A Gingerbread Misstep


One more on gingerbread, yes?

This year, for the first time, I made a gingerbread house with my kids.  In my dreams, I imagined making the gingerbread house from scratch.  But when I looked into the details of this, I quickly realized that this is a serious endeavour, and it never happened.

The only gingerbread house-making they’ve had was at their grandmother’s house.  She considerately asked first, knowing that I watch how much sugar is eaten around here, and seemed almost a bit surprised when I said yes.  But I thought it could be a fun tradition and wanted the boys to have time with their grandmother too.

The other day, my boys saw a gingerbread train kit in the store and asked to make it.  Again, I thought it would be fun, and knew I wasn’t going to make one from scratch, and I said yes.  I envisioned making it, looking at it for awhile, breaking it and eating a piece, and saying goodbye to the rest.

It kind of happened like that.  We made it, and the boys each were allowed a piece of candy or two while making it.  They asked to sprinkle sugar all over it to make snow, so we took a cup of sugar and did that.  I put it on the counter and we looked at it.

But then my husband complained that there was sugar on the floor, and that he thought the kids, including the baby (with the aid of a step-stool) were picking at the sugar of the train.

I moved it to the mantle.

But then my husband found our middle son up there, with the aid of the step-stool.  Our kids have had a run of illness in the past week or two, and my husband said he thought it was because of the sugar (known to depress immune systems).

I walked to the mantle and looked at our little train.  The sugar snow had been dipped into, and some pieces of candy had been taken off the train and eaten.  This surprised me, as the older boys know not to eat candy like that.  My guess is that my older one can look at it and wait to get a piece, but that for my four year old, it’s too much temptation.

I picked up that train, complete but for the missing candies, and threw it out.

Interestingly, my kids are unperturbed by the loss.  My oldest was upset for a moment, as he hadn’t eaten any.  But I explained the trouble, said that he can still have some if he ends up making something with his grandmother.  And that was it.

And then I came across this, a video message by a doctor about the misleading information and the food industry.  I didn’t think there was any nutritional value in that gingerbread house, but thought this message was worth sharing all the same.  What do you think?


Paying Our Dues to Morpheus


Morpheus, Phantasos and Iris,  by Pierre-Narcisse Guérin, 1811

Morpheus, Phantasos and Iris

by Pierre-Narcisse Guerin, 1811

If there is one parenting issue sure to make us moan, it’s sleep.  Our own lack of it, our kids’ bedtime routines, sleep training, sleeping through the night, co-sleeping–all topics sure to generate impassioned discussion when two or more parents gather.

This post is not about any of those “how” questions that seem so pervasive, but the question of “how much.”  Or rather, the question of the cost of not enough.

I am reading Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman’s Nurture Shock: New Thinking About Children, and the chapter that has struck me most forcefully is the chapter on sleep. 

Children are getting one hour a night less sleep than they were 30 years ago.  For many of us, that’s our childhood.  Our kids get an hour less sleep than we did at the same age.

According to Bronson and Merryman, the effects on health and education are alarming. 

In the last 30 years, childhood obesity has tripled. Our tendency has been to blame television and other media, but while obesity has spiked in the last 30 years, kids watch only 7 minutes more of television a day than they did 30 years ago.  The problem, they argue, is not time in front of the television but time out of bed.

Here is the science:

Sleep loss increases the hormone ghrelin, which signals hunger, and decreases its metabolic opposite, leptin, which suppresses appetite.  Sleep loss also elevates the stress hormone cortisol.  Cortisol is lipogenic, meaning it stimulates your body to make fat.  Human growth hormone is also disrupted.  Normally secreted as a single big pulse at the beginning of sleep, growth hormone is essential for the breakdown of fat. (40)

The authors quote a study in Houston public schools that found for every hour of lost sleep, the odds of obesity went up by 80%.  Combine the hormonal effects on the brain of sleep loss with simple lack of energy for exercise because of tiredness, and you have a recipe for weight gain.

Then, of course, there is the effect on academic performance.  Citing a study of teens in Minnesota, the authors report that

Teens who received A’s averaged about fifteen more minutes sleep than the B students, who in turn averaged fifteen more minutes than the C’s, and so on. … Every fifteen minutes counts. (33)

Again, here is the science:

during sleep, the brain shifts what it learned during the day to more efficient storage regions of the brain. … The more you learned during the day, the more you need to sleep that night. … The brain does synthesize some memories during the day, but they’re enhanced and concretized during the night–new inferences and associations are drawn, leading to insights the next day.

Do any of you remember the Early Years ads?  “The years before five last the rest of their lives.”  The idea being that the preschool years are so vital because so much learning takes place, so many neurons forming new synaptic connections.  Those connections don’t happen without adequate sleep. 

(If you are wondering how much is enough, there is a sleep chart here.)

