I've been accumulating a nice bit of the baggage throughout my life. Part of this baggage includes a fear about sugar. Yes, the white, granular stuff. The divil's fare on earth. Two key happenings spring to mind.
1. Loosing way too many adult teeth at the hands of a pliers-happy dentist, before I even left primary school. Generous Me thinks that it was a different time and that the dentists' rationale was 'pull 'em out now, save hassle later'. Cynical Me wonders how much more the dentist got paid for an extraction than a filling ? I don't remember radio features about the dangers of sugars then, like you hear about the evils of fructose in fruit juice now. I was very partial to a sugar and butter sarnie when I was a kid. It was best served at an impromptu picnic with a clatter of other children, on squidgy, fresh, white sliced pan. Nutritional value : Zero. Childhood satisfaction : High
2. A few very unhappy years in late teens/early twenties when I was overweight. I was lonely and felt like a fish out of water when I started college in Galway and I comfort ate. Although I'm more of a savoury kinda gal, I ate sweet things that I didn't even like. It made me even more miserable. My circle of girlfriends were skinny Minnie's. I hid in shapeless, baggy clothes while others had discovered their figures and labels. Older women commenting that I was a 'grand sturdy girl'.'Hefty'.
As a result of these two experiences, I am concerned (obsessed ?) with my children's intake of sugar. Once their baby teeth appeared, night time drinks of milk were a no-no. I could imagine the lactose, working away while they slept, rotting their brand new pearly whites. More recently, I have been known to get resistant six year olds into a headlock just to give their molars a good scrub.
A recent TV advertisement for a well known chocolate spread shows a child eating a bowl of porridge, with a dollop of chocolate spread, sprinkled with strawberries, giving the illusion of healthiness. A wholesome, smiling mother looks on in approval. It drives me crazy. What are you doing to children if we are normalising eating this way ?
I get a nervous twitch when shop assistants hand the children a lollipop, before smiling at me, saying 'you don't mind, do you ?'. Occasionally if I was very brave, I would smile back and say that Now that you mention it - I'd prefer if you didn't, ta very much', before apologetically backing out of the shop. I often produce food wrappers and lecture the children on the hidden sugar content of food. '33% sugar and you want honey on it ?!'. Their eyes roll, yawns stifled and they sigh, as if to say 'she's off again !'. The males in my house would a fierce sweet tooth. They would devour a packet of biscuits in one sitting, and would give the Cookie Monster a run for his money. So I think it's best to not have them in the house in the first place. So, if you want to visit me unannounced 'tis best to BYO biscuits.
Having said all of this, I really enjoy baking with the children. The only problem with this is that once you bake it, you have to eat it. I know I could freeze my baking, but then it would get lost in a sea of ice deposits. And at the back of my mind, my Hefty Girl years are there, taunting me.
To my shame, most autumn times, I let a garden full of apples rot in the ground. I justify myself, knowing that the birds will eat some of them (and perhaps other fellas with four legs and long tails will too - eek !). I was gathering some apples for our hens a few weeks ago and Mya, my little girl asked if we could use some apples to make an 'apple tart like we buy in the shops ?' So much for my Farm to Fork ideals - my child thinking that apple tarts grow in shops ... Had it been that long since I made some ?
We started making pastry immediately. 'Wow Mam, that's a LOT of margarine !'. Assembling the apple tart, the children had the job of arranging the apples and sprinkling the sugar. 'Wooooh Mam, that's a LOT of sugar', they both laughed. 'See, I TOLD you guys. I'm not making this stuff up !', I said, feeling vindicated for my many ... many ... sugar lectures.
I was on a bit of a roll with the home baking malarkey and so we made jam, from the glut of blackberries in our garden. Jam making with two seven year olds is not for the faint hearted. All of that measuring, stirring, pouring. I was terrified that the children would get a burn from hot jam, but yet I didn't want to stop their fun. It was so satisfying to produce something lovely from a hours foraging in the ditches, even if it was a little runny. It also was a real eye opener to the children that there was so much sugar, a full bag of the stuff, melted and hidden away.
Like most things in parenthood, my standards slip regularly and quite spectacularly. Sometimes the children's teeth don't get brushed - usually on a night where they were at a party drinking fizzy drinks - the ultimate of all evils.
I often bring my children to work related events. They know it's open season for goodies, so that I can go about my business. 'You owe us, Mam', they seem to say as they smile over at me, while stuffing their faces. I'm putty in their hands.
And then there is the Final Frontier. Grand parents houses. Places that have yoghurts with chocolate balls and buns with icing. Exasperated, I recently said to my mother-in-law, 'May, you wouldn't have given your children a Cornetto for breakfast'. 'Oh, I would have ... if I could have afforded it at the time ...', she said almost with regret. She smiled at me and said 'You don't mind, do you ?' as the children horsed into a 10am ice cream ...