Obesity and the American obsession with “food”.

I know I am just cribbing my own comment posted on Babble, but I thought it merited being posted here. The question of obesity and the American obsession with food is something I cannot get over. In this case, Bloomberg, our mayor, feels that banning super sized sodas will cure obesity. Although, I agree with comments on Babble that say this is not the solution, I do not agree with the why. Our nation’s obesity does not derive from the consumption of a particular product or the lack of self control, but a fundamentally flawed approach to food.

Here is the link to the story/post: http://blogs.babble.com/babble-voices/good-enough-is-perfect-rene-syler/2012/06/01/the-slippery-sugary-slope/

And here is my comment for what it’s worth. I could say much more, but this sums it up:

“I find the collective American obsession with food fascinating. It is the only country on earth with such a sick and twisted relationship with food. Diets. Low this low that. Ban this ban that. Women (and worse young girls) who feel the need to poke at food with a look of disgust on their face as if it was their worst enemy. So many reasons for this perverse way of relating to and consuming food, but first and foremost is the fact that we are never humble enough as a nation to look beyond our borders to see how other cultures relate to food. Food is about family, it is about gathering around a table convivially, cooking a meal and eating it together, spending time together and talking to each other face-to-face. The health aspect is a fortuitous consequence that works better in some cultures than others, but regardless it is secondary to what food is about even in countries where it is abundant. When children grow up in a culture that relates to the food on the social and not biological level it makes them happier and healthier. The kicker is that we are one of the most multicultural nations in the word – with the best of the world cultures to draw from at our finger tips – and we can’t even be bothered. Sad really.

And to the point about prohibition, it still very much exists in this country. The absurd law that makes alcohol illegal for those under the age of 21 makes it all the more desirable for the most gullible, easily influenced and immature demographics. They can’t have it and unlike in other cultures it is not part of a controlled and pleasant communal activity such as “a glass of wine with your dinner”, it is just forbidden because no one (just like with food) knows how to integrate it culturally as something to be enjoyed and not abused – and that is why it is a problem in this country and not in others. But that is a whole other post…”


Enjoy the silence…

I know. Depeche Mode wrote that about teen angst relationship stuff, but here I am past midnight enjoying it – immensely. I have not been able to sit down for two seconds to write anything down in the past few months – not even by locking myself in the bathroom (that actually makes it worse because the banging is even more nerve racking). Sure, I was warned, but this is something else. I don’t mind the having to change diapers again for the little one or the loads of laundry due to the tail end of potting training for the older one. I can handle the “stop touching your brother” and “don’t give that to him he will choke… and stop laughing it’s not funny!” or “how many times do I have to tell you not to (fill in the blank with pretty much anything a toddler could do)!” and my favorite from the adults “do you know what YOUR son did?!” I can take all of that because somehow I expected it from hearing other parents and from watching lots and lots of Bill Cosby. What I cannot take is the incessant cacophony of screaming and crying and yelling and singing (although closer to screaming) and the “daaaaaady can you (fill in the blank with anything)?!”

I used to hear myself think. Even after my first son was born. There were moments in which I could contemplate and knit my brow while reading, surfing the net or just thinking. I miss it terribly. I crave it. I dare say I need it!

I’ve been reduced to a bumbling fool by a 6 month old and a 3.5 year old.

I envy Homer Simpson.

OK. Back to enjoying the silence.

WTF are you looking at?!

So my son is having a full-blown tantrum, what exactly is your problem? I am talking to you old lady. The one shaking her head with that “Oh dear!” look on her face. This is what kids do. Do you think I am enjoying myself? Picking up boxes of cereal off the supermarket floor, or worse splattered produce, is not something I asked for when I walked in with my kid. Listen Blondie. Just wait until you get knocked up and you find burp stains all over that pretty blouse. Think about that while you roll your eyes at me from behind those oversized sunglasses. Am I happy that he keeps pulling up and down the tray table a thousand times before take-off? Of course not, but I am not sure that stuffing him in the overhead bin would stop him from screaming. And yes, I do realize that this business trip you are on, Sir, is considered a vacation from your family, but such is life with a kid (you of all people should know!). Whatever you are thinking in your head is the solution (spanking, reasoning, punishing, pleading…) keep it to yourself because you obviously don’t get it. It’s just not that simple. That’s parenthood and sometimes it just plain sucks. Like right now when my son is spread eagle in the middle of the street kicking and screaming. I deal with it and frankly so should you.

Dude. Really?! The lifeguard?!

