Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Crappy Meal with a FREE TOY!

Interesting article here from NPR which describes a consumer group's legal actions against McD's for advertising their Happy Meals' toys on television and targeting children under 8 years old. The parents in the class-action suit are not suing for any monetary reward just a change in policy. Of course, the real test of their high ground will come if/when they are offered a settlement to go away. Meanwhile, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors has over-ridden a veto from their Mayor's office in order to create an ordinance banning toys in nutritionally-poor meals by December 2011.

Shouldn't be long before we see a fair & balanced headline which will proclaim "SAN FRANCISCO LIBERALS OUTLAW TOYS AT CHRISTMAS TIME!!"

It is no revelation that the goal of advertising is to influence consumers to... well, consume more product. If we can agree happy meals are not healthy then it is not much of a stretch to disapprove of McD's targeting advertisements for the meals and toys to children directly. Not sure you agree with the government stepping in here? What if it was caffeinated fruit roll ups or Sesame Street smokeless tobacco, would we ban that advertising? Of course these are far-fetched examples, but they hopefully illustrate how most of us agree the government should have some say in preventing advertising to children for products which are unhealthy. So the real question is: How unhealthy does something need to be for this to apply? Are we willing to permit the advertising of fats and sugars to children since this probably won't result in immediate obesity; if so how quickly must the unhealthy result follow and how severe must it be for us to frown upon the product being pitched during Saturday morning cartoons? Unfortunately, the advertising is effective and there are plenty of parents who may not always make healthy choices on the run and when dealing with a cranky child, so making the product choices healthier from the outset makes a lot of sense or at least making the unhealthy choices less appealing. I'm glad McD's has started offering apple slices in happy meals, but they could still go a lot further in making their happy meals healthier (the ordinance proposed sets forth minimum nutritional guidelines for those restaurants who want to give away toys with their meals). In a country dealing with rising health care costs and launching a national mandated insurance program, perhaps legislating some good nutrition options (or at least not promoting the bad ones) could be a positive thing for the health and costs for our children.

In our family, we try to keep J. Bean away from the advertising to begin with; we limit television and we always stick with On-demand, DVD's and public TV. Parents are ultimately responsible to just say "no" as needed and we are the gatekeepers for our children's nutrition, but that doesn't mean we should abide this type of advertising targeted specifically at children. I have no illusions that the lack of targeted advertising would bring about an end to children's consumption of happy meals and I don't see that as the goal, but we just don't need more influence for unhealthy choices pushed on children. I can't say J. Bean has never eaten french fries from McD's, but I hope to keep it as a treat that is few and far between and sticking with that is a little harder when working against free toy ploys and advertising. If the advertising is going to stay, just make it healthier... Kids are still going to want that toy. If not, just put Ronald out front... the little ones always love a clown:

Monday, December 13, 2010

I don't recall asking for your opinion...

"To offer a man unsolicited advice is to presume that he doesn't know what to do or that he can't do it on his own." 
~~ John Gray
It's not a new problem, I've heard parents of every type and experience talk about dealing with unsolicited advice. With that said, I do think Full-Time Dads see this phenomenon a little more than Moms. People see a father with a child and immediately assume it is just a "day out with Daddy" or that Mom is sick or even deceased. Yes, I have been asked if my wife is deceased before as that explanation would apparently, at the least, provide some sanity to a crazy world where bumbling idiots like me are allowed to care for toddlers. It is a common assumption that fathers are inattentive and incapable of properly caring for a child despite the fact that hundreds of thousands of us do it every day right here in the US of A.

This type of advice insult (that is what it is, intended or not) ranges widely in motive and severity. Sometimes, it is just a veteran Mom who honestly wants to help you out of what she sees as a chaotic situation. Unbeknownst to her, though, the past 5 minutes is actually near today's low on your Chaos-o-meter. "Yes Ma'am, your advice of giving my daughter a lollipop would calm her down and end her crying (while simultaneously teaching her the value and effectiveness of a good temper tantrum and sending her a little further down the path of tooth decay), but what you don't know is that a few moments ago the little one was removing clothes, throwing raisins and hurling a sippy cup from her perch while screeching at the top of her lungs... so I'm actually pretty happy with the mild whimpering and whining that you are now lucky enough to witness." This type of T.U.R.D. (Thoughtless Unsolicited or Redundant Declaration) is pretty low on the offensive rating, after all it's just a Mom who wants to help and maybe make herself feel needed a little in the process. Can't hold a grudge for that, but you can ignore the comment altogether.

