less fun.