We’re almost a month into Fiona and Campbell’s school year, and the update is: it’s been the BEST back-to-school experience in our family’s history. This year, there was no Second Day trauma; everything went as smoothly as we’d hoped and prayed for (Please don’t hate me; I know I’m lucky and it’s probably just this year. But of all years, with a new baby at home, I’m grateful that the universe decided to kick an easy transition our way!)
I was never particularly concerned about Campbell. To start with, Campbell barely notices where she is as long as there are toy animals to play with. Also, she was returning to the same preschool she attended last year, for the same three days a week.
But Fiona started Kindergarten at our town’s public elementary school. That seemed like a BIG DEAL: new school, new teachers, new kids, new routine, and riding the school bus home. She loves all of it.
And we — Erick and I — love it, too. Whenever someone asks us how Kindergarten is going, we respond in unison, “We LOVE Kindergarten!!” I realize that they’re probably asking how Fiona likes Kindergarten, but whatever. As far as I’m concerned, Kindergarten is the best invention on the planet, and I don’t know why nobody told us earlier.
Get this: Kindergarten takes my child all day long, five days a week! And they return her to me filled with newly acquired knowledge! Just the other day, Fiona asked me to play school with her; she was the teacher, I was the student. And out of nowhere, she writes on the board: 17-0=17. My jaw dropped. Yes, ma’am, that’s MY daughter doing double-digit subtraction! Where’d she learn it? Not from me — from Kindergarten!!
The thing about Kindergarten is that I feel much more distant from the classroom than I did when Fiona was in preschool. I had to drop her off and pick her up from preschool, so I was in her classroom twice a day. I’d exchange greetings with her teacher and hear immediately if anything notable had happened.
Now that Fiona’s in Kindergarten, Erick drops her off on his way to work in the morning (it’s on his way, in the opposite direction from the preschool where I drop Campbell), and she takes the bus home in the afternoon. Fiona does a decent job of reporting on her day, and her teacher sends home a weekly newsletter, but that’s all I have to go on.
In the middle of second week of school, Fiona came home and announced, “I can’t have fruit chews in my lunch anymore.”
I’ve written before about fruit chews: small packets officially labeled “Fruit Flavored Snacks,” known to most non-Gong children as “gummies.” I’m not quite sure how fruit chews became a staple of my children’s diet, since I never ate them as a child and wouldn’t have purchased them on my own. I’m guessing they were introduced to our girls by friends, or even (gasp!) grandparents. I feel vaguely shameful about giving my children daily fruit chew snacks, since I’m aware that they’re probably bad for the teeth and have little nutritional value. But I’ve continued to buy them because my daughters have to eat something, and I figure that if you can’t eat a little junk when you’re a kid, when can you???
I was baffled by this anti-fruit chew edict that Fiona had proclaimed, but far be it from me to show disrespect to her teachers. Instead, I remained calm and mature, and asked, “Okay…why can’t you have fruit chews in your lunch?”
“Because,” she said, “the teachers want us to have nutritious food in our lunches, and fruit chews are just a little bit of fruit juice and mostly colored sugar.”
Okay, so it’s quite possible that I’m not getting the full story from my five-year-old. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time that she’d misunderstood something and given me information that was slightly off. I’m choosing to believe that’s the case here, because…
WHY, out of all the nutritionally-challenged lunchbox options, would the teachers choose to pick on fruit chews??? Certainly they’ve seen worse, right?
In a good faith effort to determine how bad fruit chews really are, I took a closer look at the box. Right there on the front, it said: “Made with Real Fruit Juice*”
That’s right: an asterisk. Uh-oh.
But that asterisk just leads to a statement that these snacks are made from fruit juice concentrate, and aren’t supposed to replace actual fruit in the diet. Well, duh!
So here’s the skinny: Fruit chews are mostly artificial colors and sugars, including corn starch. But they’re also only 80 calories, and they provide 20% of the recommended daily value of Vitamin C.
That’s not great, but it’s not terrible. In a lineup of snack foods, fruit chews strike me as fairly innocuous. Which begs the question: If you ban fruit chews, where do you draw the line? What about fruit chews’ flat cousin, the Fruit Roll-Up? Potato chips and Fritos? Cheez-Its and Goldfish? What about those “Pizza Fridays” in the school cafeteria? What about a cookie for dessert? (Fiona tells me that baked desserts are okay, but not chocolate bars — another fine line, it seems).
But let’s assume the teachers are okay with their morally ambiguous food restrictions: WHY wouldn’t they draft a letter to the parents informing us of what’s on the banned list? I never received any written instructions as to what I could or couldn’t pack in Fiona’s lunch. Which leaves me, now, in the anxiety-prone position of having to second-guess whether the lunches I pack meet some unknown nutritional standard.
Do I seem overly defensive here?!?!
I suppose I am. In truth, I’m embarrassed that Fiona’s teachers have seen my shame and refused to look away.
That, in a nutshell, is probably the biggest challenge for parents entering this new world of school: We’re sending out our most precious things — these little beings in whom we’ve invested so much of ourselves — into a larger world where they’ll be judged according to standards that are not always clear or fair. And we have no control over it.
If we don’t watch ourselves, we may end up getting defensive over silly things like fruit chews.