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I have been stewing on a thought I’ve had since last week when I bought my son McDonald’s for dinner via the drive-thru. Twice.
I always imagined I’d be this great progressive mom, and feed my son organic food. He’d wear cloth diapers until he was two and then would be potty-trained. We’d read books every night and never turn the TV on, and he’d never know what candy was until he was in elementary school and some other kid brought candy in. He’d never eat white bread and we’d always recycle. He would eat his fruits and vegetables and whole grains because we wouldn’t allow picky-ness at the table.
Reality check. We used cloth diapers until he was 21 months and he started showing some interest in potty training. Just like most boys, the interest faded and here we are, four months shy of three, and he’s showing very little interest in the potty. We stopped doing cloth diapers because he grew out of the ones we had and we didn’t want to make the investment at this time. Then we used the non-chlorine diapers that were supposedly more environmentally friendly. Finally, we bought Huggies because they were on sale and we were on a budget.
When we first switched to solid foods, we thought we would make our own food. With both of us working and AJ not liking the homemade sweet potato squares we had made, we bought Earth’s Best Organic. Then we found Gerber had an organic line. Then at some point when we went to one income we went with cheap store brands (though we still tried to include some organic in his diet). We have always stuck with organic milk, though–that is one thing we have continued to include in our budget, and the few times we tried non-organic milk AJ wouldn’t drink it anyway. Moving from Massachusetts to Oklahoma also limited some of our organic options. I also began doing something I swore I would never do: I began grocery shopping at Wal-Mart. Despite business practices I find shady at best and denying workers fair wages and access to insurance and other values I hold dear, sometimes I have to feed my family under budget. I don’t always shop there, but I often shop there. Wal-Mart does have some organic products, though, and employs a lot of local people. You can’t win them all. I have managed to stay away from high fructose corn syrup as much as possible and keep the amount of sugar down in AJ’s diet. He still doesn’t have candy except at Halloween and Easter (he loves Twix and KitKats but doesn’t care for anything else).
White bread was very, very hard. I swore I would never buy the stuff and never allow my son to eat it, until I found he was stealing the other kid’s lunches at church school. I witnessed him time and again reach over and steal a corner or half of someone else’s PBJ on Wonder Bread. At home, my son will eat whole wheat, even whole grain breads. But at school, given the choice–his sandwich will go uneaten and he will devour someone else’s PB&J and their Cheetos. So we started buying the “whitewheat” bread (no HFCS still) and that has curbed the stealing. I still don’t send him to school with Cheetos but I don’t mind now if he eats someone else’s. I do send him with Ritz crackers now and then, but I always send him with grapes or other fruit, too.
We’re going through a no-vegetable phase, not even sweet potato fries (if you would count that as a vegetable). He used to love sweet potato spinach pie (a recipe from my sister-in-law) and cooked carrots and many other vegetables. Over the past few months he has refused vegetables down to his beloved sweet potato that we could always count on. We can’t force him to eat it. If given the choice, he will leave the table hungry, and has done so, and he still won’t eat them. Everyone tells me it’s a phase, but sometimes I do feel like I’ve failed in that regard. But I don’t quit. He still gets veggies at (most) meals, even if they lay there untouched all night.
Ah, McDonald’s. I swore we would never come to you. Between reading The McDonaldization of Society and watching “Fast Food Nation,” “Supersize Me,” and Jamie Oliver’s “Food Revolution” I have no desire to ever, ever eat at a fast food restaurant again. But when you are going from a full day working at church school, home for a speech appointment, and then your child dirties up 3 diapers in a row, your plans of cooking go out the window when you have to be back at church for choir and a meeting all evening. McDonald’s starts looking pretty good. Luckily AJ does not like french fries (probably suspects there is a hint of vegetable under that oil and salt) but will eat the apple slices (which strangely do not brown in their package, and while the label reads calcium as the only added ingredient you wonder if there is something else secretly sealing in the “freshness”). He does love Chicken McNuggets, and sometimes between Chicken nuggets and hot dogs I don’t know how else we would get protein into him (besides peanut butter). I do buy all-beef or all-turkey dogs with no nitrates or other additives, and I try to buy the “best” chicken nuggets out there. He does like frozen breaded fish, too, and has occasionally eaten salmon or other fish without breading, and he will eat homemade tacos (either ground turkey or ground beef), but avoids them at Mexican restaurants so far. And he does not like leftovers.
We were good about the TV until he turned one. Then I thought it would be fun to introduce him to a show or two, mainly so I didn’t have to hear him cry from the crib while I took a shower or have to wait until naptime. His first favorite show was actually Family Feud–those lights and bells and people clapping really grabbed his attention! But it wasn’t before long that Blues Clues and Yo Gabba Gabba entered our lives. When we moved, we got rid of cable and our intention was to get back to limiting TV. After hearing AJ quoting for days, “A clue! A clue! Where? Where is the clue? Right there!” we stopped showing our DVD’s of Blues Clues for a while. He watches one or two shows in the morning and one or two in the afternoon, amounting to about two hours, which is pushing it. We really should cut back more, but when I’m trying to write from home or just vacuum or do the laundry, especially on a stormy day, the TV can be very tempting.
At one point in my life I made better choices based on environmental and societal impact. I was weary about certain brands and stores based on their records of worker’s rights and environmental degradation. Fred Craddock once said “any time you put a quarter in a Coke machine, you are contributing to oppression.” It’s almost impossible in our Western culture to escape participating in structures and systems that benefit from oppression and environmental misuse.
I wish I could be a better model for my son. I recently stopped drinking as much soda, especially around my son, because I don’t want him to get into the habit that seems prevalent around here, a habit I perpetuate myself. I’ve been thinking pretty selfishly–I want to be a more healthy example for him, so I’m trying to drink less diet soda. Yet if I really remembered the water usage by cola companies, the exploitation of land and workers in Africa and Asia for these giant corporations that provide HFCS and artificial diet drinks for our easy convenient consumption I might not ever buy them again. And if I could keep in mind the ways chickens are mass-butchered to produce the insides of the Chicken McNuggets to be sold by people making minimum wage with few, if any, benefits, loading them up with salt and then sugary ketchup that my son loves to dip his nuggets in, maybe I would be a better mom.
It’s a hard balance of being a “good” mom and a mom on the go, a hard balance of living a fulfilling life and recognizing the plight of others and our environment, and at the same time, not wanting to unload my white/western guilt on my son. Guilt is a funny thing–we want to escape guilt, yet we also know that sometimes we do make better choices because of guilt. I’m probably not being very clear here, but I guess what I’m trying to say is that I hope my own guilt for the ways I live and have carried into my family can stay with me, and that I can learn and try to make better choices for myself and my family, and yet not have that guilt weigh down on my son. I hope that in the future he doesn’t say, “Mom, how could you serve me Chicken McNuggets? Don’t you know how they treat those chickens and the workers?” but understands that I was doing my (perceived) best that I could. At the same time, I hope that he will go on and live a better life than me and make better choices that I have. I’d like him (when he is 14 or older) to be able to go out with friends, enjoy a Throwback Pepsi (no HFCS!) and not feel guilty for the sugar or the practices of the cola companies, and yet be aware of the fact that we all have a part of play in our global economic and environmental impact as well as our health. Am I asking too much?
Postscript: in the time it took me to type all this, I put on “Between the Lions” on PBS, a half-hour show, with funding from Chick-Fil-A. My son fell asleep on the couch.