If only. Despite my best intentions, what goes into my children’s mouths is a constant source of anxiety. Actually, I say anxiety, but that’s a lie. I kinda let these things slide in a life’s-too-short way (as I do with so many things), but I do think about it a lot.
Food, and more importantly, attitudes to it, are so frickin’ important in my children’s over-abundant world how could I not? And even more importantly, I do have an unfortunate tendency to regard my offspring simply as exciting opportunities for experimentation. Not in a keep-’em-in-a-box-and-see-how-that-works-out kind of way, but more a let’s-ban-fruit-for-a-week-and-see-if-they-steal-kiwis-from-the-supermarket-by-the-weekend kind of way. Y’know, the fun way. I get all Daliy Male about this and lay the blame squarely on my feminism, raising feminist children being one huge experiment that just rubs off on you.
Anyway, the food stuff.
The worst of it is, it’s not even ungendered (go figure). One of the most bizarre things I’ve ever heard uttered was by an acquaintance of mine who had a little girl and a baby boy. Talking of the baby, she related how he ‘shovelled’ in vast amounts of food and then concluded ‘but you want that with a boy, don’t you?’
Huh? I didn’t even know where to begin thinking about that one. What did she mean? You want your son to be fat? You want your son to be able to prove his emerging masculinity by being able to win pie-eating contests? You want your son to understand before he’s out of size 2 nappies that he can get as large as he likes and face no opprobrium from society whatsoever? Or is it more like an unsaid negative expressed as a said positive? Like, you don’t want that in a girl? You want your daughter to remain cutely slim and slightly undernourished? You want your daughter to be model-like? You want your daughter to understand before puberty that she has to look good in small clothes or she’s worthless?
By this point, my brain resembled an electrical storm and I said nothing. But it did at least get me thinking about whether my attitudes towards my children’s appetites were in any way gendered. And, amazingly, I don’t think they are. Yeah, take that unconscious gender stereotypes! I will vanquish thee, one by fucking one! I thunk and thunk, but I could find no evidence whatsoever that I in some way ‘police’ Boogie’s food intake more than her brother’s. I may have a party.
What I actually want, food-wise, is the same for both my children. I want them to eat and enjoy good food. I want them to have a sensible attitude towards nutrition. I want them to have no emotional ties to certain types of food. And yes, I understand that my food problems are entirely middle-class. Mea culpa, my friend, but we take our problems where we can find them.
But I’m really not sure how to achieve what I want. I’m not even sure I have a huge amount of influence over it. I base this on my own childhood, which was, largely, spent watching my mother diet. She tried all kinds – I remember during the Slim Fast phase thinking that she was, quite plainly, just nuts. She never, in my memory, ever just sat down with us for dinner, never just ate the food we ate. She was always standing, hovering, saying she couldn’t eat X or Y because it was fattening, before turning round and eating half a loaf of bread instead. Like I say, nuts. She was ‘too fat’ for X, Y and Z, and A, B and C, too; too fat for anything, really. Food was ‘the enemy’ something which captivated and repelled her in equal measure. It also played its part in making me ‘the enemy’, too, because I had ‘done’ this to her by selfishly deciding to take up residence in her womb. Be-yatch that I am. Of course, I realise now that food and fat were merely two of many symptoms of something bigger, but I didn’t get that then, having never read Betty Friedan.
So with all of that, coupled, lest we forget, with numerous other childhood issues, how I never ended up with an eating disorder is a bit of a mystery to me. I can only think that, even to the child me, my mother’s obsession with and attitude towards food was so obviously whacked that I just added it to all the other stuff about my mother that I popped in the box marked ‘Note to Adult Self: Never, Ever Go There: That Way Madness Lies’. OK, so it wasn’t the snappiest titled box, but accuracy was more important than pithiness.
And now a report from the University of Surrey suggests that children who are given free access to Easter eggs actually eat less of them over-all than children who are given restricted access to them.
According to one of the researchers, “These results suggest that parents restricting a particular food results in it becoming more attractive and increasing the overall intake. This could mean that allowing children more control over their eating habits is more effective at developing long term healthier eating patterns.”
By all that’s unholy, I want to go with this report unreservedly. How glorious would my days be if I could just open the supermarket doors, usher the kids inside and with a dramatic swoop of my hand intruct them to grab what they want for dinner before retiring to the pub for a swift one whilst they believed themselves to have been given the keys to the kingdom of heaven itself! Well, at least Boogie would; L’il Boo would simply head straight for the oranges and start chucking them over his shoulder at unsuspecting passers-by before tearing open punnets of strawberries with his teeth.
Boogie, I fear, would arrive at the till with the following:
28 Easter eggs
Pain au chocolate
Brioche (with added chocolate buttons)
A bag of barbeque charcoal (which she would have mistaken for great big chunks of chocolate)
She would probably ditch the pizza at the till, having realised pepperoni wasn’t chocolate artistically run through with white chocolate.
Boogie is, in short, a chocolate monster. And again, this doesn’t jibe with my own experiences. Boogie is ‘allowed’ chocolate; I mean, I try to stop it before she actually throws up, but she gets to eat a fair amount of the stuff. I, on the other, hand, never got to eat chocolate, or indeed anything remotely yum-tastic. We weren’t allowed to have anything like that in the house because, according to my mother, ‘it’d just get eaten’, for which read ‘it’d just get eaten by her‘. And I never had any money (we were boringly poor), so buying my own was out. Chocolate for me was a real treat which I only got to indulge in when I visited my grandparents.
But for all the school lunchtimes when I sat faced with a sandwich, an apple and a carton of juice whilst children all around me scampered with delight and gay abandon holding aloft Penguin bars whilst praying to the Chocolate God, I never did crave chocolate. Despite the unrelenting adverts which show chocolate causing teeth-baring orgasms in grown women, I still don’t. I get my orgasms the old-fashioned way.
As with so many things about raising children, I don’t think there’s anything like a simple, single answer. So we’re back to that wonderful and extremely unhelpful answer that children, bless ’em, have to be treated as individuals. Doncha just hate it when that happens?