Why does my kid listen to the old lady in the elevator and completely ignores me? That’s more of a rhetorical question in parenthood, but one that I am currently asking often – too often in fact. It’s not so much the ignoring me part because I have learned very quickly that it comes with the territory. It’s the same behavior that the grandparents all react to with the same disdain as they shake their heads and pedantically (petulantly?) state their favorite phrase, “When you were kids you never acted this way…” (yeah right!). Usually this is said over your shoulder as you try to control your kid and his latest rebellious act. It reminds me of my fraternity days when my spite for all that I had to go through when pledging was reversed back onto the new pledges with cutting sarcasm and a heavy dose of jeering at their helplessness and ineptitude – very constructive. Much like kicking someone when they are down except that this is your own flesh and blood doing it to you. But I digress.

Last summer we struggled to get my son to wear his armbands. We tried everything, force, coaxing, bribery, comparison to the older kids, deceit, reverse psychology, you name it we tried it. Then along comes the pimple faced dorky lifeguard and he looks down at our son and says, “Hey buddy! You better put those bad boys on so you can go for a swim.” And yes our son giggling with delight put them on.

What possesses my son to follow the instructions of a perfect stranger? I understand that his early onset rebelliousness is no different than the next three year olds’, but aren’t they supposed to learn “stranger danger” and seek out a parent?!

I have never had to use this much of my brain to outwit, outflank, outrun, out-everything anyone since I was cramming for my SATs and that was multiple-choice.

We have, though, found a quasi-solution. We basically kid swap with friends when we are out at the park or at the museum and find that the ruse works perfectly. If my friend asks my son to take his hand, he will. If he asks him to sit in the stroller, he will. If he asks him if he wants to drink some water, he will. And vice versa their kid will do pretty much anything we ask him or her to do. It’s not perfect, but it’s a Darwinian world out there and parents need to find a way to scramble to the top of the pyramid before their kids do or we’re toast. Wait, what’s that smell?


If I was your kid’s parent…

Why does everybody know how to be a better parent? I’m not saying I am an expert by any stretch of the imagination nor am I Father Of The Year or Super Dad (not even to my kid these days since he is in TT3 mode – aka the Truly Terrible Threes). Grandparents aside (they always think they did a better job with you than you are doing with your kids – it’s in the job description under “How to be a royal pain in the butt!”), everybody else, especially the childless and old ladies with dogs, have all the secrets to child rearing.

How many times does your single friend after asking if you wanted to grab a drink during Happy Hour and “hang out” (and you politely decline) grumble how they will never allow kids to ruin their lives (my twenty something sister-in-law actually told my wife and I without hesitation that she will never lead the “sad” life that we lead – uhm, gee thanks). First of all, parenting has its moments so why do you assume my life is ruined? Second of all, I have to wonder if by “never” you mean you will never have kids and as a consequence not have your life ruined?

A friend recently told my wife and I about a colleague who asked her if she wanted to do a girl’s night out. Our friend declined saying that she was tired and had to get home to her toddler son. The friend suggested that she could go home to tuck in her kid, take a quick nap and then a shower to freshen up and then meet later on. I laughed so hard that it sounded like an elephant snorting (I imagined her waving a magic wand and her child falling instantly into a deep slumber). No words were exchanged, but we all understood each other (if I go home and take a “quick nap” after work there is no way I am getting up again until morning!). The best part about the story is that the son was not even part of the nap, shower and night out equation (sure, no problem, the kid is the easy part).
I sometimes sigh and think back at those care free days and I will admit that I too did not fully comprehend why life should be any different with kids – I just hope I wasn’t that foolish and naïve. And to my sister-in-law I say this: ”We’ll talk again when you have kids!”

Sex, Drugs and Irrelevant TV

I find the controversy surrounding MTV’s new series “Skins” amusing to a certain extent and annoying at the same time. Amusing because as many of the critics have pointed out and despite what MTV’s PR machine says, there is nothing new about this program at all. Sex, alcohol, drugs and teens have been a provocative theme for decades. I suppose that to compete with the world of “reality” TV and YouTube executives at MTV decided that to stay relevant (not that they seem to be anyway) they needed to use the incredibly old and annoying “shock the public” trick. Premised that I have not watched the show and really have no intention too, I can pretty much guess the basic plot lines that involved as I said before sex (the unprotected pregnancy inducing and STD catching kind), alcohol (the drink until you pass out because for some reason people find that fun kind), drugs (from weed to OTC cocktails) and teens (the ones that we all were and know full well are capable of anything if left to their vices). How original.