Kids’ sleep is qualitatively different than grownups’ sleep because children spend more than 40% of their sleep time in the slow-wave stage (which is ten times the proportion that older adults spend).  This is why a good night’s sleep is so important for long-term learning of vocabulary words, times tables, historical dates, and all other factual minutiae. (34-35)

It is such a commonplace to quip that sleep is for sissies, that “I’ll sleep when I’d dead.”  If you like to sleep and make it a priority, there is something slightly suspect about you.  In our culture, there is virtue in exhaustion, and sleep is less a physiological need than a statement of character. 

The key point in this science is that kids are different from adults.  They are far more fragile when it comes to sleep deprivation, and the effects are measurable.

The kids’ bedtimes have always been pretty strictly enforced at our house, but I have let my 9-year-old’s bedtime slide a lot this year.  He’s had a bit more homework, but mostly he’s had a lot of really great books that he’s wanted to stay up late reading.  And I have read to him and been complicit in the late nights.  All to the good, I thought.  But it turns out that rather than adding to his brain power, it’s harming it.  So lights out will be enforced with the custom of old, and we will all be paying our dues to Morpheus.

Because I said so!

I just finished reading the three articles we have posted for At Issue this month and I am sitting here shaking my head.  What is it with our society?  Have we become incapable of making good decisions for ourselves? It seems to me that this generation of parents is all about looking for someone to blame.

Teenage pregnancy: blame the media. Blame the school system.

Astronomical household debt: blame the government.  Blame the low interest rates.

Childhood Obesity: blame McDonalds.  Obviously!

Despite a pledge that McDonalds made in 2007 to advertise their Happy Meals depicting the “healthier” choices, The Centre for Science in the Public Interest says that regardless of what’s presented kids will still order the unhealthy option. Excuse me, but shouldn’t the ordering ultimately reside with the adult?  (The Globe and Mail)

Apparently, the lure of a cheap plastic toy is the driving force behind McDonald’s decades long global success.  Parents are just so annoyed by their children’s whining for the free toy that they give in and go to McDonalds.

According to Jacobson of The Centre for Science in the Public Interest:

At some point parents get worn down.  They don’t always want to be saying no to their children.  We feel like an awful lot of parents would be relieved if this one pressure was removed from them”. (The Globe and Mail)

At last count, I have said “no” about thirty times today.

“No, we are not watching Toy Story at 5:30 am.”

“No, you can not have Oreos for breakfast.”

“No, you can not sit in the front seat.”

“No, we are not having milkshakes after camp today.”

“No, we can’t have your friends over today.”

It’s only 3:00 pm and I know that I have many more “nos” left in me before the end of the day.

I don’t say no because I am some terribly mean ogre who wants my children to suffer a life of deprivation.  I don’t say no because I am a sick sadist who wants to endure the endless temper tantrums and hours of whining that the “no” is usually met with.

I say no because that is the job of a parent and no one said that being a parent is convienent or easy.

I should clarify that I usually say no with a follow up statement or question encouraging my kids to think for themselves.  For example:

“No, we can not have a milkshake today after camp but we can have a special treat on the last day of camp.”

“I want a milkshake today!”

“I know, I want one too but we have already had our treats today and too many treats are unhealthy.”

“But I want one!”

“Me too.  But my job is being a mom and part of being a mom is making sure that we stay healthy.  Too bad milkshakes aren’t healthy because they taste soooooo good.  What kind are you going to get on the last day of camp?”

Don’t think that these explanations are accepted easily every time.  There are times, (lots of them) when I have to walk away from a temper tantrum or when I bust out the generations old answer: “Because I said so!”

What is actually accomplished by removing the toy from the Happy Meal?  Our children are always going to be tempted.  As young children, it might be French fries that are the forbidden fruit, but as they get older, and we are not standing by their side, there will be other pressures they face: drugs, alcohol, reckless driving.  Without teaching them how to handle temptations as young children are we not raising a generation of children incapable of making an independent decision that could be lifesaving?

I take issue with Jacobson suggesting that, “an awful lot of parents would be relieved if this one pressure was removed from them”.  I find it very hard to believe that so many parents are feeling overly stressed saying “no” to McDonalds.

If the Centre for Science in the Public Interest is really interested in relieving pressure for the common family then perhaps their energies would be better spent lobbying for more government funded fitness activities or subsidizing the rising costs of healthy food.

More parents would feel greater stress relief from cheaper childcare or more federal policies advocating for work/life balance than if McDonalds removed the toys from their Happy Meals.

Apart from taking personal responsibility life is about balance.

I take my kids to McDonalds.  I let them eat . . . wait for it . . .the fries!  I let them play with the Made in China, cheap, plastic toy until it falls apart or they tire of it.  It’s not something that we do every night but it’s called a Happy Meal for a reason.

What do you think?  Are parents feeling stressed over constantly saying “no” to McDonald’s Happy Meal toys?  What is the real issue here?

If you are interested in participating in a food share program (inexpensive fresh food baskets) that benefit the health of your family and a needy family in your community, check out the post I wrote last week: Breaking and Sharing Bread.