Another time, a beauty product clerk in a department store asked me as I walked by with J. Bean if there was a baby sleeping in the stroller I was pushing. Yes, I replied, hoping no more conversation was necessary as I didn't want to wake said baby. You see, I had a light blanket tossed over the stroller creating a block for the light while being sufficiently ventilated. Unfortunately, the woman couldn't help herself; she asked me if the baby could breathe in there. What type of reaction is appropriate to that question? "Baby's need air?!", "Probably not, but I'm in a hurry right now", "Where is the men's department?" I had no idea how to respond to it, so I didn't.

Other examples abound. A Dad friend of mine, Philosophical Dad (aka P.HDaddy), recently shared a story with me about riding the blue line with his near two-year old daughter, Abby. It was a cold day in Chicago and P.HDaddy and Abby were making their way downtown. Apparently, Abby wished to be rid of her gloves and jacket once they boarded the train. P.HDaddy acquiesced to this request, having already assessed his surroundings and deciding the temperature and conditions within the car were acceptable for his daughter and knowing that he would exit the train underground and walk through a heated pedway to his destination. In other words, he did what all good parents do; he made a decision which was most likely to result in the best outcomes for his travel with his daughter. He considered the options on many different levels (emotional and physical well-being, irritability, time of travel, path of travel, layers of regular clothing, past experience, etc...). The "advice" in this instance came from an elderly woman who spoke no English (although she was obviously fluent in the international theory of Daddy Incompetence). This matriarch would not let a simple language barrier keep her from making P.HDaddy aware that toddlers actually need to be sheltered from the elements. P.HDaddy had actually already put Abby's coat on in preparation for the indoor walk through temperatures that might dip to 65, but this woman was about to lose her mind because he had neglected to put gloves on the poor child. P.HDaddy, knew right away she was just flinging T.U.R.D.'s so he did the right thing and walked away.

The insults can always get worse and I'm sure I haven't been exposed to the worst of them yet, though a guy did get under my skin the other day. I was in the pedway with J. Bean, having just danced to the music of our favorite pedway performer we were heading home when we approached a revolving door. Keep in mind, J. Bean and I walk this route frequently. I am aware of the nooks and crannies of the pedway and my daughter is no stranger to the hazards of the pedestrian walk-ways of the city. Now, I occasionally utilize the skill I see in so many other good parents which is that ability to talk with someone or attend to a small task while being completely aware of my child's location, placement, arm-reach, sprint radius prior to capture, incoming objects and people, choking hazards, things and people she might be afraid of and of course my special spidey-sense for the unpredicted danger is sharply honed. In this case, I had turned to say goodbye to the guitarist, with J. Bean in my peripheral, as we approached a revolving door. J. Bean stopped a safe distance away to wait for me and to find out if we were going through the spinner or if I would open the regular door, as I often do. Meanwhile, a few people came through the door, most greeted loudly by J. Bean. Then an older businessman came through and put his hands down as if he were trying to herd cats. I guess J. Bean was too close to the door for his liking. By this time, I was asking J. Bean to head to the regular door and she was complying but the man thought she was heading for the revolver still... she wasn't. He starts shaking his head and spouting at the mouth about how I need to pay attention and how J. Bean is in imminent danger and going off on a general diatribe about my idiocy... I'm proud to say I didn't say a word. We just continued on our merry way. Why should I stop and justify myself to this man who probably spent less time with his kids in a year than I spend with J. Bean in a month? This man who if asked, wouldn't know J. Bean's age or if she can talk, but presumes to know her behavioral quirks and physical capabilities better than me? Oh yeah, and don't forget that little piece of the equation which is "daddy's presence"... does he really think my situational awareness is that poor? I'm an investigator by trade and I already noticed your socks don't match, your eyes are brown, you are about 50 years old and a smoker, you stand about 5 foot 8 and weigh approximately 185 pounds, your blue striped tie is outdated and crooked, your nose was once broken (probably for giving unsolicited advice), your hair is dyed, your briefcase handle is held together with electric tape, you smell of Brut aftershave and you are within sippy cup slinging range of my daughter now which is about as close as I am comfortable with. In fact, I'm officially slightly more concerned about you than I am about the door at this point, but that still doesn't mean I'm not close enough to jam the door with my foot if necessary and/or pull J. Bean to safety if a roving band of skateboarders come flying into the passage hell bent on trampling unprotected babies... but I say nothing. I just nod knowingly and keep my attention on what is important, this little wonder who is walking through the door and calling back to the performer "Take care, Bill. See ya soon!", she hasn't a care in the world (and rightly so, because Daddy is always looking out for her)... why should I taint her day with a retributive rant directed at this tool belt?

