Saturday, April 12, 2008

Watch it, that's my hot button.

A while back a blogger I've been reading did a post about a decision made by a child's parents. She raised the question of how to deal with not agreeing with a judgement call by parents. I appreciated knowing that someone else wondered about these things, I feel fairly confident that on some level we all go through life seeing things and drawing internal conclusions, though they don't always make it to the surface, or just aren't weighty enough to occupy more than a passing thought.

Today Sean and I were at the grocery store and I came face-to-face with what is arguably the hardest thing for me to see. Before today it had not caused me such startling despair, I think I had one of those moments that can absolutely change the course of a person's life. We were next in line at our check out, our basket filled with lunch fixings. The people in front of us, a man and a very overweight woman, were loading items onto the conveyor belt, while their daughters, 7 and 9, played in the cart.

I scanned the magazine headlines until movement caught my eye. The dad was lifting the girls out of the cart. "Kind of odd that they rode in the cart," I thought. Then the younger girl turned her face toward me, her eyes were the same blue as Briar's. I watched her run her fingers along the moving expanse of black rubber, her fingers bobbing on the zippered edges. The checker and bagger had stopped working and were talking to the mom, something to do with the 4 economy sized packages of Klondike bars. The young girl's hair was loose around her shoulders, a haphazard half ponytail hung in back, sandy bumps rippled across the top of her head as she shook her bangs out of her eyes.

I looked at the sisters, the older girl looked a lot like her younger sister, she was probably 40 pounds overweight, while her sister was maybe 20 pounds too heavy. I looked at the items waiting to be scanned on the belt - frozen pizzas, cheese puffs, chicken fingers, 2 liters of pop and a towering stack of other frozen foods. Nothing that wasn't in a box. No milk. No produce. I turned my attention back to the 7 year old, her face reminding me so much of Briar. She was hopping up and down and talking with her dad. All of a sudden I felt as if I were suffocating. I imagined this girl at home, no hope of making a good choice with regard to her diet. The either/or available to her both ending in the same place - the nutritional gutter.

I suppose it's possible that they did their produce, dairy and beverage shop another time, but I doubt it. I warned Sean that I was going to cry and it came upon me like a tsunami. My shoulders were wracked with sobs. Sean tried to cheer me, redirecting my to a salacious Dr. Phil headline, but I could not be calmed.

I watched the mom's meaty hands fondling the Klondike bars as she put them reverently into bags. I was consumed by the juvenile diabetes statistics I've heard, the reports on the super-sizing of car seat to accommodate overly-large children, flash after flash of overweight children being led by their parents to snack bars and ice cream aisles assaulted me. I thought of what life will be like for those girls ten years from now, as they navigate the cruel corridors of high school heavy with the choices of their parents. I pictured their faces being consumed by the futility of their situation, the conditioning of their palates to salty, processed, fatty foods, their literacy of what is available and what is "good" being dwarfed by the self-indulgent choices of parents unconcerned with the future. No matter how I try to not be critical, I scan every cart at the store, I peek to see what parents are giving their kids, I listen to conversations in aisles. The cart ahead of us was simply breaking my heart.

Sean sent me out to the car, embarrassed, distressed and feeling powerless to help me. He has told me before I can only do the best that I can for our girls, but it doesn't seem like that can be right. It isn't fair, but neither is making a scene. I was angry and sad. I knew that there was nothing I could, nothing I could say to the parents, or to the girls. I walked to the car, the tears coming harder and faster. The sun shining down on me seemed to be one more beacon of what these girls are not going to have. Wide open skies of blue, the privilege of running unencumbered by the inactivity of tv and junk food stolen from them. I turned the air conditioning on to try and chase the tears away.

Again, something caught my eye, it was the seven year old scampering up to the door of the red truck parked immediately to my left. I turned and our eyes locked. She was confused by my tears and looked anxious to help. I gave her a quick smile and turned away as she tried to lift herself into the truck. I tried to understand why this happened, how was it possible that in the huge parking lot with easily 150 cars, that they would be parked right next to me? Am I supposed to think she's fine? Not worry?

I wish that I could judge less in this area, but I feel as strongly about a child's right to healthy food and the exposure to options as I do about their right to breathe smoke free air and live in a drug free environment. I am heading up to bed now where I'll check on our girls. I am sure those parents are checking on their daughters too, but I fear that there are ways in which they are not loving those girls and one day it will be the little girls who will have to pay.

