I don’t remember being troubled by a lot of rules when I was a kid. While it wasn’t exactly anarchy at my house, like most children of the ’70s, my brother and I were allowed to watch violent cartoons and ride seesaws without helmets and do “science experiments” in friends’ basements unsupervised. But on the subject of breakfast, my parents were inflexible: We were to consume no sugary cereals, which left us with some fairly grim options — Total, Product 19, and, on a good day, Corn Flakes. If I wanted a heaping bowl of Grins & Smiles & Giggles & Laughs, I had to sleep over at a friend’s house. So it’s no surprise, really, that as soon as I got to college my second act of rebellion (after buying and chain-smoking a pack of Marlboro 100s) was to start eating Cap’n Crunch, preferably with Crunch Berries, three times a day.
According to one line of thinking, if you deprive your kids of the things they want, if you demonize those desires, they will obsess over them and eventually become that which you most feared. No TV? Your kid is destined to be an obese couch potato (hey, at least you won’t have to blow your Saturdays at the soccer field). Banning Barbies, Bratz, and Club Libby Lu makeovers? You might as well change your daughter’s name to Jamie Lynn or Britney because it’s obvious where she’s headed and it’s not going to be Yale. (I’m not sure how drugs, alcohol, and contraception factor into this equation, and as the mother of a 4-year-old and a 1-year-old, I’m hoping I have a good decade before I need to think about it.)
But my Trix-free childhood didn’t turn me into an overweight sugar freak with rotten teeth and jangly nerves, and eventually I even expanded my college diet to include tuna sandwiches and knishes. So maybe my parents’ approach — to be fairly loosey-goosey in all things except one — isn’t so crazy.
With my own kids, cereal is not the problem. Now that we have so many expensive “naturally flavored” organic options at our disposal, we can serve Peanut Butter Bumpers and Honey Rice Puffins — which to my discerning palate taste just like Cap’n Crunch — and still feel like responsible parents. Candy is the issue in my house, for all the obvious reasons: It’s devoid of nutritional value, causes cavities, and has a way of turning my benevolent preschooler into a relentless sociopath. Once again, thanks to Whole Foods, we can ply our children with organic lollypops, sugar-free gummies, and molasses-sweetened black licorice imported from Finland. And our small fry might be totally content with that “sugar” fix — until they attend a preschool that bans cupcakes from birthday parties and Lunchables from lunchboxes, but can’t seem to stem the flow of corn-syrup-laden confections into backpacks during all the key
To be fair, our preschool doesn’t sanction any Halloween celebrating beyond staging photo ops in the pumpkin patch. But, of course, we trick or treat, and while I was able to surreptitiously dispose of my daughter’s booty with relative ease when she was 2 or 3 (“Candy? Oh, the dogs ate it — bad dogs!”), as the years go by it gets more challenging to trick her out of her treats. So just when I’ve rid my pantry of granite-hard Mary Janes, the school Christmas parties are upon me, and when the last green and red M&M has been negotiated for and eaten, I’m facing down Valentine’s Day. At some point, Valentine’s Day must’ve become a bigger boon to the candy industry than Halloween because we’re still dickering over the straggling Sweethearts and Kisses just as I’m being inundated with Peeps and foul-yolked Cadbury Creme Eggs.
We’d actually missed the school Easter party because we were traveling, but the teachers thoughtfully saved my daughter a dozen candy-filled eggs. Affixed to one of them was something called “The Jelly Bean Prayer,” a bizarre poem that seems to be making a case for the jelly bean’s significance in the Resurrection story (“Red is for the blood he gave … black is for the sin we made”). When no less an authority than Supreme Deity is sanctioning the consumption of jelly beans, I’m thinking maybe I should just accept that my crusade against candy is doomed, and move on. I mean, better jelly beans in the eggs than those unrecyclable plastic trinkets favored by candy-phobic parents but doubtless mass-produced in China by child labor, right? •