Yesterday at the mall I saw a man passing along a questionable legacy to his children, and it freaked me out.
He walked into a See’s Candy store with his three sons. All four of them were overweight. The children carried bags with food from Wetzel’s Pretzels, which all but the youngest quickly polished off while they waited in line. The older two kids began consuming their candy as they left the store. The youngest exchanged the remains of his Wetzel’s for the candy.
Sitting at the tables outside (with my giant tea and a single See’s candy freshly plucked from my own bag), I fixated on them. I wondered how anyone could intervene without offending the father or the children.
This man meant no harm to his sons. I know for certain that if I asked him, he would say — and mean it — that he’d give his life for them. If I’d had my child in my twenties I may have followed him in lock step. Cutting loose and eating snacks and junk were one of the highlights of my weekends. My father was always, always game for a treat. My dad wasn’t overweight, but I was pushing hard against the upper limits of chubby.
My dad, like this guy, was looking for a partner in crime. The partner in crime can be anyone. Usually it’s someone who won’t have dessert unless you do. Or they want an ice cream but they won’t feel like they can have it unless you do. Beware of the partner in crime. They lead while longing to follow instead. Having a partner distributes the blame more evenly.
Tiny changes over a very long period of time have changed my habits. But I can’t claim self-righteousness after spending a good portion of my life reading pre-boxed See’s like Braille to divine which delectable fondant resided in each piece. (Sprinkles and round: Bordeaux. Sprinkles and rectangle: Mocha. Square, with light chocolate ripples across the top: Butterscotch square. Smooth and round, Vanilla Cream, but ripple-topped and round, Chocolate Butter. It’s frightening. I know.)
Still, I wanted to grab the guy by the shoulders and say: Man, you’re not going to be around for your boys if you keep this up. Your kids are going to have more fat cells than other kids, which makes it more difficult to lose weight as an adult. You’re teaching them to soothe their boredom with food. And to be honest, you didn’t look like a happy guy yourself even though you were trying.
Herding three boys under the age of ten through a mall requires loads of emotional energy. One time on a field trip, I took 4 boys and my daughter through the La Brea Tarpits. By lunchtime I was ready to throw myself headlong into the bubbling goo. A mall doesn’t even have dinosaur bones.
If you wear kids out, they have less energy to drive you insane. Take them to the park, give them a ball or two and let them fight over it while they chase each other down. Let them go on the play equipment there and fight over it. Ride your bikes to the mall. Ride your bikes before going to the mall. If you haven’t ridden a bike in years, get one. It will make you feel like you’re ten all over again. Except now you have money to pimp your ride.
Kids under two don’t need sugary foods, period. They need attention all of the time. They need attention past the point where you can continue to deliver it, and it’s soul-sucking. A good cry on both your parts might resolve this state of affairs, but a chocolate will not. Let the kid out of the stroller so they can run through the mall like a maniac. Eventually they will re-enter the stroller and spontaneously pass out cold. Head immediately for the nearest caffeinated beverage. I’m just telling you what worked for me.
For the older ones, you might get them each a candy or a pretzel – yeah, one. Oh yeah, they’ll complain, and that’s okay. They will live, and thanks to pain relievers and coffee shops, so will you.
Kids need 1,000-1,500 calories a day, and if 500 of them come from snacks, you’re killing their ability to consume actual nutrients. There’s a Starbucks right there. If they’re still hungry you can buy them some overpriced bananas and get yourself a Redeye (coffee with an espresso shot dropped in for good luck). Tell the kids it’s slang for decaf, because you’re cutting down. Tell them you’ll get them another candy each for tomorrow, and don’t let them have it until tomorrow. You do that enough and they’ll get the hang of it.
Then get the hell out of there and hit the streets, or the parks, or wherever you can move your behind so in ten years you can be a quartet of men instead of a trio of fatherless sons.
That’s what I wanted to tell you when you walked into the store, mister.