December 02, 2004

Those Were Different Times

Last week or two ago, I forget exactly, Tim Blair had a thread going that invited people to share what insane, safety-last activities they had enjoyed as kids that they would never let their own kids do nowadays. If you like reading a good comment thread, I highly recommend it.

Now the divine Miss Margi has up a similar post, an email forward from her sister that begins "According to today’s regulators and bureaucrats, those of us who were kids in the 40’s, 50’s, 60’s, or even maybe the early 70’s probably shouldn’t have survived."

Some of the changes I understand. I can see why parents try to drive the kids to and from school anymore; no parent wants their child to be the subject of an Amber alert. I think it sucks for the kids--they'll never know the thrill of stealing a perfect red carnation from the mean neighbor's yard on the way to school*--but I get it. I'm not going to lecture a parent that he or she is "coddling" his or her kid because . . . well, because my general policy is not to lecture parents at all. They're doing something I know nothing about.

But one of the things on Margi's list reminded me of something that bothers the living daylights out of me, something about which I will lecture anyway. This item:

We ate cupcakes, bread and butter, and drank soda pop with sugar in it, but we were never overweight because we were always outside playing.
First of all, that's the damn truth. I didn't even have that many friends but because I loved riding my bicycle so much, I kept in pretty good shape as a kid.

But that's not the only thing that's different now. The other difference is the concept of the kids' menu. I say "the concept of" because it's not so much the menu itself I take issue with. It's the underlying concept that the food should appeal to the kid. In other words, Mikey should like it! Hey Mikey!

Some restaurants had kids' menus when I was growing up; most did not. It didn't matter much either way, because unless we were on vacation or on a long road trip, my family didn't eat out. I think we used to get McDonald's at most--at most--four times a year. Happy meals? A happy meal was one in which McDonald's got my father's hamburger order correct.**

Now I can't go into ANY food establishment without tripping over a family of kids munching chicken fingers. From the kids' menu. Served with fries. Not a single speck of green anywhere on the plate. And sometimes you'll hear a chlidless friend dining with the family (who may or may not be me) say something like, "Wow . . . uh . . . ha, ha . . . he sure does like the chicken fingers," and then you'll hear the mother give this real tired sigh as she replies, "Oh, that's the only thing Tyler will eat," as though Tyler were in imminent danger of dying from malnutrition and not, you know, a regular butterball.

Oh! Oh! I know what you're going to say: McDonald's wasn't exactly health food either. Therefore, please refer to the part where I say we visited McDonald's no more than four times a year, number one. Number two, that leaves at the least 361 other days of the year when you betcha we had home-cooked meals. Now mind, my brother and I were extremely irritating children in the picky-eater sense, and my mother worked, and she often ran out of patience trying to get us to eat our vegetables and believe me, if you'd known how my brother and I were you'd have held her blameless for that too . . . so a lot of nights vegetables were carrots, which aren't green either, but which had the distinction of being the only vegetables my brother and I didn't automatically regurgitate right there at the table. You can't blame a hardworking mother for not wanting to clean up puke every night.

But if I'd tried to tell my mom I wanted chicken fingers for dinner every time we went out for a meal, she'd have about fell over dead.

"No. You have to have a vegetable."

"But it doesn't come with vegetables!"

"So order something that does."


"They don't have carrots!"

"Then I guess you're going off the Peter Cottontail diet for tonight because you ARE having a vegetable."

If I'd pushed it much beyond that, I'd have risked coming under threat of something that not one single parent out there ever, ever, I mean EVER does anymore:

I would have risked being taken out to the car.

For the duration of the meal.

Which the rest of my family would merrily eat inside the nice cozy restaurant without me.

You understand? NO DINNER. Now you all know I like my edibles way too much to risk going without them like that. Trust me when I say I was no different as a child.

Now I swear if one of you jokers tries to leave me a comment that you DO SO take your kids out to the car, or at least threaten them with it, I am going to go all bitchy barren-old-maid on your ass because NO, you do NOT. How do I know? Because I haven't heard a parent threaten to take his sainted angel out to the car in literally decades. It's the same old story: If you say parents have gone soft nowadays, instantly six parents pipe up with, "Not me! Not me!"

Oh YES you. It's just like when you complain about bad drivers to your coworkers--not me, not me, I'm a good driver! Sure y'are, Joey. That's why you nearly got us all killed last time we let you drive us to lunch. Pull the other one.

Where was I? Right: Yelling at imaginary guys named Joe. I'm starting to see what all my English teachers were on about with the stick-to-the-thesis thing.

My point, I think, was that sure we had Hostess and Dolly Madison snacks up the wazoo--mine is the generation that led the race to perform experiments on Twinkies, remember--and that's leaving out all the home-baked goodies piled on top of those (which if you grew up Mormon as I did, you saw, and consumed, more than a few of) . . . we had full-fat everything and whole-wheat soy-protein organic NOTHING.

But playing was something you did outside. And what you wanted for dinner had nothing to do with what you were actually going to get for dinner. I might have wanted hot dogs and french fries for dinner every night (and because my father loves those kinds of meals himself, I probably got them more often than most kids my age did) but I certainly knew better than to think I'd get them every night.

