Black Lives Matter. The fact that it needs to be said shows how very far we still have to go as a country. We hear you and we are with you.
This week, let’s pay tribute to a cornerstone of the Chicago music scene, Leonard Chess. Over 60 years ago, he and his brother Phil launched Chess Records, the label that launched the careers of Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley, among others, releasing some of the most vital records in blues and rock ‘n’ roll history. Sure, Leonard may have engaged in questionable business practices, but the list of honest record executives starts (and may end) with Corey Rusk (NOTE: this is an exaggeration). But Chess is simply a seminal label that changed the face of music — and it happened here in Chicago. So pay tribute to Leonard and the Chess roster by grabbing your iPod/MP3 player, hitting shuffle and sharing the first 10 tunes that come up.
Initially, I purchased the Dum-Dum pops because I thought they’d be kind of a fun little treat for the kids once in a while. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d come to curse the existence of that little cartoon drum figure and the insulin-spiking, fruit-ish flavored globs of pure evil on a stick that he peddles. Dum-Dum pops, almost at the bottom of the candy hierarchy in my humble estimation (they rank just above Laffy Taffy/Now ‘N’ Laters, and those weird British licorice things that look like black spots of tar surrounded by day-glo pink, yellow, or orange fondant. Yuck.), have become my kids’ junk food obsession du jour.
Frankly, I’d rather eat a nearly-petrified peanut butter drop from my grandmother’s purse than a Dum-Dum pop. It’s not that they’re gross, it’s just that they’re so boring. It’s like they’re trick candy. You think it’s a delicious treat, but NOOOOOOOOO. It’s really furniture polish or LSD or crystallized goat innerds. Dum-Dums are suspicious. I don’t trust them. People give them out at the bank, for Chrissakes! And yet I bought them for my children. Such are the lengths a mom will go to to keep her kids quiet for 10 seconds.
Given my distaste for Dum-Dums, I never thought my kids would take to them more than cookies, cupcakes, marshmallows, or another type of mass-produced confectionary treat. Yet, as I type this, there’s a huge jar of them up high on a shelf in my kitchen with two little kids dancing a pagan jig beneath it, clamoring for the sugary goodness that only the Dum-Dums in question can deliver.
When I ask my daughter what she wants for breakfast each morning, the response it always the same: “lollipops!” When I tell her that lollipops are not a breakfast food and she can, instead, choose from cereal, eggs, fruit, waffles, yogurt, toast or a muffin, she shifts into Linda Blair mode and screams as though I’ve burnt up her favorite toy in the furnace. I always turn my head away slightly to avoid the pea soup that I’m certain she’ll spew at any second. Seriously. It’s frightening how quick the transformation can be from happy, compliant toddler to twisted demonic banshee hell-bent on destruction due to the utterance of a simple word: No. Yikes!
Her brother has a slightly more devious approach. Instead of getting upset at being denied the sugary snack for breakfast, he will seemingly shrug it off and walk away. Does he wait patiently at the table for toast and jam? Does he go to the refrigerator and grab some yogurt? Does he pick a banana out of the fruit bowl on the island in our kitchen? Oh, no. Instead, he attempts to scale the shelving unit on which the lollipop jar rests. Or he pulls the drawers out from under the counter, climbs up them onto said counter, and attempts a 10’ standing long jump across the kitchen to the shelving unit in the hope that he may land somewhere in the vicinity of the lollipops. I would applaud and encourage his feats of athleticism if I weren’t so scared that he’ll break his neck, or worse, the shelving unit. Those things can be pricey!
Seriously, though, I feel like a drug dealer. I’ve unintentionally gotten my kids hooked on the white stuff: Pure, unadulterated sugar. I’m sure pediatric endocrinologists and dentists alike approve of my innocent blunder. It’s seemingly innocuous mistakes like mine that keep them in business. But I curse the day I ever put that brightly colored bag of treats into my grocery cart. Fortunately, my kids haven’t stopped eating their vegetables and they always leave room for dinner, but still. The lollipop obsession is annoying and I’d love to put a stop to it. I know I can’t do this without creating a mutinous environment in my house, so I’m taking aim elsewhere. The lollipops can stay, for now, but other junk has got to go!
In an effort to cut down on the amount of processed and pre-packaged foods my kids eat, I’ve decided to start making much of my own bread, waffles, crackers, etc. I know what you’re thinking: “But, Nicole, that’s just more work for you!” Yes. Yes, it is. However, having received an amazing bread maker for my 32nd birthday (thanks, Sweetie!), it’s not as bad as it sounds. The bread machine has turned the tedious job of making bread at home to something so easy, even my 3-year-olds can do it—as long as Mommy’s around to do the measuring and push the buttons on the machine. My advice? If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up. It is so choice. (Full points to anyone who gets that reference.)
Likewise, I picked up a cheap waffle maker from Walgreen’s (of all places!) last week. It was ten bucks and I’ve already used three times. The recipe it came with produced heavy, terrible waffles, that I could probably sell to the IOC for use in a gold medal hockey game. But a Google search remedied that. I found a much more suitable recipe in about 5 minutes thanks to the magic of the interwebs. Subsequent uses have yielded light, fluffy, TASTY waffles better than pretty much any others I’ve eaten. All this from relatively inexpensive kitchen machinery and ingredients I already had in my pantry. Sweet.
