(Note: this is a post written four years ago that I forgot to publish – for those who know a bit about my family, so as not to be confused)
Heard on CBC’s “The Current” that Canadian parents spend an average of $480 to get stuff for their fifth graders to start school, and $970 for their twelfth graders. Big ticket items are fashion and tech. The advice was to cut back on the tech for elementary grades, since research has shown it takes away from the educational experience. Thank heaven for research. Also highlighted was that tendency for parents to imitate what they thought other parents were doing–to win social acceptance? a competitive edge for their kid? to assuage guilt? Looking at those shopping bags toted through the malls, feeling the panic to get the best selection, pick up the best deals.
Our school district made a smart move a few years ago, deciding not to require kids to buy school supplies, except an optional backpack or binder tote–all the basics would be provided–equality in pencils, notebooks, and planners for all, calculators only when necessary, a few items like organizers, poster board purchased by parents later. No more individualized school supply lists on racks in the big box stores, no more last minute shopping. There’s even a way for low income kids to get new school clothes at a special pickup day. And I know from experience, when you’re low income, you need all the help you can get.
So that one’s easier. I used to find myself arguing that the already sharpened pencils and only slightly used notebooks from last year were perfectly fine, that I had plenty of good colored pencils already with which to make sets, that we cold make really cool dividers out of cereal boxes. Even though I remember the pleasure of picking up new with my dad at the downtown office supply store, or even the dreaded mall. I loved printing my name on fresh, new notebooks, putting full length pencils, with erasers–O joy!, and pens into a new zipped case. Now the school hands over a starter kid the first day or even before. My high school kids also get slightly used leftover comp books and pens to round that out, and are content.
Food choices are another area where I’m putting my foot down, for both health and economy: The focus is on foods from the garden and simple healthy meals not based on too much white flour or expensive meats. I’ve been saying no to processed foods, GMO (which includes all non-organic corn, soy, canola, and beets), sugar drinks, store bought desserts. Not sure if I can make that stick, since my husband gets a little out of hand when he shops at Costco. Last time he came home with two kinds of ice cream treats, a huge rack of ribs, four large boxes of kid cereal, and two jars of Nutella. We’re dialoging about this, and he agrees with me in principle, but he just gets these Disney Dad moods. So I try to ration the special treats and mix in fruits, vegetables, cooked breakfasts, smoothies, and homemade granola and yogurt. Yes to local bagels, bread and bacon, homemade rhubarb cake and oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, the occasional ice cream fruit shake. My son says I’m like the mom in the comic strip Foxtrot, if not quite so extreme. I do occasionally meet the kids halfway.
I’ve told the kids that if they’re desperate for treats, they have to make them in the kitchen, or pay out of pocket and pay mind to nutritional content. For example, my daughter learned yesterday (I asked at the window–she had a birthday gift card) that there are 42 grams sugar in a caramel Frappucino. That’s over 10 teaspoons of sugar in one drink. She’s putting it together. We discussed a phasing out plan, maybe having her go with a plain latte with one pump of caramel instead of four, for starters, and she was actually open to that. Also discussed types of lunches she’d like to have me make in the category of homemade/healthy/economical: clam chowder and minestrone being identified. I said no to individual cups of sweetened yogurt, and am pushing for her acceptance of my homemade kind with fruit jam. Have to pick the right moments to move the plan forward, and avoid a bossy or irritated manner.
My other daughter stated her resolve today, at the beginning of the high school swimming season, to eat healthier. Pleaded for more fresh fruit (besides the fresh and frozen berries we have on hand), and complained that there was nothing yummy in the fridge. I told her maybe not (though the fridge was full of food), but in combination it all could be made very yummy. So it’s time to teach her more recipes, besides potatoes fried with garlic and rosemary. Omelets with chard and cheese, baked potatoes with the works, salsa, tsiziki, potato salad. Food discontent is usually only a failure of imagination or experience, or plain laziness, and usually insufficient hunger. I also am helping her learn about seasonality–she was desperate for apples last month, but I explained I wasn’t buying apples that had either traveled around the globe or that had been in storage for a year; she’d have to wait until local fruit were in season. And no bananas except in special circumstances; no oranges until November. There were frozen berries in the freezer.
My youngest son loves treats and asks for ice cream pretty much every day if he knows it’s there, wants dessert after every meal, and I have to watch his portions of any sort of cereal or meat. But also loves to make and eat vegetable soup with lots of ginger. He’s shaping up to be my key cucumber consumer, loves green beans, and I hope to win him over to baked zucchini cheese melts.
Concerning clothing, which is a larger proportion of our budget that I’d like–most of the purchases being for my daughters, I try to conduct inventory of the girls’ clothes when they feel they need more, and we go to the second hand stores and look first. My daughters have finally accepted this, and are starting to enjoy the challenge. Now I’m encouraging them to buy a bit roomy so they won’t outgrow so soon, though that process is finally slowing down. My sons don’t care where we shop & let me pick out their stuff whenever possible (I enjoy picking out funky T-shirts, such as the one that reads “No Sense being a Pessimist–It’ll Never Work”). Not that they need much. They buy it loose, don’t care much about trendiness, and it lasts.
Driving was also a qualified no today. I took one daughter to the barn for chores–she earns a bit of money for her work, though I explained that I don’t want to spend $5 in gas and 45 minutes driving so she can earn $10. Once this commitment is done, she’ll only work when she’s there to ride also. Then the girls wanted to be driven to the lake for a swim. I said no–I had to finish job applications, and assigned the job to my oldest son, who baulked, until I reasoned with him and reminded him that his being able to use the little Honda was contingent on doing these errands. Then my friend and I both got out of driving our daughters to a sleepover across town and up a mountain, letting the host mom do the job. We’re not a big fan of sleepovers, since they leave the participants wasted the next day, and in my experience the bonding is not usually of a high quality type. I used to say no to them too.