Yesterday afternoon my 4 year old daughter came home from school with a paper bag full of Valentines. When we dumped out the bag on the living room floor to look at them I heard the familiar sickening thunk. It wasn't so much a pile of cards as it was a giant pile of candy.
I wasn't surprised in the least- this is the 3rd year in a row it's happened. At both preschool and daycare she also received a similar haul. Somehow it's not enough anymore for kids to just give cards, and adding a sticker no longer makes it special. Most boxed cards now come with an attachable lollipop, and most mothers also go the extra mile and stick a grab bag of candy to each card. What was once a simple holiday for exchanging cards is now another giant sugar fest. I wonder how every Hallmark holiday has become associated with candy? I guess it kind of just crept up on us.
I am not a stickler for perfect nutrition. Everything in moderation right? But it becomes a bigger problem when 'just a little treat' becomes so frequent and commonplace that it's not just a little treat, but hundreds of little treats trickling in at an alarming rate.
School is the worst culprit, and it's not just the goody bags going home on Valentine's day, Christmas, Halloween and Easter. Last year in preschool and this year in kindergarten they celebrated children's birthdays. In class sizes of 25-30 this has meant at least one birthday a week, complete with cupcakes slathered in frosting and topped with various candies. Her preschool was also very big on celebrating both traditional and made up holidays. They not only had parties (with cupcakes!) to celebrate Halloween, Christmas, Easter, Halloween, and St. Patrick's day, they also had days to celebrate all the colors (blue, green, yellow, brown, white, red, ect) complete with appropriately colored cupcakes and treats. When it was finally over? My heart sank when I watched a parent walk through the door carrying an enormous tray of multicolored cookies and cupcakes for 'rainbow day'.
I can always tell when they've been 'celebrating' at school. My daughter does not handle large amounts of sugar very well, and on those afternoons she's always very irritable, high strung and short tempered. It does not make for a fun evening.
Why are other parents doing this to the rest of us? Because some of them are really nice people who want to do something nice for the kids, or they don't want their child to be the only one left out on their birthday, or they think that it's expected of them and they don't want to look bad to everyone else. The expectations to attach sugar to every holiday have escalated and gathered with momentum to a point where people don't know how to stop it anymore.
Outside of school it's almost as bad. My daughter gets invited to a couple of birthday parties a month, complete with cake, treats and goody bags full of candy and toys at the end. After these events she melts down into a hysterical screaming monster. On Halloween they go trick or treating- sometimes twice- because there is now a daytime option at the mall and a night time option in the neighborhood. They go to the Santa claus parade where handfuls of candy are thrown at them from every float and organization passing by. My daughter threw up after this event.
Christmas isn't just celebrated as a single holiday anymore, it's now a 2 month season with constant parties with friends, family, neighbors, work, school and other places in the community. Every single one of these parties is packed to the hilt with candy and baked goods.
Then it trickles in from so many other sources- from her soccer class on the weekends, from her school bus drivers, from the bank, from stores at the mall, from restaurants, and even from visits to the doctor's office! There is a bowl of candy at the ready to hand to children at any given time in nearly every business place these days.
After all this, there is still our family. Because their Nana wants to take them out for an ice cream with her on the weekends. Because we celebrate birthdays within our extended family, so they get a slice of cake for every cousin, uncle, aunt, parent, sibling or close family friend and they get a dessert for every holiday we celebrate together with their cousins.
As their mother this makes me sad, because after all this sugar coming at them from the outside, when do I ever get the chance to bake with my daughters? To buy them a treat to give to them myself? To make them the special cookie recipe my own mother used to make for us growing up? Almost never. Someone else has already crowded me out.
Let's also take into account something far more serious than temper tantrums and upset tummies. Half of all children born these days will develop type 2 diabetes at some point in their lives, a totally preventable yet terrible disease. I am doing everything I can in my own home to make sure my daughters are not part of that horrible statistic. I prepare them fresh healthy meals and snacks and send my daughter to school with healthy lunches. I'm not happy that despite my efforts, society begins to shovel sugar down their throats before they are even out of diapers. After the age of 1, any child appears to be fair game, in 'moderation'.
Well moderation no longer exists. Our children live in a culture so saturated with sugar that most people don't even notice how bad it is. But many of us do, and we feel powerless to stop it. We've tried talking to the schools, but the teachers don't want to upset the other parents. We've tried talking to the other parents, but they get hurt and defensive because they were only trying to be nice. We try hiding it from our kids, but it feels dishonest. We try talking them out of it, but their biology screams at them to want it and it's hard to have someone else outright give it to them in the first place and then take it away.
I deal with it by making sure that everything I give them is real and whole and packed with nutrition. I try to give them healthy attitudes and habits toward food in hopes that they will learn more from me than from the outside world. I keep searching for other answers, for other mothers who feel the same way and I keep holding out in hope that something will change. But I know that it will probably only get worse.
I'm begging you, please stop feeding so much sugar to my children.