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19 comments:

Janet said...

I had a similar experience this past week at my children's school. We were attending a morning concert and the mother sitting next to us had obviously been drinking. Her filter was off. She was talking too close, too loudly and at all the wrong moments. Her breath smelled like an ashtray with beer in it. Yet she looked up at that stage, at her daughter's class singing their song, and I could see tears of pride glistening in her eyes. We all want what's best for our children: some people just seem to travel a twisted path.

jen said...

oh sister, it's brutal, isn't it...having such a wide open heart amidst so much sorrow and hopelessness.

flutter said...

I relate to this being one of those kids.

being one of those adults.

It hurts and I wish there was never another kid who had to hurt with it

Cheryl said...

That issue bothers me a great deal as well. I try so hard not to be "judgy" about other people's choices, but there are certain arguments where I just can't accept their excuses, and this is one of them. Eventually, it'll be considered child abuse, because that is what it is. Unless you have a religion reason for not doing something for the optimal health of your children... But klondike bars and soda. Ugh.

There are so many children out there, bedraggled, dirty... that I want to just take home with me for a day to feed them and find them some clothes that fit. And for the overweight ones, I'd love to teach them about all the neat things you can make with fruits and veggies and about portion sizes and exercise. Oh Amanda. You touched a sore spot. :(

Ree said...

I see this all of the time here, too. It's such a sad statement of our way of life.

Kat said...

I have a niece, she's five now. She's rapidly going from a beautiful, healthy child full of curiousity and life to an overweight, apathetic child due to lack of attention and a horrible diet. I can't help myself, I despise her mother. If I could take my niece away from her I would, because she has two older half-siblings and I see what her parenting has done to them. It makes me weep when she comes to visit us for the summer, and we see how she doesn't want to eat healthy food, she wants soda instead of water and juice, because her mother's atrocious eating habits are being ingrained in her. Every time we see her she's more overweight and less lively. Less childlike, and we don't know what else is happening to her when she's off with her selfish, irresponsible mother who not only feeds her garbage but has men in and out of her life like a revolving door. She lets them move in with her, who knows what's happened to her kids over the years. Honestly I don't care what any adult does, but when you drag your kids into it, I find it lower than low.

But we can't do anything about it but take care of her and love her when she's with us. It sucks and I know how you felt watching those girls yesterday. Sorry to go on and on...you touched a very sore spot with your post. All we can do is what we can do when the opportunity presents itself.

chelle said...

I think as a society we have an opportunity to help others. It is through lack of education, understand and poverty that people are exposing their children to this life of obesity. I am not in as good of shape as I could be, however you do not see the junk food in my cart either. We may not be able to help that family but we can be advocates for the reduction of unhealthy foods. If nobody buys junk food it cannot exist. Legislation to reduce trans fats is a start but we could do more.

Amy said...

Sadly I grew up with chips after dinner followed some nights with a bowl of ice cream. Soda was always in the fridge and if dad made dinner we had mashed potatoes AND Stove Top. I am proud to say I have never spent a hard-earned dime on Stove Top. My father was raised in an extremely poor family with 6 kids and no extras. They lived on peanut butter and spaghetti. My mom said when they were first married she brought home a 6-pack of soda and it was gone before she noticed. He finally didn't have share or be deprived and he wasn't going to deprive his kids.

Ugh. He showed his love in so many ways, but the worst way was through food, bad food. Although to be fair he and I were regular gym go-ers all through my high school years, exercise was important, but limits on food wasn't always taken into consideration. And sadly we are living a life without him now. I can only guess it was a massive heart attack and not a brain anurism as one doc suspected.

I check out other carts at the store too and very much limit my boxed food purchases. I do not want my kids to grow up with the twisted view and disproportion problem that I did.

My heart breaks for those little girls. Hopefully through friends they may gain and possibly school (I know I am a dreamer) they can learn of other choices and healthier options.

Damselfly said...

That's really tough and you could make the case for child neglect. Like Chelle, I think we need more education. Let's hope those girls get some vegetables at lunch at school.

Crystal said...

