Becoming my mother? That’d be fine. Truthfully, the last person I ever wanted to resemble was Rice Cake’s mother. Yet, increasingly, I do.
Rice Cake, whose real name is lost to history, was a 1-year-old boy in my Upper West Side playgroup when I was a kid. My mother pitied him. Whenever any hosting mother served cookies, all the toddlers partook, except Rice Cake. Whenever he reached for a cookie, his mother offered him a rice cake.
I too pitied Rice Cake. His mother always sounded like a health food extremist. After all, why can’t a kid have a cookie? As someone with a strong sweet tooth, I always found that harsh. And yet, my perspective has completely changed since becoming a mother.
We introduced our first daughter to sweets with her first birthday cake, an oversized Crumbs cupcake. After initially seeming nonplussed, our toddler quickly decided that the white icing coating both tiny hands was the world’s most delightful mush.
After that, she was always ready for treats. When the supermarket bakery offered cake samples, she’d repeatedly request one. If she saw a kid eating junk food at the playground, she’d offer her hand. When the front desk attendant by our dry cleaner offered lollipops, our daughter accepted instantaneously.
Our young daughter is clearly not alone in this vice. According to a study undertaken by USDA’s agricultural research service, “More than four out of 10 (43%) American infants aged 12-23 months eat cookies, cakes or pastries on any given day; almost a third (32%) eat chips, popcorn or pretzels; 19% eat candy; and 31% consume soda, fruit or sports drinks.”
Our pediatrician, who worries about childhood weight trends, wanted our daughter eating sweets only on special occasions and advised against having her drink whole milk or juice daily. Enforcing those limits was manageable, because I was at home full-time. However, it became significantly harder once our daughter started preschool at age 2.
School snacks included fatty milk. After-school activities occasionally included making, and eating, pudding. And then there were the birthday parties, those happy occasions we celebrate by pumping small attendees full of sugar.
At least those parties typically start out happy. Our daughter is always thrilled to see her school friends; there is jumping up and down and ecstatic screaming worthy of a boy band concert. But those days inevitably turn to tears and tantrums, sometimes before we even return to the car.
In spite of looking like Mini Me, my daughter metabolizes sugar nothing like me. She is the most sugar-sensitive creature I have ever met. For her, sugar is more like crack than nature’s sweetener. It infuses her with an intense high and radically alters her behavior. Her crashes are epic. Like a true addict, she’s generally a truth teller, but she’ll lie for sweets.
Of course, the trickiest part is the well-meaning strangers. Charmed by my daughter, they proffer candy and hot chocolate. She glows amidst the sugary attention, but I brace myself. First, I am forced to be the bad guy, having to set new limits on the unexpected windfall. Then, if my daughter does partake, I face both the madness of the dizzying high and the misery of the inevitable crash.
This, along with our pediatrician’s focus on healthy eating habits, has made me sympathetic to Rice Cake’s mother. The emotional roller coaster that sugar sets off in my daughter is torture for all of us; I’d rather avoid it. At birthday parties, that’s not realistic. After all, how do you tell your child that she has to watch while her friends partake in juice and cake?
In other settings, where I have more control, I exert it (softly). I stock the diaper bag with a rainbow of raisins—traditional raisins, yellow raisins, and yogurt covered raisins as a treat. I also pack dried fruit for variety.
Dried currants and cranberries are not my thing, but thankfully, my daughter loves them. Perhaps she always will, since lifelong food habits are apparently formed in these early years. Hopefully one day my daughter will appreciate my efforts to redirect her culinary preferences, expanding our time with her Dr. Jekyll and reducing her time as Ms. Hyde. And if that means I’m just like Rice Cake’s mother, so be it.