There can be no doubt about who is the favorite for “Meanest Parents” award. After threatening to take away our son’s smartphone, we have now taken away ice cream, cupcakes and candy. S’mores have been banished; is there a greater summer sin?
This one wasn’t my idea. My husband hatched it while helping our niece with her bake sale last Sunday.
Imagine the scene: A gorgeous day, adorable children shout out to hapless Farmers’ Market shoppers, “Help sick kids! Buy brownies!” Our sons march through the crowded pedestrian street bearing a banner that points people to their cousin’s stand. To put our money where their mouths are, they get their Dad to cough up $20 for the cause.
They figure that entitles them to three baked goods each. After they gobble chocolate chip cookies, and inhale luscious brownies-baked-with-cookies, but before consuming their regular brownies, a friend of mine and her teenaged daughter come over. The mom buys a cookie; her daughter does not want one.
“She’s not eating sugar because of a dare,” her mom explains.
“How long has it been?” I ask, amazed by a child avoiding sugar on her own initiative.
Screeching halt. Christopher breaks the silence. “I wish someone would dare me not to eat sugar for a month.”
Too easy; I grant his wish.
That’s how this began. One by one, ours sons and I all signed on. Thirty days, no sugar. Here’s how it’s going.
Minute 1. I put the boys’ untouched brownies back on the For Sale tray. They must have been too full from their cookies and brownie-cookies before to make an uproar. So already, this is going better than expected.
Day 2. Breakfast. Following the rule of our teenaged inspiration, we allow reasonable cereal. No to Lucky Charms or Coco Crispies, but yes to wholesome Puffins or Heart to Heart, and all fruit. That’s normal for us, so no mutiny yet. One glitch: Our beloved vanilla yogurt with granola is not okay. I buy plain, non-fat Greek yogurt, sprinkle in chopped up strawberries and blueberries, and am surprised to find it creamy, yummy and satisfying.
Day 3. Goodbye après-swimming lesson lollipop. Our swimming teacher rocks, but I could live without the lollipop bucket. I let my kids have one every time. But today when my son asks, “Can I have one, Mom?” my eyes give him the answer he already knows: “Not for 29 more days.” There is no whining or debate. This dare is powerful potion.
Day 4. A kind and generous friend offers the boys cookies with lunch. But they resist that strong temptation. I am amazed. Then I realize it’s because I’m there. Still, that’s two sugar hits they missed, and I never had to say “no.” Christopher comes across a Hershey Bar in his office, a remnant from a camping trip. He begins to unwrap it, then remembers the dare and changes course. I stop at Starbucks and although my eyes linger on the case of pastries, I get tea and add milk and honey.
Day 5. Our son goes with friends to a water park. They stay all day. I don’t even ask about the dare. What happens in Soak City, stays in Soak City.
Day 6. We go for an end-of-summer movie matinee. Instead of going The Candy Baron (what has become our four-bag-filling tradition), we say yes to a small popcorn and a bag of Pirate’s Booty. This dare is gaining power every day.
Day 7. The grandparents take the boys to the Dodgers game. Wait — I’m not event that bad! I don’t breathe a word about the dare. Neither, apparently, do the boys.
The verdict as we approach the close of one week? Glorious success, slips and all. We are far from perfect, but perfect is not the goal. Our modest dare is a much needed reset button, a detoxifying opportunity, and an impetus to read labels. It is also a wake-up call to the volume of insidious sugar hits that pile up in a day, a week, a month. All those harmless lollipops and innocent chocolate kisses that appear at the barbershop, the dry cleaner, the market, the after-school activities. When school starts this week, that will multiply into birthday donuts or cupcakes that every child wants to share. I’m no birthday Grinch, but we have to work together, right? I believe what I read about sugar being addictive and a carcinogen, so as a loving mom I try to limit it. Which means that when my kids get sweets from other sources, I don’t get to be the fun one bringing them to the ice cream store or baking them a cake. I’d like a little more of that fun.
For now, the omnipresent treats have met their match in the beauty and power of a sugar-free experiment borne of a bake sale. At the very least, it has helped us pause before reflexively accepting every sweet that is offered. Perhaps it will only last the week. Perhaps we’ll make it the full thirty days. As for three years, don’t bet on it.