Monthly Archives: January 2008

Banana Splits: The New Health Food

“Mom,” my six year old son said to me, “I think there should be rules against showing some kind of stuff on television.  Those shows you were watching, they should not be allowed to have that on television, don’t you think?”

And I had to think back.  What was I watching? Prison Break?  Nope, we don’t have HBO.  The Sopranos?  Nope, again, no HBO and besides, I think that’s over and done with.  Plus, this kid watches Star Wars, full of explosions and chases and The Force that kills.  But then I remember.  I was watching episode after episode of a show about an obesity treatment center in New York. Brookhaven something or other.  It was New Year’s Day and I turned on the TV as I stepped onto the treadmill.  I was curious as to why an obesity treatment center would let its patients have access to phones and the front door so they could call and order a large pizza with extra toppings, or Kung Pao Chicken with a side of pupu platter.  Some of the patients have lived at this place for 2 years, even 4, without losing any weight at all.  It wasn’t hard to see why, given the contraband food that was coming in and being consumed in the dark of night, but it was hard to fathom that the insurance companies paying for the treatment hadn’t questioned the fact that 800 pound Mary was still weighing in at 800 pounds after 3 years of “treatment”.

So I left the television on and watched with a sick fascination as I ran on the treadmill and I didn’t think much of it when my son wandered downstairs and sat quietly on the sofa.  I guess at some point I noticed that he was staring, somewhat transfixed at the television, at the 700 pound man with the elephantitis of his leg, but then again, so was I.  In hindsight, I should have turned the TV off.

It’s a new year, and people are making resolutions to lose weight and get in shape, and although this show didn’t offer the same kind of motivation as say, the season finale of The Biggest Loser, where you think if they can do it I can too, it had I thought, some motivational aspect to it.  The negative reinforcement that makes you run just a little bit faster or a little bit farther as you think to yourself “No way would I let myself get like that.  Certainly I’d give up the chocolate ice cream the moment I realized that I wasn’t able to squeeze through my front door anymore…”

After the treatment center show ended came episodes of Big Medicine, where they showed patients undergoing gastric bypass surgery and full body lifts to remove excess skin that remained after such profound weight loss.  And still I watched, hoping to use the negative reinforcement as motivation to keep me on the treadmill for just another mile, or maybe even two.

Later that evening I tucked my son in bed and left his room.  I had only taken about three steps beyond his bedroom door when he called me back, “Mommy,” he cried, “I need you.”  So I turned back, opened his door.  “What is it sweetheart?  What do you need?”

“I’m worried,” he cried, as tears started to roll down his face. “I am afraid I am going to be like those people when I grow up.”

“What people, sweetheart? Who are you talking about?”

“Those people on TV, the ones with the tumors…” he sniffed.

And again I had to think back, those people on TV with the tumors?  Then it hit me, the obesity clinic show…  The man with elephantitis, the woman with the lipomas… 

“Oh sweetheart!” I said.  “Come here,” I said, and hugged him.  “You won’t grow up to be like that I promise.” 

“I won’t? How do you know?” he cried, his face now wet from a river of tears.

“Because,” I said, “Those people, they just didn’t take very good care of themselves, they didn’t eat enough healthy food or get enough exercise.  And some of it’s genetics…”

“What’s genetics?” he asked.

“Genetics… genetics are like a secret code that comes from your parents to make you who you are.  I have brown eyes and you have brown eyes and daddy had brown eyes,” I explained, “that’s genetics.”  “And besides,” I went on, “Daddy and I aren’t like those people on TV, are we?” 

“No,” he admitted.

“So” I said, “It’s not in your genetics to be like that.  And even if it was I wouldn’t let you get like that.  I would not let you eat too much junk food. I would make you eat healthy food.  You play outside, you ride your bike, you get lots of exercise.  And you eat carrots and other healthy food…  Plus, you know what?  With your food allergies you can’t eat a lot of junk food anyway.  You can’t get a cheeseburger and french fries from McDonalds or Burger King.  We cook mostly healthy food at home,” I said.  “And besides,” I went on, desperate to convince him, “Some of those people probably eat bowls of potato chips for breakfast, and you don’t do that, you eat cereal.”

“Yeah,” he said, starting to brighten a little, “and cereal is healthy, right?”

It took about 30 minutes to convince him that he would be okay, that he wouldn’t end up like the people on television, so obese that they were confined to a hospital bed and unable to walk more than a few short steps, so obese that they suffered a host of related conditions such as cellulitis and elephantitis and seven pound tumors composed of fat and growing off the side of their thighs.  I felt sad for these patients.  I was curious about the ones who wanted help yet cheated on their diets nightly by ordering pizzas and breadsticks to eat as a snack after the evening meal had already been served.  I was bothered that the patients could remain at the clinic for years without making any progress, away from their families who missed their presence at home.  I was irritated that the show didn’t have follow-ups or success stories to share, no “It’s been 2 years since Mary left the clinic and she’s maintained her 500 pound weight loss despite all odds…”  But mostly, I was saddened that the show had frightened my child to the point that it took 30 minutes to dry his tears and calm his fears. 

