Friday, January 21, 2011

Killing Cookie Monster...A Necessary Murder

"Cookie Monster is going to be called Veggie Monster from now on."

"No!" I protest.  "They can't change my beloved childhood memory.  Those letter cookies are like comfort food to me."

I guess that's the point though.  Those cookies are too much anymore.  We've all held on to those cookies, devouring them because we can, sharing the sugary sweetness with smiles and laughter. Things need to change because the scales have tipped...literally.

So, I had accepted Cookie Monster's fate, and headed to Sesame Street Live yesterday with Little Sprout curious about how they'd change things. 

The title of the show:  Elmo's Healthy Heroes and in true Sesame Street fashion, the writing was witty, the songs were entertaining, and the message was positive. Eat well, rest often, exercise regularly and stay up on hygiene.  Cookie Monster even conceded that having an occasional cookie is okay, but that eating the colors of the vegetables and fruits was even better.  Balance, discipline and good choices. 

"Awesome message!" I thought.

And happened.

The intermission that changed everything for me.

Fifteen minutes before the end of the show, the lights came up, the curtains closed and an announcement was made that there would be a short break.

Bunches of helium-filled Elmo heads made their way to the floor of the arena and the food carts emerged.  Children were heard begging their parents for something, and that is exactly what the producers intended.  What I could not believe was the rate with which the parents shelled out money for food and snacks, hungry to consume, but oblivious to the fact that they were discounting everything that had just been said.

The snacks offered:  blue and pink cotton candy, bags of greasy mini-donuts, colored slushies and enormous glasses of sugary lemonade.  Had I gone up to the concourse I could have gotten a large bag of salty popcorn, or processed nachos or a concession pretzel. Candy and cookies were up there too.

I was dumbfounded.  My pissed off five-year-old didn't understand why I stood there in personal protest refusing to buy any treat.  I eventually broke down because my daughter reminded me I had promised her something. I got an $8 lemonade and was immediately relieved it was more watered down than sugary.

I'm still fired up, and unsure about what to do.  I am fired up to eat better, to move more, to rest often, but I think the overall options need to change.  People will continue to eat what's in front of them, so what's presented to them needs to be different. 

Who is going to step up to make the message meaningful?  When is cutting down the size of people's bottoms going to mean more than the bottom line?

Just like everyone else, I want to resist changing Cookie Monster to Veggie Monster, because change is uncomfortable.  But a nationwide epidemic of obesity is terrifying, and we should all start making celery stick at a time.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Paper Words

It starts with the words. When people say them and then how they cutely misuse them. I’ve tried to write many of them down: the words my kids claimed when they could first form the letters with their mouths. This week has been about paper words. Those book words. The power behind them, the strength within them, and access to as many of them as we can handle.

Book words for our five year old are still the mysterious cryptic combinations of letters on a page. She sees us reading them, hears us creating story and intrigue from them, and she has decided she wants in. She is done with being satisfied with the pictures. Maybe she knows the picture clues are not the whole story. Yes, a picture is worth a thousand words, but the story that can form around that picture starts and ends with the words.

Something happened in her brain this week. The neurons responsible for connecting letters to sounds to words began firing at a ridiculous pace. She fought me for more access, and wore herself out in the process.

“Now I can read like everyone else!” she ecstatically proclaimed.

I am thrilled for her. She has been left out for, well, as long as she can remember. Big Sprout and Middle Sprout have been reading for as long as she has memory. They sit and tell us the stories that have unfolded while they turned pages of their books. Little Sprout: a quiet audience member. She wants to tell those stories too, and I can hardly wait to hear how those words change her.

That’s what reading is, you know. If we let the words pore over us and in us and then we open ourselves up to their transformative power, they shape us. After words, we are something different than we were before we started.

Little Sprout is not the only one being shaped by words this week.

“This is Middle Sprouts’ teacher,” the message started on my phone. “I just wanted to let you know that she has checked out the book Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret. The librarian was not sure you knew she was taking this book home, and we just wanted to make sure you were aware of it.”

Thankfully, I was the one who had encouraged her to get the book…after she explained to me she had heard it was an interesting title. She knows it is a collection of words that is going to open up her awareness about some of those taboo topics

Big Sprout has battled this week with the information that someone wants to change the words in a book he is reading…and loving. He is confused about the movement to change the language in Huckleberry Finn, and I can’t blame him.

“I know not to use the “n” word mom, and I know that it is really disrespectful. But it was a part of life then.”

They are studying the Civil War and reading period pieces as part of the unit. Even he, our ten-year-old, understands why people would want to change the words, but he feels more strongly about defending those words.

“Just because I read them, doesn’t mean I am going to use them,” he argues.

I have to think he feels that way because of the other words that have worked to shape him so far. If it were the only book he ever read, he wouldn’t read it the same way. Thankfully there are hundreds of thousands of words that have found their way into his brain, via books, and the pathways to awareness are as varied as the phrases he has read.

It has been a week about words for my kids…and when I woke up this morning, I had so many of those words swimming in my own head. If I leave them in there, I can hardly function, so I had to get them down on paper…and that changes ME too.