My son gets plenty of goodies out and about that he would never have at home.
Cookies, for example, when he visits his Nana and Pop-pop. Along with ice cream, cupcakes, and lots of television on a big screen. Their house is a toddler's Pleasure Island.
This seems a normal part of being a kid. In middle school, one of my best friends had two fridges, one stocked with food, the other, hidden in the garage, full of soft drinks and microwavable junk. During sleepovers and the long, unmonitored afternoons of summer, my friends and I raided that second fridge so often, I'm surprised the products inside stayed cold. For me, it offered a smorgasbord of taboos. Aside from the occasional frozen pizza, my parents never purchased that kind of stuff.
Yet there are some delights I draw the line at, whether we're at home or away. On the playground, for example, you'll find me in the role of the meanie parent, telling my son “no water balloons!” even though so many other kids have them.
It's not that I hate water balloons, per se. Growing up, water balloons appeared once or twice a summer, usually at family picnics, when a bag of balloons meant every kid received only a couple. I cherished each of my meager allotment, fondling its pleasantly plump, squishy softness in my hands, scheming on how best to deploy it. Frequently, my younger brother bore the brunt of my attacks, if you could call them that. Over-eager, I often tossed my grenade prematurely. Most burst upon the driveway or splattered the bricks aside my Grandmom's house, missing their intended target.
If this sounds terribly romanticized, that's because it is. I loved water balloons, just as I did the microwavable hash browns from my friend's freezer, because they were such rare, special treats.
Apparently, not anymore. Or at least not on the playgrounds of Brooklyn, where the skins of broken balloons make for colorful confetti at the foot of the water fountains, some of it seemingly permanent, as the maintenance staff's brooms can't dislodge the ground-in bits of rubber. During most summer days, countless kids dash about with water balloons in their hands as if they were, well, nothing but cheap little pieces of latex.
Which they are. And as such, they're incredibly wasteful.
Because where are all those balloon skins going to end up? According to some websites, they may choke birds or sea creatures. Even if that's an exaggeration, those busted balloons are simply dump fodder. Besides, I've never seen parents asking their children to clean up the busted skins. So water balloons encourage thoughtless littering, too.
Though they surprised me when I first saw them, I would be lying if I said that, upon reflection, I was shocked. Because even in Brooklyn, where so many people espouse environmental stewardship, I see parents using products—most frequently food related—full of plastic packaging.
Take those organic fruit treats that come in squeeze bags. The contents might be good for your kid, but that packaging is horrible for the environment. Even the supposedly green-minded Park Slope Food Coop carries an array of packaging-heavy, disposable products—from fruit treats to on-the-go snack packs and drink boxes.
I have trouble understanding the squeezable fruit and yogurt fad from many angles, since the food itself seems so gross. If we lived on a space station, maybe. But why eat fruit paste when we have actual fruit available? Drink boxes perplex me, because a thermos or metal bottle works just as well. As do re-usable containers when it comes to transporting snacks.
I believe it boils down to the hypocrisy of the harried. Hey, I want to do good for the environment, but I'm a parent; I don't have the bandwidth to do both. What parent can't relate—we're all trying to make our lives easier, right?
On the contrary, we have to maintain an even higher level of rigor, because now we're modeling environmentally responsible behavior for our children, and with a larger family, our impact is greater.
It's hard. My wife and I continually look for ways to minimize our family's footprint, yet boxes of crackers, cereal, and cheddar bunnies sit on the pantry shelf, each with its own amount of plastic wrapping and processing. We wouldn't have bought these products at all before the tot. Now we re-up our stash of crackers almost every week.
So, in the spirit of conservation, we decided to replace his crackers with peanut butter sandwiches, and his cereal with homemade granola. We'll still buy pre-packaged food for travel or on special occasions, just as one day I look forward to waging a small battle with water balloons and finding out if my aim has improved with age.
Like holidays, birthday parties, and the luxuries of Nana and Pop-pop's house, these things have their place—far from the everyday.