So how do the kids like the change thus far? Frankly, they love it. They get to help make their own food by putting pre-measured ingredients into the bread machine, helping me stir the waffle batter (the best part being when they get to lick the spoon, of course) and using their great-grandmother’s heavy rolling pin to flatten the cracker dough. I tried letting them sprinkle salt and sesame seeds on the crackers, but that devolved into a ridiculous food fight that was damn near impossible to clean up—the dog is still shaking out the occasional seed from her fur. So, as with every other parenting aspect, it’s all about trial and error.
And none of this even takes into consideration how much more the kids like what they eat. As anyone who’s ever made bread at home can tell you, it tastes significantly better than what you can buy at the store. It doesn’t last as long from a hardening- and mold-growing perspective, but smaller loaves mean fresher loaves. Plus, the kids feel a sense of pride at having contributed to making their own food. They’re starting to understand it and see the connection between what’s on the shelf and what goes into their tummies. As a parent, that’s pretty cool to see. (As an aside, I feel the need to give Michelle Obama some serious props for bringing this issue to the national stage via her organic garden. Any time people get the chance to take a direct hand in the production of their own food, they will benefit. Yay, Michelle!)
I realize that this effort is not something that everyone is willing or able to undertake. Not everyone has the time or energy to make much of their own food. But, as any of my friends or family members can tell you, I’m a total control freak who distrusts industrialized food products, so the production of food at home is ideal for me. I control what goes into the food, so I know it’s good. Now that I make the waffles my kids eat, I don’t worry what hydrogenated oils, high fructose corn syrup, and/or preservatives are doing to their little systems. Likewise, the bread I make doesn’t have any ingredients you’d need an advanced degree in Chemistry to identify.
All of this makes me sleep much better at night and keeps me from begrudging my kids their lollipops. Yes, I wish they’d get as excited for fruit and veggies as they do for candy, but I’m not living in the Twilight Zone here. I know that will never happen as long as humans are hard-wired to crave sugar- and fat-laden foods. But it is nice to think that I might be imparting some small appreciation of good, healthy food to my kids. And isn’t that one of the best things I can do as a parent? Give my kids good food, nurture their innate self-confidence and curiosity and then turn them loose on the world to discover, learn, and grow? Yup. That pretty much sums it up. And if Dum-Dum pops are part of that experience, I can live with it. There are worse things. Like Velveeta. Seriously. Processed “cheese food” that requires no refrigeration? What? Who decided THAT was a good idea? Frightening.
*This title was stolen directly from “Intergalactic” by Beastie Boys.
In 1972, I was in the living room with my mom and dad watching the Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon. Johnny Cash was singing a song live from the WLAC-TV studios in Nashville. During the performance, there was a camera shot from behind the Man In Black, and there, in the front row, was my Grandmother and Grandfather Booth. I was so excited. I would have been even more excited had they not cut away from the local feed after the performance, as my Grandfather went on the stage and gave Johnny a check for Muscular Dystrophy from the insurance conglomerate for which he worked. I have a picture of that presentation in my home. It’s hard to sum up Johnny Cash in a few words. He was a special part of American music, representing rebellion and a gentle spiritual side, but his religious songs didn’t proselytize — they dealt with the complexity of human behavior. Moreover, he was always, always cool. So in honor of Johnny, grab your iPod or MP3 player, hit shuffle, and share the first 10 tunes that come up.
I’m passing on some major birthdays (Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath, Dave Wakeling of The English Beat and, of course, Falco) to honor Peter Holsapple, who, with and without Chris Stamey, did some amazing work with The dB’s in the ’80s and has gone on to The Continental Drifters and further work with Mr. Stamey. I got to interview Peter in college, when The dB’s opened for R.E.M. in Carbondale in 1984. He was a really nice guy with a great sense of humor. Me and my friend Dale ran into him after the gig, he had his hands full, so I opened the door for the band’s van…and a jar of peanut butter rolled out and shattered on the sidewalk below. Holsapple put down his stuff, said in a ceremonious voice, “He broke the jar of peanut butter!” and then said I was entitled to a prize for this deed. He reached in the van and gave me a copy of the new dB’s album, Like This. As an 18-year-old college student, this made me feel really cool, which happened so rarely back in those days. So please honor Mr. Holsapple and grab your iPod/MP3 player, hit shuffle and share the first 10 songs that come up.
On Saturday mornings and afternoons, my beloved husband takes over the child-rearing duties which enables me to run necessary errands (groceries, dry cleaning, pharmacy runs, etc.) and also to have some time to myself. Because I’m the biggest dork in the universe, I tend to frequent stores selling fabric, art/craft supplies, coffee, and records. (Hey, Entrepreneurs! I would LIVE in a store that sold all of these things under one roof. I’m just sayin’.) But really, any location that offers relative peace and quiet and a chance for me to geek out about some of my favorite things is where I’ll be on any given Saturday.