I was nervous the next evening at dinner.  Would my son refuse to eat?  Would a plate of food remind him of that television show?  But everything was fine.  He announced that we should have a rule to eat healthy foods and then he cleaned his plate and asked for a banana split for dessert.  “Bananas,” he told me, “are a healthy food! So we can eat banana splits!  But you know what, Mom?” he continued, “Do you know why I don’t like salad?  Because it doesn’t have any taste.  Or it has taste but it also doesn’t have taste?  So not having any taste gives it an X. And the taste it does have gets an X.  So that’s a double X.  And a double X is bad.  But actually… well, I just hate salad.  And I still think we need some rules about what shows we can watch on TV in this house.  That show you were watching, that shouldn’t be allowed to be watched anymore, okay?”

“Okay,” I agreed.  “I’m sorry that show scared you.  We won’t watch that anymore,” I said, as I turned to prepare his “healthy” banana split, complete with half a banana, a spoonful of soy ice cream, colorful sprinkles, and a sour cherry ball on top.  Health food, indeed.
 

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Filed under food, health food, life, TV

His Idea of a New Year’s Eve Party

It’s New Year’s Eve and I’ve spent the day watching a marathon of episodes of Jon and Kate Plus Eight.  At some point it occurs to me that I can’t take the crying and the whining anymore.  It’s something I can’t stand in my own house, from one child, so why am I watching eight children do this on television?  Why is the film crew placing boom microphones right above the crying children?  As if their crying wasn’t already loud enough.  It also occurs to me that this family on the screen in front of me goes to a lot more places than we do. The dad has a job but the mother isn’t paid for staying at home with the kids.  How do they manage these trips to New York, and Florida, and California?  Then I remember, oh yes, they are being filmed.  The TV people probably have something to do with it all… 

Snags has been watching some of these episodes as well, but by 3:00 he’s getting bored.  His eyes are dark and he’s yawning.  “What can I do, Mom?” he asks.  Hmmm, I think… “Well,” I reply, “anyone who takes a nap gets to have a special New Year’s surprise tonight.”  “What?” he asks as he eyes me wearily.  He sees a trick coming on.  A ploy designed solely to get him to take a nap.  “Popcorn,” I tell him.  “If you take a nap, you can have popcorn tonight when you are watching your New Year’s Eve Nick Jr. shows.”  Surprisingly it works.  “Okay,” he yells. “I’m going to take a nap!”  And off he goes.  He runs up the stairs and that’s the last I see of him for two hours.  I lean back on the sofa, settle in to watch more crying and whining, to listen to the mom on TV bark orders to her husband in Toys R Us.  How, I wonder, will this family turn out?  Being filmed on TV was the death of Nick and Jessica.  I’ve got to think that the stress of the show could have some negative impacts for this family down the road.  I don’t know.  I could be wrong. I hope I am.

At 5:00 p.m. Snags comes back downstairs. “I took a nap!” he announces.  “And so did Dad.  He was playing Xbox but he fell asleep.  I wish I could play my video games but you want to watch this show…” he trails off.

“No, you can play your games,” I tell him.  “I’ve seen enough of the show.”

“Really?  Are you sure?” He’s excited.  The television is all his.  He can play Sonic, or Madagascar, or Star Wars LEGOs… And I am sure.  I’ve listened to eight children cry and fuss and have meltdowns over and over and over again for hours.  I listened to them while I ran on the treadmill, while I folded laundry, while I snacked on Ritz crackers.  The sound of explosions and light sabers and beeps and blips of video games might actually be music to my ears now.

After dinner Snags turns the channel to Nick Jr.  SpongeBob SquarePants is starting.  A mini-marathon for New Year’s Eve.  Snags has been talking about this for nearly a week.  This, Nick Jr. and SpongeBob SquarePants, is THE WAY to ring in the new year when you are six.  Snags pulls a pot from the cabinet, a jar of popcorn from the pantry.  “Popcorn. Let’s have popcorn now!” he pleads.

I make the popcorn and Snags dances about the kitchen.  “It’s time to PARTY!” he says.  “Let’s PAR-TAY!” 

Snags eats his popcorn at the kitchen table.  He says we’ll all stay up until midnight and we’ll party.  Only, SpongeBob ends at 10:00 p.m.  I’m tired.  I tell him that I am going to bed, but he can watch a movie on our portable DVD player, the one we take on long car trips.  It’s still set up in his room, left there from when he was sick on Christmas Eve.  Snags thinks this is a grand idea, a way to extend his New Year’s Eve partying.  “You might want to cover your ears,” he says as he stands up.  “HAPPY NEW YEAR!” he screams at the top of his lungs, before turning, heading up the stairs to his room. 

“You have to lie down in your bed to watch the movie,” I tell him.  “And you cannot get out of bed.  Not even once.”  “Okay,” he agrees, pleased.  “But if my movie is over before midnight I will start it over again,” he says.  I agree, that’s fine.  He can do that as long as he stays in bed.  Snags chooses Star Wars, Episode III as the DVD to watch.  He hits the play button as I pull the covers up to his neck and kiss him goodnight.

Fifteen minutes later I go in to check on Snags, and he’s sound asleep, oblivious to the light sabers and storm troopers raging just a few feet away on the DVD player.  He hasn’t made it ‘til midnight.  Not even close.  His “party” of SpongeBob and a bowl of popcorn has knocked him out.  But I won’t wake him.  I hope the sound of firecrackers and car horns honking throughout the neighborhood at midnight don’t wake him, either.  I turn off the DVD player, turn out his bedroom lights, and lean down and whisper “Happy New Year” in his ear, then quietly close the door. 

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Filed under life, New Year's Eve, party, popcorn, Snags, SpongeBob