What I do not get is what is innovative or thought provoking about this kind of writing? Is it a faux-morality piece like 90210 was in the 90’s where you show teen debauchery to then have the consequences pedantically analyzed by the adults in the show? Certainly those were valiant efforts despite the fact that we all know that children (teenagers especially) will genetically do the opposite of what adults tell them to do.

Maybe I grew up differently than most kids, but I watched TV to be entertained and, when I have the time, I still do. I hated shows that tried to instill morality or steer me towards acting a certain way. I already had my parents busting my chops, the last thing I wanted to do (when I was allowed to watch TV) was to hear more adult petulance about the dos and don’ts.

Am I so old that the concept of reality TV and voyeurism fails to capture my undivided attention? I’ll fully admit that I rubber neck when I drive by and accident and laugh at those blooper videos with the guy crashing into a pole on his bicycle; it’s certainly a deep-rooted human instinct. That’s not, though, what “TV” is about for me. I hate Fox News, MSNBC and CNN because they cater to the same voyeuristic instinct, but they do it 24/7 (unlike the fleeting moment of seeing what happened in the next lane); and yet, many people actually call it informative and stay tuned to it all day long basing their opinions and life decisions on what is said and shown on these channels and their content. Then again it may go back to the fact that I am getting old and just don’t get it (whatever “it” is).

It seems kids these days don’t really watch TV that much. With YouTube and the Internet they get their entertainment elsewhere. Is it any less voyeuristic? No, actually the younger generations seem even more so interested in every personal aspect of each others lives and are not afraid to share it (very) publicly. I am amused at MTV’s effort to stay relevant through a medium that for their target audience is growing everyday more outdated. At the same time, I am annoyed by their efforts to come up with a fictional (adapted) TV show that is meant to look like a reality show minus the consequences of people’s actions (as several critics have pointed out including this NY Times piece) that targets a very young and impressionable audience. There is plenty out there to worry about when it comes to kids and what they see and hear. The Internet already makes it that much harder to keep kids from seeing and hearing all sorts of crazy things. Do we really need to make this stuff up for them too?

Stop staring at my…

What I hate about subways is that people do not know how to ride them. This means that there are very rude people that populate my morning commute. Never a good way to start the day.

So here are some guidelines I would like to pass on. They will probably just echo, but it’s worth a shot:

  1. If you must stand next to the door anywhere other than Tokyo then at least turn sideways to let people in and out.
  2. If a person is wearing earphones and does not hear you say “Excuse me” then tap them on the shoulder, smile and say it again. Do not pull back and use your body like a battering ram (unless the still don’t move).
  3. If you have a book bag or golf clubs or shotgun please place it on the floor in front of you instead of constantly hitting people with it as you turn to and fro.
  4. If the train is not completely full I do not need to smell your breath.
  5. If you sneeze please cover your mouth.
  6. If you must incessantly complain about how crowded the train is during rush hour after having forcibly wedged yourself into the nonexistent space and held the train doors for a half hour just so you could fit, then please take a taxi or just do us all a favor and shut up.
  7. If you must picnic during your commute please take a taxi. I don’t care if you’re starving, it’s disgusting.
  8. If you listen to music on anything, but a boom box (which by the way is not allowed), I do not want to hear it nor hear you sing it. The Mariachi band that gets on at Grand Central already takes care of that annoying part of my commute.
  9. Please do not use strawberry mango kiwi conditioner. It’s nauseating that early in the morning.
  10. Stop staring at my paper. You’re creeping me out.

Societal meltdown, food fights and other rants from the edge…

The following excerpt comes from a New York Times article that appeared today:

“The focus group that met here in New Jersey on Monday included a bartender, a lawyer and a school bus driver. The dominant theme of the discussion, in which jobs and taxes came up only in passing, seemed to be the larger breakdown of civil society — the disappearance of common courtesy, the relentless stream of data from digital devices, the proliferation of lawsuits and the insidious influence of media on their children.

One woman described a food fight at the middle school that left a mess school employees were obliged to clean up, presumably because the children couldn’t be subjected to physical labor. A man complained about drivers who had grown increasingly hostile and inconsiderate on the roads…’“