That's all I have to say about that. We don't have a generation of fat kids because McDonald's because Globalization because Bush because Additives because Play Dates at Chuck-E-Cheese because Soccer Practice Ran Late because . . . we have a generation of fat kids because they're all eating chicken fingers and playing XBox.

Now either you all get together and kick the kids out of doors for an hour or you're going out to the car without dinner. Because I SAID.

*To put in one's hair, of course, if one was a girl. If one was a boy, one stole carnations just to piss that old guy off.

**Plain. No condiments. A happy meal was free of this exchange: Is that ketchup? Sonofabitch, those jerks put ketchup on it! Didn't I say plain? Honey, didn't I tell them I wanted it plain? Yes, dear, I heard you. Maybe you can scrape it off. I guess I have to, but it's--say, do we have any hamburger buns in the breadbox? Dear, please. Well why not? I could warm it up in the oven and--by then your hamburger will be cold. Well, it's already ruined. So don't make it worse. But whadda they think "plain" means? Doesn't "plain" mean no ketchup? Those jerks! I know, dear. I know. We're never going there again. I mean it. This is the last time. [Sound of Ilyka sobbing.]

Posted by Ilyka at December 2, 2004 05:36 PM in i don't know you tell me

Amen! I ate what was on my plate and if I didn't like it then I was hungry till breakfast. I had cousins whose mom raised them according to the bible of Dr. Spock and they were spoiled little brats who I was embarassed to have to be seen in public with. They'd throw tantrums at the dinner table if they didn't get exactly what they wanted. [shudder]

Posted by: Ith at December 2, 2004 08:14 PM

This was a subliminal message in my post. Heh.

Actually, I didn't realize it until someone pointed it out to me -- but my Mom was the Safety Monitor. And if mom said "no," that didn't mean twenty minutes of wheedling and pleading -- it meant NO. (We tried, of course, as all kids do -- but you know that was only when we dared risk extrey helpings of punishment.)

The ONLY time I've given into the "it's all he'll eat" tactic is when my eldest son was around fifteen months old and wanted PB&J every day. That didn't mean that I totally caved to the lil' terrorist, I just wanted to make sure he ate SOMETHING. He got tired of it soon enough. He's almost 17 and nearly six feet tall. I think that he survived it. Heh.

Posted by: Margi at December 2, 2004 10:26 PM

Oh, and as for the tantrums Ith talks about?

Homey don't play that. The whole "Don't make me hit you here on the street" and leaving a full cart of groceries sitting to remove child having a Stupid Attack from the building and to be taken home has been done by me twice. (Once with each child.) And the next time they wanted to go somewhere in public with me, they were told "not until you can behave in public." Trust me, I KNOW all about that "it wasn't me" parenting types jumping up in denial, but I guaran-damn-tee you you NEVER saw my children misbehaving in public. I didn't allow it. Going somewhere was a privilege that was yanked with extreme prejudice. Heh.

Posted by: Margi at December 2, 2004 10:31 PM

We couldn't afford to eat out much, either. Both of my parents worked and there were six of us to feed most of the time. They had twins many years later to make it 8 (I'm the oldest. Six sisters, a brother, and two parents in a 1200 sq ft house with one bathroom.). There was a lot of fish sticks and Kraft's Macaroni & Cheese meals at my house. I was outside from the minute I got home from school until Mom called me. "R-o-b-b-i-e" at the top of her lungs down the street. It was a different time. We were on best behavior whenever we went somewhere or we paid dearly for it.

My observation is that today's kids, who sometimes but not always have clearly visible boundaries at home, don't know any boundaries anywhere else. I don't know what that's about. Their parents were definitely not raised that way.

Posted by: Rob at December 3, 2004 12:22 PM

We didn't eat out much either when I was a kid, partly because we didn't have the money to, but mostly because we lived in a tiny town and the closest restaurant was more than 20 miles away. And my mother was of the 'you're not leaving this table until you finish your plate young lady' persuasion. I spent more than one evening just sitting at the table for hours because I wasn't allowed to get up and I for damn sure wasn't eating the pinto beans that she cooked.

Since I hated that growing up, I don't force my kid to eat everything on his plate, but I don't make special stuff for him either. He eats what I cook or he doesn't eat (he's two). I crack up when my husband asks what Nathan is eating, he's eating the same thing we are.

Other than that, I'm a pretty relaxed parent. I'll put up with a lot, but I won't tolerate disrespect or misbehaving in public (we've left the grocery store, etc., many, many times), but I don't threaten to put him in the car or anything like that. We just go home and he gets sent to his room.

Posted by: kathy at December 3, 2004 08:50 PM

I dunno why, but your memory is at odds with mine: We got fast food a LOT more than four times a year -- it was just a prejudice against McDonald's in particular. Burger King was somehow considered less junky. Also, I don't recall Mom ever making us order a vegetable in restaurants.

What I do remember is Dad insisting we kids finish massive, chewy T-bones that would wear out a Marine. Too much steak. Try telling that one to a therapist.

Posted by: jdc at December 7, 2004 12:05 AM