Monday, December 21, 2009

Too Sweet for Our Own Good -- by Jamie

I don’t have many vices: I’ve never smoked. I rarely drink. And I certainly don’t take drugs. I also eat very healthfully, and exercise 5-6 days a week. However, I do adore candy. Not chocolate, and nothing fancy—just crappy, commercial, sugar-infused treats! Show me a package of Swedish Fish, and I’ll inhale it. Bring me a bag of jelly beans and I won’t stop at just a handful. Things like Mike and Ikes, Tootsie Pops, Chuckles, candy corn, and even Dots are all fair game. When it comes to sugar, just a little can set me off on a calorie-laden binge. So, generally, I try to avoid it.

It has always been my intention to have my daughter, Jayda, eat as healthfully as I do. From the moment she started consuming solid foods, she became a fan of Greek yogurt, all kinds of fresh fruit, and mostly healthy treats—as I offered her homemade zucchini/carrot bread in lieu of cupcakes, and Fig Newtons instead of Oreos. I didn’t even introduce her to ice cream until she was almost two: Jayda adored yogurt with smashed berries in it so much, I figured she didn’t need strawberry ice cream in her life. But my, oh my, how things have changed!

Jayda got her first taste of a candy-like treat when she received a packet of chewy fruit snacks (made with real fruit juice, as the label touted!) at a party. She adored them, and inhaled the entire bag. Soon after, she was treated to a gummi bear at a friend’s house, and noticed the similarity—it was yummy! At the time, we were embarking on potty training, so I decided to use a gummi bear as a reward every time Jayda peed on the potty. Then, my mother added her leftover M&M’s to the bag. Soon, my smart little toddler was using the potty once for a gummi bear, and then running back to the bathroom not 10 minutes later to pee again (for an M&M this time, of course). I’d created a monster.

When Halloween rolled around, it brought with it memories of my blissful childhood candy binges. Thus, as I dug into my own bag of candy corn, I decided to let Jayda create her own wonderful memories of my favorite holiday. While we went trick or treating, I let my candy-fanatic-in-training have full control of her candy until bedtime, and she grazed through her bag of treats with my blessings. But when she woke up the next day asking for Halloween again—and tantrumed when I told her Halloween was over—I knew I had a problem. As a compromise, I doled out bits of her left-over treats when she used the potty: A piece of a Kit-Kat for one bathroom visit, a mini-Snickers for another. But as I looked at my child’s chocolate-smeared face one morning, I had to admit Jayda was consuming waaaaaay too much candy.

That’s when I decided to implement a reward chart: Every time Jayda uses the potty, she earns a sticker. After she fills a row on the chart with six stickers, she can reach into a fancy bag I created and choose a treat. The bag is filled with everything from makeup to sparkly barrettes to a Tootsie Pop and a small bag of M&Ms. In no time, Jayda was earning stickers and selecting candy from the bag. Just candy…and always candy. Even the lip gloss she’d long coveted has been brushed aside every time Jayda gets her hands on “the bag.” And when Jayda has a candy craving, and realizes she doesn’t have enough stickers on her chart to warrant some, she cries…and cries.

My daughter has been fully potty trained since Thanksgiving. She even made it into the city this week on the Long Island Railroad, and spent the day with me perusing store windows, checking out the tree, and watching the ice skaters at Rockefeller Center—happily using bathrooms wherever we went. She also made it through a trip to FAO Schwartz without asking me to buy her a single thing—except when we walked by the candy section of the store. She didn’t mind leaving FAO without a new toy, but she did want a big, swirly lollypop—and she wanted it badly.

The holidays are nearly over, and with the New Year, comes resolutions. This year, I’m resolving to get rid of Jayda’s reward chart—and the candy. Of course I’ll allow Jayda to have a lollypop now and then, or even a bag of M&Ms once a week. But her dose of daily candy has got to stop. Because no matter how I try to sugar-coat it, Jayda is her mother’s daughter…and she’s becoming a candy addict, too. And now it’s this addict’s job to teach Jayda a lesson in moderation. Maybe we’ll both learn something together!

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