I already touched upon this in an earlier post (I’ve become that grumpy old man…), but I am in complete agreement that we are witnessing (and I am sure our parents and grand parents and great great grand parents did too) a larger breakdown of civil society. As a New Yorker I understand that the hustle and bustle of city life can make you curt and sometimes even rude and snippy, but uncivil is something that I see snowballing out of control even across the river (and not just in New Jersey… I know, I know that was a cheap shot!). I am not excluding myself from this general meltdown in how we behave. I have had my share of inglorious moments (cursing at people who cut me off, blood boiling at incompetence, overreacting at someone bumping into my kid or the stroller etc.), but I believe that I have always been civil. I get up on the bus and train for the elderly or pregnant, I hold doors, I hold elevators, I say “Thank you”, “Excuse me” and “Please”. I carry strollers up stairs for moms. I even on occasion say “I’m sorry”. The most important thing, though, is that I feel guilty if I do not. If I bump into someone on the street and it’s my fault or I drop a wrapper on the floor and don’t stoop to pick it up I actually feel bad. I don’t tear my hair out, but I still have that momentary “That was just wrong!” moment. That does not excuse my incivility, but remorse is a start. You assume some degree of responsibility for your actions. In most cases the twang of guilt will push me to act and correct or in some way redeem my uncivil act.

My examples are just small blips on a much greater map of actions that people choose to ignore, abuse, overlook or intentionally undertake that make our society that much worse (and the digital deluge merits a completely separate post and discussion).

The example that really caught my attention was the woman who says that a food fight at school was cleaned up by staff. I can understand parents do not want corporal punishment used on their kids, but are we really afraid to force kids to face consequences and take on the responsibility of their actions. Maybe I’m just getting old and my son’s incessant use of the word “No” is getting to me, but if parents fail to teach their kids about being civil and schools are too scared of lawyers to do so then I am afraid we will maintain this downward spiral. Then again maybe I’m just overreacting to a few isolated incidents of insolence. Now go write that on a chalkboard 100 times.

I’ve become that grumpy old man…

They bump into you. They yell, scream and sometimes curse just inches from your ear. They push you aside as they chase each other around. They even yank things out of your hand. Never once uttering an “excuse me” or “sorry”. They are just plain rude and obnoxious. These are today’s kids. I call them GEN-LS or Little Snots (to avoid using a harsher term).
Spanking, I am told, is passé, but this generation may change people’s minds. I know, I sound like the grumpy old man that lived next door when “we” were kids and started every sentence with “when I was your age…” and ended à-la-Dangerfield with “… no respect I tell ya!”
It is our fault. It is not the networks, Miss Smith the 1st Grade teacher, global warming, the fact that they are bored (isn’t part of our job description to entertain them?) or any of the other excuses churned out by everyone to pardon the absolute lack of discipline amongst our youth. And the crisis is global or rather as far reaching as the places to which I have traveled. Nor do I exclude the possibility of my own kid becoming a GEN-LSer himself (how objective of me!).
So what are we doing wrong? Do we lack the patience of our parents? Is it the lack of physical discipline? Are we abusing the easy way out (i.e. videos, cookies, gifts etc.)? My folks will get a kick out of reading this. I can just see them nodding their heads and smirking (especially my mother) at this confessional with that annoying air of grandparenting superiority. As Bill Cosby said, “these are not the same people I grew up with… they are old and want to get into heaven now!” They are retired as parents and can just sit back and criticize our every decision and at the same time destroy – in mere seconds – months of painstaking parenting by handing their grandchild whatever they want knowing that they would never have given that very same thing to their own kid (a.k.a. you). They have a way of imparting obvious parenting advice using the prefix “when you were kids, I never…” at the worst possible moment (i.e. in the midst of a full blown tantrums, while trying to change a writhing child’s diaper, while restraining a screaming kid from pulling down all the cereal boxes from the store shelf, while deciding with your wife or partner how best to handle a situation etc.) and looking surprised and somewhat upset when you snap back at them with a curt “not now!” The more I look at kids today, the more I think our parents are right, though. In the end, they did their job as parents (each with varying degrees of success) and guided us through life to get to the point where we too are now supposed to do the same with our kids. And yet I see a collective failure.
I am sure there are plenty of exceptions and you are probably reading this saying “that’s not my kid.” I know, I certainly don’t think it’s mine, but again that is just me being completely not objective. Overall, though, and for many reasons that merit a separate discussion, we are failing our kids in discipline and it may just be that we are too tired or have gotten too lazy and complacent, but it is to their ultimate detriment.
Ironically, this has occurred at a time when more two parent families are benefiting from a far greater active participation by the dads. This should mean that children have two parents from which to take their cues and from which to learn “right from wrong” on a more consistent basis. So are we dads the bad influence? Do we just confuse things for the kid by sending mixed signals? Are we poorly coordinated with our significant other? The answer, as always when this dad is involved, is “I don’t know.” I can just keep putting my best parenting skills out there based on how I grew up and how I became a (fairly) responsible adult. I think I grabbed the right map, but looking around me I worry if I, like many of the other parents around me, should double check to make sure that we are holding it the right side up?