Sometimes it’s easy, in this Red, Round, or Green World, to be a little too idyllic, or a little too self-righteous, or a little too absorbed. Sometimes it’s easy to fall into the trap of letting other people think that I’m a helicopter parent, hovering with whirling but baby-proofed blades above each nuance of my kids’ lives, carefully engineering everything they say, do, encounter, and above all, eat, until I can be assured that nothing bad will ever, ever happen in their tiny lives.
Ahem. Prepare, world, to be disillusioned; because frankly, I’m one of those mothers who engages in copious eye-rolling at the hand sanitizer crowd. I have to refrain from snorting aloud whenever I hear someone mentioning enthusiastically the carefully crafted schedule of Baby Gym, Baby Music, Baby Reading, and Baby Socializing they adhere to with their precious little ones. I loudly and publicly admit that my housekeeping skills fall far short of what they should be, and rather than worry about the potential harm of dirt and allergens, I’m busy trying to figure out how to design and market baby clothes and toddler socks made of Swiffer material so I can at least put my floor-dwelling dirt bombs to good use.
However, I do worry about the food. Clearly. I do try to keep a set of parameters around what they eat, or at least what they eat INTENTIONALLY — which means that all the Moon Sand, crayons, fossilized Cheerios, and playground surfacing they’ve ingested and will continue to ingest fall into the category of Completely Beyond What I’m Willing to Control. The other day, I had a conversation that reminded me of how difficult it is to straddle these two worlds, between Involved Food Parent and Perceived Helicopter Wingnut.
On Friday, as we dropped L. off, I mentioned to one of his teachers that he had a thermos of ravioli in his cubby — I do this so that they are aware that while part of his lunch is in the refrigerator, there is something else for him in another place. We chatted for a second about food, and she said, “You are so good, to make everything that you do from scratch and all that.” And before I knew it, things were tumbling out of my mouth — things I don’t even think about generally, but things that are fundamental to what I do and why I do it. Things like:
When L. was a baby and young toddler, I was good about his food (in the grand scheme of things), but not nearly as good as I am now. He had a lot more processed food — not hot dogs, to be sure, and not microwaveable toddler meals, and not Gogurt, nor any of the other things I really scorn. But more snack-y items. More convenience foods. More stuff with preservatives, and HFCS, and MSG, and other typical additives. More veggies that came in pouches, with sauce, because it was quicker to heat those up for his lunch than to make them from scratch. He also had more eczema. More stuffiness. More skin issues. More ear infections and croup. And while it could be a coincidence — could be that he’s grown out of those things, as he gets older — it seems that the less processed food I’ve fed him, the healthier he is. No more eczema, no more ear infections, fewer colds, fewer issues across the board. And again, it could be just coincidental, because correlation does not equal causation…but P. has not had any of those little nagging issues. He’s had the occasional ear infection, but not eight of them, back to back, in less than a year. No eczema. No croup. None of the digestive issues L. had, either.
I don’t think about those things, because I’ve internalized them, but they’re at least part of the tapestry of why I do what I do, when it comes to feeding the boys. Of course there are many, many other reasons, and of course, it’s not just about feeding the kids — J. and I, and our health, are at stake here too. But I quite seriously see changes in the boys’ behavior, moods, and overall health when they eat processed crap full of additives and preservatives, and I can’t help but think that there’s a relationship. I’m no scientist. I’m just saying.
HOWEVER. Even in the realm of food, there’s a line that we conscious parents must walk. I’m blessed to have two children who have no food allergies and no disorders that demand constant dietary supervision; their overall relative hardiness means that I can relax every once in a while, and that I can at least try (whether I’m successful or not is another story) to balance my principles with my firm dislike of anything that smacks of me going from Mothering to Smothering. It’s good, I think, for me to remind myself that the nutritional sky is not falling, and hence I provide the following list of food-related Things That Haven’t Killed My Kids.
1) Eating the remains of the food that has fallen from their plates to the rug under the dining table. Unsanitary, yes, but not deadly.
2) Goldfish crackers, ketchup, and Honey-Nut Cheerios. Not the most nutritious choices, but definitely not deadly.
3) Smucker’s Jam. It’s got HFCS in it, I know. I’ve dabbled in buying other, more natural brands; I’ve also dabbled in making my own. But I still have the occasional jar of Smucker’s in my fridge, and it has not proved deadly yet.
4) Chocolate milk. We view it as a dessert, not as a beverage. Not deadly.
5) Ginger ale. We don’t allow soda in the house, but my mom’s old-time wisdom has not been disproved; when somebody’s got a tummy ache, ginger ale works like magic. I’ll even let L. have ginger ale at the occasional restaurant, as a very special treat (and not in conjunction with dessert). Not deadly.
6) Entenmann’s snack cakes. I’d never buy it for them, but darned if the stuff doesn’t seem to show up pretty regularly at the church Fellowship Hour. Not deadly. (And, as a side note, still pretty tasty.)
7) The occasional Dunkin’ Donuts run with G and P. Yes, I ranted very slightly about Munchkins last week, and I’m not retracting my opinion. But if their grandparents want to stop off for a cup of coffee at DD with the kids in tow, and they offer the boys a treat, I’m not losing sleep over it. Not deadly.
8 ) A meal without a vegetable. That’s right. It happens sometimes, and it’s not deadly.
9) Juice. Gasp. In moderation? Not deadly.
10) White bread. At worst, it’s like eating Kleenex. At best, it’s a delicious artisan loaf with little redeeming nutritional value but a whole lotta soul. The good stuff can be crave-worthy. And guess what? Totally not deadly.
Jeer if you must. Debate me hotly. Revoke my Conscious Mom title. But in this world of well-meaning but over-reaching parental vigilance, I’ve got to give myself — and everyone else — a reality check. Now, pass the smoked salmon on seven-grain. It’s lunchtime.