Saturday, December 31, 2011

gummy bear lessons in mothering

I'm pretty sure that gummy bears taught me some important strategies in mothering. Note, I did not say good mothering. But maybe it was good mothering. All I can say is it took my daughter about 22 years to figure out what I'd done.

And I'd do it again in a heart beat if needed. Still. It was deceptive, if not cruel.

Here's what happened.

I put my precious daughter in her stroller and we zoomed down the hill to the produce market around the corner. The one with all the ethnic woven baskets hanging out front and piles and piles of sweet smelling long-stems to choose from. And wheatgrass baskets. And a machine to juice your own wheatgrass right then and there. And bins of coarse-ground bulghur. And three kinds of couscous, including dark whole wheat (which nobody in their right mind in North Africa would ever eat). And kiwis and mangoes and papayas when they were available. And Acme sourdough baguettes that you put in long bags yourself.

And on the bottom row of bins were gummy bears. And gummy worms. And chocolate covered raisins. And dried cranberries.

And I was lingering admiring the bulghur and filling a bag full for dinner (with caramelized onions and simmered in stock and wine)—when I looked down in horror.

My precious daughter had a mouth overflowing with bright colored twisty gummy worms and two fists full of gummy bears, mostly neon reds and orange. She looked like a gummy medusa who'd just devoured her own snakes.

She looked up at me, sugar-rush not kicked in yet. Innocent big brown eyes that refused to be admonished. I mean, the bins were placed exactly at her level, right? They were put there purposefully to tempt her. What's more—she was in that developmental stage that's pre- right-and-wrong. Although that innocent look looked like she was working it.

This vision went through my head right then and there. A vivid picture of a fat (I mean super-fat), unhappy, acne-faced, caries-ridden teenage girl who was my daughter. And it was all my fault for not taking action right here and now. My daughter, I suddenly realized, had sugar-lust. And probably gummy-things were made of much worse than sugar.

And as I cleaned up the gummy mess as best I could, and paid for our Acme sourdough, tomatoes and avocados, a new vision came to me. A vision of rules.

Until that point, I'd been mothering without rules. My first-born son didn't seem to need any. He was (and remains) reasonable in all things large and small (with very few exceptions). I don't remember any rules with him at all.

Clean-up time, for example when those Brio trains covered the entire family room with little pieces of everything, clean-up time was simple. A game we played either by color-coding or by letters of the alphabet. And the carpet magically reappeared in its totality after a full day's disappearance.

Games like that never worked with my precious daughter.

But this was serious. That horrible vision required an intervention.

Walking back up the hill, the rules began to take shape and form all by themselves. And they weren't all about gummy-things.

The ice cream rule:  No ice cream unless it's over 85 degrees outside.

The hot chocolate rule: No hot chocolate unless you've been skiing all morning or afternoon.

The cookies rule: No cookies unless you (we) bake them yourself.

M & M's: Allowed in gorp (aka trail mix) along with nuts and raisins. One sandwich baggie allowed while hiking on the weekends.

Gummy bears and worms: I couldn't think of a reasonable rule at all. There was just never a reasonable time to eat gummy worms.

But wait. Halloween to the rescue to cover everything else:

Candy and crap of every persuasion: You may keep all your Halloween candy that fits into a large mason jar. That's the candy and crap for the year. Ration it as you will.

Here's the weird part: It worked.

My daughter became an expert at weather prediction. Eighty-five degrees is pretty hard to achieve when you live in the foggiest part of San Francisco. But it does happen for a day or two in late September, early October. And in the High Sierra where we'd go camping. There were a few hot days then as well. And she managed to get her rule's-worth of ice cream in each year.

And she became an avid skier. And snowboarder as well. Earning her hot chocolate.

The cookies we baked were really awful. That solved that one.

And almost nobody gave gummy bears for Halloween. That kinda took care of that.

The loophole: Playing at other kids' houses.  Precious daughter found the loophole pretty quick once she was post-stroller. But by then, the rules had pretty much been internalized.  Although she was still trying hard to control the weather. Global warming, however, has had little impact in the Inner Sunset. Look outside: it's as foggy as ever.

So. Here's the thing. Both kids embraced the Rules. My son, the-future-lawyer, devised trick questions to get the rules more precise:

"What if it's only 85 degrees for five minutes that day?"

Stuff like that.

We built up rules together. Amendments to rules. For some reason, the kids were okay with the rules. Especially given the loophole.

Results: First-born-lawyer runs the NYC marathon and is licensed as a personal trainer. Precious daughter and sometime vegetarian aspires to Vegan-hood at some point.

She was in her early twenties when she figured out how unfair it was.

I mean, she really had worked the weather angle really hard. And no matter what she did, we just didn't live in hot weather. Whereas her friends across town in the Mission, Noe Valley, or even Pac Heights—all had sun. And we didn't.

We were in NYC when she called me on it. Yes, I admitted. Yes, I knew those ice cream days were going to be few and far between.

"Thank you," she said. "Thank you so much!" She was effusive.

Can you believe that?

And she meant it.


  1. I knew there was something subversive about that girl.

  2. and Congratulations on 75 posts in your first year of bloggery

  3. Not worms, perhaps, but there are plenty of good occasions for gummy bears.