Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Hydration of a Thirsty Nation

“Why is everyone so thirsty all of a sudden?” That’s what my grandpa used to ask me. “Nowadays everyone carries around their own personal bottle of water. They all must be really thirsty.” He was amazed and amused by the sight of it.

Nation-wide thirst has, indeed, increased dramatically in my lifetime. Think back to when you were a kid. Do you remember anyone ever walking around holding their own personal bottle of water? No. Because personal water bottles didn’t exist. Somewhere along the line – in the late 1980’s, I think – companies first produced the portable plastic personal bottle of water, and we have been a nation on the verge of dehydration ever since.

The invention of the personal bottle of water was huge -- bigger than the cell phone, probably -- because it spans all the generation gaps. Every single man, woman, and child needs their own bottle of water today. Everyone from the eighty-year-olds to the one-year-olds can be seen fighting off imminent dehydration with their very own 0.75-liter Evian life insurance policy. This was a massive double-play for beverage companies, because not only does the target market consist of everyone, but they had finally figured out how to get people to pay for something that was otherwise free. That really made my grandpa laugh.

I began to realize how truly water-crazy we have become when my kids started playing organized sports. Every kid on my son’s soccer team arrived at the first practice with their own water bottle. Some kids had those Thermos-type one-gallon jugs with the flip-top spout. They played soccer for about three minutes and then had a ten-minute water break. When I was a kid playing soccer we practiced for an hour and then you were more than welcome to go find a drinking fountain somewhere if you were thirsty. On game days, the parents brought orange slices. You weren’t allowed to leave the field to find a drinking fountain, so you got any liquid you might need from the orange pulp.

With my son’s team, they cancelled a few of the practices because it was too hot. I was left thinking, “Are they actually worried anyone will overheat? Between all the players and coaches they will have 400 gallons of water within arm’s reach. They could take what they don’t drink and fill a small swimming pool if they get too hot.” Oh, well.

And, don’t even get me started on T-ball. If there was ever a sport that requires as little movement as possible on the player’s part, it’s T-ball. I have never seen any of the players actually break a sweat, yet our entire squad comes equipped with giant personal tankards of liquids. We are constantly rotating kids off the field in the middle of games to go pee, and the floor of our dugout is like a Dasani minefield.

And not content with just plain old water anymore, many parents opt for sports drinks to keep their kid’s electrolyte levels acceptable. I know the electrolyte levels of us kids was always a big concern for my folks.

The shift in our perceived water requirements is a strange thing. Back in the day, if you were ever thirsty when you were outside playing, you found a drinking fountain or a hose. Nowadays, moms and dads actually follow their children around the playgrounds and parks with bottles of water, forcing them to drink water even if the kids protest that they’re not thirsty. On any given 70-degree day you’ll hear, “You have to drink some water, Billy. It’s hot out here!” Many of today’s moms may not believe this, but farmers used to work all day in the fields, only drinking water at meal times. Many of today’s moms also may not believe that pee is supposed to be yellow, not clear.

I used to work with a guy who was a coffee drinker and a smoker. He had been with the company for years running one of the machines out in the shop. One day I wandered over to his workstation holding a cup of water. He asked me what I was drinking, and when I told him, he said, “Huh. I can’t remember the last time I had a drink of water.” He was dead serious. He thought about it for a while and decided that he hadn’t had so much as a sip of plain old water in over 10 years. Wrap your head around that one, Mommy!

My wife is one of “today’s moms” who feels the need to keep herself and our three boys maximally hydrated. I am starting to think an over-abundance of water in the body sort of feeds on itself like a crack addiction, because no matter how much water we give him, Boy Number Two is constantly complaining about being thirsty. He is also the one that needs to go to the bathroom every eight minutes. Strangely enough, he is also the one who has had the most potty-training issues and nighttime “accidents.”

It occurs to me that our potty training might go a little smoother if our boys weren’t experiencing a level-nine bladder emergency every time they need to pee. In fact, I’m not sure that any of them have ever had just a simple urge to pee. It’s always been a zero-to-sixty rush to the toilet to unleash a fire hose.

They say the human body is about 60% water. I’d ask them to re-check. I’ll bet these days we’re more like 80%. And I’ll bet my boys are pushing 95%.

There goes one of them now, sprinting to the bathroom.

See you soon,

Copyright © 2011 Marc Schmatjen

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