My hopes are too that those kids will get to learn about healthy eating at school even if they don't have to opportunity to eat that way at home. While school lunches are not organic or always something that I would serve, at least they are required to be well rounded and on our school lunch menu it even lists out the nutritional value for each week.
Maybe just maybe some of it will sink in for when they are able to make their own choices or maybe it won't be so hard for them to take when and if their parents decide for the family to all make better choices.
One of the worst sights for me is when someone pours soda into a bottle or sippy cup. ugh.

Tracey said...

Sigh.... It's hard to explain to people that choices for themselves are one thing, but choices for their children should be BETTER.

So sorry you had such a hard time in the store...

Assertagirl said...

I have similar feelings when I watch the overweight kids on our street get treated to yet another ice cream cone from the ice cream truck all summer long. They stand in line with a can of pop in hand, and I just hope they at least ate SOMETHING green that day...

Christine said...

oh hon, you have such a big, full heart.

Angela said...

That is so very hard to watch and feel helpless. You are doing what you can by making sure your children are fed properly and making healthy choices.

allrileyedup said...

I'm not sure how hard the high school halls will be on overweight kids, as they seem to be becoming the norm. Sad...

Great post! I always look at other people's grcocery carts too. I often hope they're looking in mine. Who knows, maybe they'll think "Oh! That zucchini looks good! I should get some too!"

Amy Y said...

Oh, how awful... Mama, you gotta try not to look. There isn't anythign you can do without the risk of getting beat up and you're only going to get angry. I can't stand to see little girls (or boys for that matter) like that... It's SO hard to be a teenage girl without the added detriment of being overweight. And it's never their fault, when they aren't able to make the decisions on what to buy at the grocery store.

Kimberly said...

That is so tough and it's one of my sore spots. I once saw an overweight mother in the mall giving her overweight toddler soda in a bottle. It about shattered my heart into 1000 pieces. Education is part of the solution for sure, but really food companies need to be held a little more accountable for some of the crap they put out there. I'm not saying people hold no responsibility, but trans fat? High fructose corn syrup? Why do these things even need to exist??

Anonymous said...

i am with you, amanda, but wanted to add one important piece of context people alluded to, but didn't mention enough for my liking: poverty. yes, education is very important, but there is also the horrifying degree of poverty that makes buying produce and actually cooking food (vs. ready-made) a real challenge for many, many people. when there is a choice between buying a pint of organic berries or seven boxes of macaroni and cheese for the same price...the choices are not as simple as becoming better educated.

now: what i'm NOT saying is that people who make plenty of money don't make terrible food choices for their families, or that folks who don't have money automatically eat unhealthfully. i mean, i grew up in a house where pennies were *seriously* pinched, but where nutrition was important (that whole education piece). an added element was that my mom chose to stay home with us kids and dedicated a great deal of time to making healthy foods from scratch (though not working is a very upper/middle class choice to be able to make in the first place...!). we drank powdered milk (cheaper than the 'store bought' stuff we begged for) and ate a lot of legumes, pasta, and veggies that were grown in our garden...which we were lucky to have. we were short on cash, but privileged in many other ways: we owned property. we had a vehicle. my parents worked regular hours during the day (even if my mom didn't choose to for a time, she could go back if she wanted to). my parents were mentally healthy and committed to parenting. they had a support system. my parents had great role models on parenting, food, etc.. i could go on...but a lot of it had to do with about privilege.

and really, even education has to do with privilege - when you are just trying to survive, going from paycheque to paycheque, making sure there is something to fill little bellies every night...healthful eating is not a huge priority. should it be? yes. but i worry when blame is being placed on individuals rather than the systems that oppress them...

kd (formerly of ontarioescapades...currently working on a new blog)

Occidental Girl said...

I hear you. Kids are at the mercy of their parents, of their household, and when it is not healthy, it is very sad.

There is an overweight girl in my daughter's gymnastics class. I think, Great! Her mom has her in a gymnastics class so she can move and learn to love movement and strength! And then, at the end of class, her mom hands her an extra large frappuccino with whipped cream. After every class. I don't know if it has coffee in it or not, but it is a chocolately slushy drink, and it's HUGE.

I know, I'm a big judgy-pants, but I think this girl is at the mercy of her parent's decisions, and it's sad because it's SERIOUS. Everything you mentioned, from diabetes to high school cruelty. Sad. What can you do?