Saturday, September 27, 2008

To Treat Or Not To Treat?

Late Blooming Mom is not a treat Nazi. But neither do I hand out sugary snacks regularly and indiscriminately. Still, sometimes it's hard to know just what the best treat policy is.

Growing up, I had a best friend whose mom kept their New York City apartment 100% treat-free. She cooked health foods when the health-food movement was just gaining steam and coming into the main stream. And she made her kids finish what was on their plates. She did the same to me when I was visiting, and I was a frequent sleep-over visitor.

I still recall trying hard to swallow those cottage-cheese-laced pancakes for breakfast.

But I also remember what happened when my best friend came over to MY house for a sleepover.

My mom, who in contrast to hers, viewed life as a banquet to be sampled every day, kept our house stocked with treats. There were Entemann's chocolate or white sugar frosted donuts, Sara Lee yellow cake with chocolate frosting, Pepperidge Farm Milano cookies, and perhaps most loved by my brother and myself, Drake's Cakes: Devil Dogs, Yodels, and Yankee Doodles.

This stuff was always around, and my best friend knew it. So when she came to visit, she binged. She gorged. She simply could not get enough.

This was in contrast to my brother and myself, who were routinely satisfied with a single donut and a glass of milk.

A binge to us was eating two Yankee Doodle cupcakes instead of one. They came three to a pack, and three were never finished in one sitting.

Though I shudder now to think how much trans fat and hydrogenated oils I consumed as a child, I do know I always ate my treats in moderation.

My best friend, by contrast, has a sweet tooth so strong that to this day, she has to police herself.

So the lesson I learned was that it's okay to give your kids a treat sometimes, and a lot better than making them verboten.

I'm a lot less generous with treats than my mom was, and I tend to buy or make fresh-baked goods that are trans-fat free and missing those evil hydrogenated oils. It's probably better for my kids that Drake's Cakes are unavailable on the West Coast, where we live. And I have my little tricks, like buying those very very small organic, trans-fat free chocolate chip cookies from Trader Joe's, so I can give my kids two, which seems like a lot to them, and still avoid having them eat something the size (and unhealthy composition) of a single Chips Ahoy cookie.

I know many pediatricians and nutritionists would still condemn me for giving them anything made with white flour and refined sugar. But I also know I'm instilling in them a sense of moderation while allowing them some pleasure in treats. I give them plenty of fruit, and try heroically to get them to eat some veggies, despite major resistance. I think their diet is pretty good. So a cookie or a mini-cupcake here or there is just fine with me.

But there's another side to this issue, and that's timing. I've discovered that when you give a treat can mean the difference between a relaxing evening or a jaw-clamping, foot-stomping, give-the-parent-a-time-out-before-he/she-blows night of bedtime battles.

I've let my kids have a scoop of ice cream or frozen yogurt at lunchtime, and amazingly, they go down for their afternoon nap the same as they do any other day.

I've let them have that ice cream or frozen yogurt post-nap, maybe four o'clock in the afternoon ... and by six-thirty, they still have plenty of room for dinner. They've also behaved in their normal way: fits interspersed with mostly pleasant play. That's life with three-and-half-year olds.

But serve them those same treats as dessert at dinnertime, and an evening of hell ensues.

Last night I was a whupped and exhausted working mom. I picked up my kids from preschool around ten after five, after managing to get my work in on deadline even though it was a bear of a project. I'd had no time to make dinner, so offered to take the kids out to one of their favorite restaurants, the Souplantation. I did this knowing full well that the biggest attraction there, after the pizza and the blueberry muffins and paper cups full of raisins, is the miniature ice cream cone.

I got down on the kids' level, looked them both in the eye, and solemnly made them promise that, if I let them have ice cream cones as dessert after dinner, they would promise to be helpful at bedtime. They both agreed.

But, to quote CASABLANCA, "We know what German promises have been worth in the past."

I made sure they each got plenty to eat before the ice cream. I made them reiterate their promises as they ate it.

And once we got home, at first, it seemed as if they remembered their promises. They got into the pajamas and got their teeth brushed, all supervised by dad (who took pity on my end-of-the-week, working mom exhausted self, and took over for a bit). We did puzzles, which we sometimes do as a change from reading stories before bed. Then we put on the wind-down music.

The kids went bonkers. They were literally bouncing off the walls, having giggle fits, running into one another, zig-zagging from bed to bed, and refusing to listen to any request that it was time to calm down, cuddle, and get into bed.

Dad wisely gave me a time-out when I started to lose it.

A few minutes later, we divided and conquered: I got Thing 2 to bed after some cuddling, while he went off to another room with Thing 1, who had been the most hyper and the true instigator. But it still took until well after nine o'clock before both kids were off to dreamland.

Lesson learned for this mom: no treats at dinnertime, no exceptions.

Except .... we have three families from school coming over for Rosh Hashanah dinner on Tuesday, and there will be honey cake and apples dipped in honey and apple pie, so this lesson is going right out the window that night. I mean, how much of an ogre would I be to deny the kids a traditional holiday treat?

I'm weak, I know it. And I'll have only myself to blame when they're impossible Tuesday night. I guess all I can do is bank on a tough bedtime that night, and put it down to starting the new year on a "sweet" note. I want my kids to remember the sweetness of a family holiday, and sweets are part of that. My guess is, one day we'll forget about the bedtime battle that inevitably followed after, but the sweets will be fondly remembered.

1 comment:

Jessica said...


Oh, wait, am I missing the point?

What a happy day when I saw Drakes Cakes at Mayfair on Franklin (years ago now). I bought a box of each kind so my kids could taste my taste treats of choice as a child.

Yankee Doodles. Funny Bones! Sunny Doodles! And, inexplicably, my favorite was the Coffee Cake Juniors. Go figure.

Oh, but wait, did I miss the point again? :)