So what should we say to strangers when they feel the need to offer us unsolicited (and often bad or misguided) advice about our children? The best thing to say is nothing at all or a simple "Thank you". It is just easier for all involved that way and I'm not in to getting angry in front of my daughter or subjecting her to interactions with that type of person any more than necessary. I'm certainly not without character flaws and a temper of my own though and I know that given the correct mix of a bad morning, a rude meddler, lack of sleep or caffeine and a sick kid and I'll probably say something one day... but I will check myself and won't let my temper flare when I say it because I try to remember that Mom's and Dad's are not allowed to have bad days. The little ones we raise are watching and learning from us how to interact with others. If I do have a weak moment though, I've got my line prepared for delivery with a smile: "Do you think you love and care for my child more than I do?... What's that? No? OK then, thanks for your concern, but I've got this under control and it's not my first day as a father believe it or not."

I was thinking of ordering one of these shirts from to help with the problem:

Friday, December 10, 2010

The force is strong with this one...

Really love this story of a Mom, Carrie Goldman, and her daughter, Katie. It all started with a blog post about bullying which was written by Carrie after Katie's experience at school with a Star Wars water bottle and some teasing she received for carrying it. Well, lets just say this little girl received the right kind of support from her family and soon found she was being supported by a lot of other "geeks" too!

I'm not sure this is the bottle the girl was carrying, but if it was... who can make fun of this? This device is awesome and I want one!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Two years...

Celebrated J Bean's 2nd birthday today. We had a blast at the Corner Playroom (2121 N Clybourn) with other kids from playgroup and some other friends from the building, work, etc... We also had the first snow of the season in Chicago today, but everyone braved the weather to come to the shindig. J Bean has been dabbling in the "terrible 2's" for months now, so I'm a little anxious about the new tricks that are around the corner. I love every minute of it though (please remind me of this when I start ranting about the behavioral issues).

It is hard to believe 2 years have come and gone since her first peek at the world and our first look at her. I can feel the future rushing at me as if I was in a wind tunnel of time... slow down! I know we have a long and amazing childhood ahead of us and I truly look forward to watching this amazing person grow and learn more with each circle around the sun. However, I also know with every passing year, time will speed up for me. I take some comfort in remembering how slow time passes as a child and knowing how much fun I can help make this for her and hoping I can anchor myself against the winds of time with a little help from this amazing little girl.

OK, enough "sappage"... at what age are children able to help with housework (I mean really help... J Bean already likes to spread my swept piles of dirt around and scatter my folded laundry). I'm looking forward to something more along these lines though:

jason lee creative kids photography sisters

Photos from cool dad, Jason Lee with JWL Photography.

Friday, December 3, 2010


As J Bean was just starting to say a few words -clearly anyway- several months ago, she would occasionally watch cartoons with breakfast. She's a fan of "Diego" and we have episodes available on demand. So one morning I was searching for Diego and once I typed in D-I-E one of the choices that came up was "Die Hard with a Vengeance". I asked J Bean if she wanted to watch Diego or Die Hard with a vengeance... she quickly answered with a sharp: VENGEANCE!!! Of course my wife (VeeVee) and I died laughing which had the effect of imprinting the word permanently into her repertoire. Now she breaks it out at random times for a laugh and occasionally gets the word into the right context.... presumably, by accident though sometimes I have to wonder.
For example, recently, J Bean was having a "misunderstanding" with another toddler over a chair they both wanted. The other child had come up and was working to push J Bean off of the chair (unsuccessfully as she was too small for the job also), with much protest from J Bean. Before I had to make a move, the child's mother approached and pulled her own toddler down and took her a few feet away for "a talk". J Bean sat down and watched this intently. She didn't get involved or laugh/smile or anything like that, but I could see the gears were turning as she watched with interest. So... later in the car on the way home, I was describing the events to VeeVee (J Bean was in the back seat in her car seat, we thought she might have even been sleeping) and I came to the part of the story where the other toddler received her "talking to" from her Mom when suddenly from the back seat, J Bean yelled "VENGEANCE!"... That's right, baby, that's right.