Wednesday, September 26, 2012

When Good Grandmas Go Bad

We took a road trip recently, and brought my mother-in-law along. Actually, I should probably say, “she came with us.” She’s not really old enough yet to be “brought along.” I think that phrasing changes as soon as the person stops being able to help drive. Or when they start to drool on themselves. Anyway, she piled into the Ford Expedition with my wife and me and the three boys, and we headed north for Portland, OR, a mere ten hours away. We left early, and had our first stop for gas two hours into the drive, at 8:00 A.M.

It was at this stop, inside the Shell station's convenience store, that I realized she is going crazy.

When the gas pump had finished draining my checking account balance into the tank, I went inside the store to buy a drink with my leftover change. There stood my seven-year-old, holding a king-sized Kit Kat bar the size of his head, asking if he could have it.

"Of course not.”

“Well, if he can't have that, can he have a donut?" inquired his grandma, on his behalf.

 "Absolutely not." I replied, slightly bewildered that I was having this conversation with either of them, but especially with the adult.

"Well, why not?" she asked.

 "Yeah, why not?" my son chimed in.


"Well, what does that matter?" she asked. "It's a road trip."

She had obviously gone completely off her rocker. Why does it matter? Well, for starters, we don’t normally feed the children 18,000 mg of processed sugar for breakfast. We usually shoot for actual food. On top of that, we try to avoid feeding them enough sugar to power a small city when we are going to be cooped up in the same car with them for EIGHT MORE HOURS!!!

I jokingly say she had gone crazy, but that was obviously not the case. She was able to carry on a perfectly coherent conversation, despite the fact that she wanted to feed the children hyperactive fit-inducing amounts of sugar. Since she was lucid in all other areas, I pondered why an otherwise sane woman would want to lock herself in a confined space with three sugar-crazed Tasmanian Devils.

Only one answer makes any sense. She’s trying to earn points with them. You see, us parents usually have no concerns over being the favorite. The kids get one mom and one dad, and that’s it. You're stuck with us kid. Too bad. Grandmas, on the other hand, usually have some competition. Now, our boys’ two grandmas get along great. They love each other to death, but I am now sure that they are secretly at war for favorite grandma status. And sugar, in one form or another, seems to be the main weapon in their arsenals.

When my mother-in-law comes to visit at our house, she gets up early each morning to walk to the nearby gas station to get the newspaper because my wife and I don't subscribe. I would like to sound hip and say that’s because we get all our news electronically, but the real reason is that the paper is expensive and always filled with depressing news. Why would I want to pay to be depressed?

Anyway, she always comes back with the morning paper, and some form of Hostess brand sugar for the kids. She does this so often that our kids refer to Chevron stations as “the donut store.”

The first morning we were in Portland, she took the boys and walked from the hotel down to the grocery store a few blocks away and came back with the morning edition of the Oregonian, a gallon of milk, and two boxes of cereal.

Cocoa Puffs and Trix.

Really, grandma? Was there no cereal with a higher sugar content?

Our kids have never even seen or tasted those cereals in real life, but they have apparently been waiting for the right time to try and get their hands on some after seeing them on commercials. They are smart enough to know who to ask, because grandma’s explanation for the purchase was the ever-popular, “They asked me if we could buy them.”

Oh, well, then I understand. There’s no getting out of that trap once they ask nicely and all.

She followed that up with, “Don’t worry, we decided they only get one bowl per day.”

Oh, good. I was afraid it would take less than a week for them to develop diabetes.

I was raised on healthy food with no traces of processed sugar. I would almost go so far as to say my mom was a health food nut before it was cool. She put wheat germ on our cereal and yeast in our orange juice. It was special. Today, as a grandma, she still can’t seem to bring herself to give junk food to a child, so she has taken a different route. She vies for favorite grandma status by providing them with their favorite fruits. Since she is competing with pure, refined sugar, she has to go out of her way to find exotic fruits that my wife and I would never think of buying. It started with simple pears and pineapples, but it has ratcheted up as the years have progressed.

“Nana is here, and she brought us kiwis, papayas, mangos, passion fruit, and something called a cape gooseberry!”

I guess the sugar from the fruit is a little better for them than the junk food, but the “healthy” treats are not without side effects. I’m not sure which I like less: Dealing with the emotionally un-wound child who ate too many Ho Hos, or the digestively un-bound child who ate too much pineapple. Can I see what’s behind door number three, please?

As I reflect a little more on my own childhood, I realize the grandma/sugar conundrum is nothing new. My sisters and I only had one grandma, so she wasn’t even competing, and she still gave us “syrup in every square” on our Eggo waffles at her house. My mom would cringe when we told her, and we thought that was endlessly funny, just like my boys do today.

All the same, I wish the grandmas would compete with each other by buying the boys shoes or underwear instead. Those we can use!

See you soon,


Copyright © 2012 Marc Schmatjen

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