This past Saturday found me indulging the bibliophile side of my personality at the library. After browsing through some new releases and picking up a variety of interesting-looking novels, I headed straight for the art section looking for something to inspire me to complete the piece I’m currently working on. Because I’m a total bookwhore, I couldn’t help glancing at the shelved tomes on the way there. In the parenting section, which I usually avoid like the plague, I spied a book called . I hurried past, thinking, “My kids are happy, right?” I paused. Hmmm. Are they? Really? “Crap,” I thought to myself while pivoting on the spot, “I’d better read this book just to make sure.”
Such is the seductive power of so-called self help books. Damn you, Random Author with no extra letters after your name to denote a graduate degree! You have no special training in child psychology or a similar field, and are, therefore, no better qualified to write such a book than I am. You may not even have children! But I am compelled to pick up your book nonetheless. The title is written in a decent font, so you were at least smart enough to hire a qualified graphic designer. Dare I judge a book by its cover? Might you have some insights after all? I doubt it. And I intend to call your bluff.
I touch the book gingerly on its spine. I look around to see if anyone notices. My mind screams, “Nooooooo! Don’t do it! Don’t listen to the voice of doubt! You’re better than this!” And yet, like Orpheus looking back to check on Eurydice, I cannot resist the temptation. What if I’m wrong? What if the seemingly unqualified Random Author does know something I don’t? I quickly slip the book from the shelf into the middle of the pile I’ve amassed. Whew! That was close. That lady over by the computer terminals. Did she see me? Is she smirking? Crap. I abandon the promise of the art section for the time being, hang my head slightly and dash to a nearby study carrel to indulge my insecurities in peace.
Scanning the Table of Contents/List of Childhood Traumas, I ask myself what I’m most dreading as a parent. I’m not going to read the whole book, after all, just the portion that pertains to a truly odious parental responsibility that I’d rather avoid. I hit upon it towards the end of the list: The Talk. That awkward discussion about the birds and the bees that we all had with our hopelessly clueless parents at some point in our lives. Some of us giggled our way through it, others stuffed our fingers in our ears and shrieked “I can’t hear you! I can’t hear you! Lalalalalalalalalala!” while we ran at warp speed out of the house. Ah, adolescence. Good times.
I begin the rationalization process: Valentine’s Day is here after all, and with all that romance in the air and naked little putti waiting to hit all unsuspecting humans with their aphrodisiac-tainted love darts, it could happen. My three-year-olds could ask me about where babies come from, right? Yeah, totally plausible. I’d better read up on how Random Author suggests I handle the situation. I turn to the correct page and commence reading.
Yada, yada, yada. Be a good listener. Use correct terminology for body parts. Don’t forget to address the emotional side as well. Yeah. All stuff I already knew. Sweet! My self-awarded Parent of the Millennium status remains intact! I knew it would! Phew, for a minute there I lost myself.*
This entire, and somewhat harrowing, process could have been completely avoided had I simply had confidence in my own parenting skills. My kids are normal toddlers who do not display any behavioral maladies for which I should actively seek out professional help. They aren’t cruel to animals. They don’t start fires. They don’t hit or bite other kids. They don’t even swear! So, what am I doing picking up a parenting-advice book written by a marginally-qualified author? Why this culture of fear and doubt? The problem is larger than the middle class parental milieu to which I belong. It’s endemic to all things American. But this is a subject for a dissertation, not a so-called parenting column written by a marginally-qualified at-home mom in Chicago.
As with all good life experiences, I learned a little something from my time at the library. (And truthfully, isn’t that what libraries are for?) I learned that I shouldn’t listen to the voice of doubt who tells me I may not be doing things correctly. With parenting, there is no incorrect as long as your children are safe and thriving. There’s simply doing what you know and trusting that your kids will be fine. Let’s face it, you survived being brought up by your parents, right? Your kids will survive, too.
When people ask me what I do to get my kids to do X, my answer is always the same: nothing. I’m there to guide them, but they’re driving the stagecoach. When they get too unruly, I calm them. When they get tired, I put them to bed. When they get bored, I read to them or play trains with them or engage in another similar activity that they find fun. I’m not constantly hounding them with flashcards to make sure they’re maximizing learning time, nor am I pushing them to achieve athletically or to become involved in activities I find interesting and/or valuable. Winchie and Squeaky are fine how they are. The world is theirs to explore and they will naturally gravitate toward and learn about things they enjoy.
So to parents who are all freaked out that little Johnny or Susie isn’t reading by the time they’re two or haven’t reached superstar status in their preschool by replicating Rodin sculptures with Play-Doh, I say this: chill. Take a deep breath, throw out all of those What to Expect… books and simply get to know your child/children. Your kids will tell you everything you need to know about them and when problems arise, trust your instincts. You’ll be fine. I promise. You don’t need questionable advice from self-helpers. You are all the authority you need.
Now go out there and have a great Valentine’s Day. Yes, it’s kind of a crap holiday created by Hallmark and their ilk, but it celebrates love, which is never a bad thing. Go find a special someone and give him/her a squeeze. And because you are all the authority you need, the location of said squeeze is entirely up to you. * wink, wink *
*Thanks, Thom Yorke! Ok Computer rules!