The last week has been filled with more questions than answers. Partly this is because every other word out of the kid's mouth is "What?" Not as in "I didn't hear you." but as in "Repeat the sentence you just said in images and ideas that I understand." Meanwhile I've been volleying lots of whats to our Central Park Forest Nursery Moms and Dads (that motley crew of parents who continue to challenge all of my ideas about food-eating, kid-raising, and dentistry and medicine.)
The big "what" last week was food coloring. It's not like we didn't know about the problems with food coloring (when the Beast was little we threw out all the pink baby tylenol and went with the undyed stuff). (Yes, I know, if we had been really hip back then we wouldn't have given her Tylenol at all for those baby fevers.) Now as summer rolls around, so does the ice cream truck. Our kid particularly loves the blue and red Spiderman ice cream pops. And what's not to like? They have bubble gum eyes. (And yes, I loved blue and orange Superman ice cream as a kid.) But sadly Red # 40 is not really good for humans. (The blue dye is equally sucky— more on this later.) As for Red #40, even the FDA has admitted that it exacerbates emotional disorders (increases ADHD responses) and is potentially carcinogenic (at least in lab animals). It's not used in Europe (they mostly go with beet coloring). But how to get our little lab animal away from the Spiderman ice cream that we've always said yes to? (At Forest Nursery we've been talking about the ongoing process of "re-evaluating our choices".) We had some luck last week on the ice cream front, switching to a vanilla-based cone. It still has the same old sugar and god knows what other chemicals, but it feels like a good gradual change. As for me, I'm trying to temper my love for snow cones and M&Ms. I can't exactly tell the kid I don't want her eating food dyes when I'm wolfing them down on the side.
The other big what for the week has to do with kid spoilage. Will our kid spoil because of our parenting techniques (or lack of them)? This is the question. It came up first when the kid was nine months old and we went to a pediatrician who suggested we sleep train. She said "It's your choice. You can have a princess or a tyrant." We didn't sleep train of course (and promptly switched pediatricians). Fast-forward to life with a three year old. Princess? Tyrant? Both, of course. And this seems to be what three is all about— the fierceness of "yes, I am lovely and kind and bestow my blessing upon all of the stuffed animals of my kingdom" and the rage of "yes, you will understand that I need ice cream and that you must buy it for me now." It has not been my habit as a mom to call in the UN or NATO or even to issue any statements of censure against our tyrant. It's rare for me to make an executive decision with my kid. (Sometimes I slather her shoulders with sun screen against her will.) And I do sometimes voice my humble opinion ("you should eat some lunch before you have ice cream" or "I'd prefer that we didn't start the day with ice cream" or more recently "I'd like to try the ice cream that is not bright red because the bright red ice cream has artificial food dyes in it.") Sometimes we bicker, sometimes we come to a compromise, and sometimes we get the ice cream because it seems really important to the kid. There's a part of us (the social superego part) that whispers "you are totally going to screw up your kid" and there's another part that says "this is how I want to raise my kid." What? (As the kid says.) My intuition as a mom is to form a certain kind of companionship with my kid— it's a companionship that allows for us to both experiment and make decisions and make mistakes and even sometimes get stomach aches from eating too much ice cream. It's true I envy moms whose three-year-old kids have never eaten sugar. It's true I strive for an all organic kitchen (and it's true that the kid doesn't eat packaged food at home and doesn't have sugar in her real meal food ever). But we have these glitches that have to do with entering the world, exploring it, and figuring it out together. It's not a particularly unique idea. Any unschooler can tell you that this is part and parcel of the radical unschooling philosophy. For me, it has a little bit to do with anarchy and a little bit to do with democracy. Ultimately I would like my kid to make decisions for herself about the value and comfort related to eating well, cleaning the house, and learning, loving, and working.
Hashing this over with my fellow-moms this week I wondered "will my kid be spoiled?" "will she not be able to negotiate the world?" My instinct again is that she'll probably be just fine. I get little inklings here and there of the person she's becoming. She doesn't yet say thank you when a store clerk gives her a treat, but we have our moments here at home where I put a plate of food down in front of her and she says with genuine unprompted enthusiasm "oh, thanks mom." We don't expect her to help with housework or cooking, but she loves to sweep, organizes her toys (into weird color coded rows with all the dinosaurs facing the princesses), and the other day she made us some lasagna (kale, feta cheese, milk, and cashew lasagna). My guess is that as she gets older she'll continue to take part in household rituals in new and more complex ways.
I fall back on Marx's statement "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need." (This is also very helpful in marriage I think where it just doesn't make sense to always demand a fifty-fifty split of any responsibility— we all have different needs and abilities from week to week.) Do I envy my friends who are building more structured households with their kids? Sometimes. Yes. There's also a part of me that loves little charts with stars for good performance (I make those for myself). When I was a kid, I marveled at family scenes that ran smoothly with father-and-mother-know-best parents. I loved those television shows like Little House on the Prairie where there was some order to the universe and kids had chores. There's a part of me that would like to train my kid to be a particular person. Of course my influence on her looms large anyway, and my prejudices flow into her life whether I like it or not. But my goal is to see who she becomes with as little traditional parental intervention as possible. As she says, "Be yourself!"