Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Cuteness, family, and food

  Little Bug works at being cute. I used to think this was just something babies were, not something they did, but the more I watch him, the more convinced I am that he's doing it on purpose. Every time a camera comes out, if you can get him to stop wiggling and look at it, he smiles. I've seen him work a crowd, like the time he practiced his walking up and down an airplane aisle, and caught the eye of every single passenger. He wouldn't take no for an answer--if someone didn't look at him and smile, he'd stop, stare, and coo until he caught their eye and got a warm look from them. Last night, he stood on my lap on the porch of a pizza place and got every single stranger who walked by on the sidewalk to greet him. He's got a dimple, and he knows how to use it.
  Some of this seems poignant to me. Babies, in their physical helplessness, are built to draw affection and help to themselves. It's a reminder that nature, in her wisdom, never thought that parents were enough, that the nuclear families we imagine we raise children in are not sufficient.
  Kathleen Parker, in her Washington Post column this week, argued that the federal government didn't need to set standards for food quality or school lunches for children, because "as with most problems, the solution is family."
  Really? The answer to food quality is family? We're fanatical about food quality--Little Bug was exclusively breast fed until six months, and now is mostly so, but that was made much easier for us by class, and the fact that we've ducked the worst of the household impoverishment of the recession--we were able to afford Jennifer stopping working. We make a lot of organically grown, local food. But when we go out to dinner, Little Bug wants to be part of the fun, and we went out a lot last week when his grandparents were in town. So last night he ate chicken and artichoke pizza (mostly the cheese), and the night before it was a California roll with cooked scallops on top and a lot of miso soup. What do I know about the cucumber, the scallops, nori, miso, the cows and the artichokes? A lot less than I would like to. Or rather, I would like it if someone besides me would ensure that our food supply is sound and healthy, regulate factory farms, pesticide use, and regulate the antibiotic use and unsanitary conditions that may be affecting Little Bug's health when he eats, and certainly water quality in nearby communities. Some suggested that the swine flu pandemic of recent years began in the "manure lagoons" of pig farms operated by Smithfield farms in La Gloria, Mexico. What, exactly, are families supposed to do about that?
  And what about schools? When my oldest was diagnosed with diabetes ten years ago, in eighth grade, I was puzzled that she would come home with high blood sugars when we helped her pack healthy lunches and worked with the school nurse to make sure my daughter could follow her insulin regimen. After many trips to the endocrinologist and a lot of head scratching, her teacher finally figured out what was going--my daughter was persuading other kids to give her money so she could buy candy and soda at the store at school. While I shared her teacher's anger with my daughter for the  begging, bullying, and cheating on her diet, I was equally frustrated with the school: what do you MEAN candy and soda are being sold on a middle school campus? Shouldn't parents have some reasonable expectation that schools are at least not actively working against our efforts to get healthy food into our kids? But what are schools supposed to do, her teacher asked, albeit apologetically. We don't have enough money for classes, and soda and candy sales help. Kathleen Parker goes on about the "nanny state"--I worry about a state that has abandoned our kids.
  I learn a lot from Little Bug, smiling and making friends with strangers. I love all the casual conversations he gets me into, with people I would never have met otherwise. He also reminds me, though, of the disappearing civic art of relying on each other, and realizing that our fates are entwined.

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