Saturday, March 24, 2007

Poles Apart

I have come to the resignation that there is probably never going to be "World Peace" when we, human beings, seem to be living on different planets.

Recent search on funny anecdotes on parenthood have yielded two articles published by The Guardian (UK newspaper). One was written a few years back but remains as fresh and relevant today – in the better parts of London, and other capital cities – as when the once new phenomenon was first observed and documented.

In an article titled "J'adore le Baby Dior" (I adore Baby Dior - Dior's junior clothing line), the author and mother of a 2 year-old lamented that "...I don't get to spend nearly enough time playing the glossy, airbrushed parenting role I had in mind for myself...sitting at a pavement cafe while my delightful little one tucks heartily into an organic meal and amuses himself artistically with crayons, with me...maintaining a steady, watchful eye over my progeny and shyly acknowledging the admiring smiles of passers by..."

Organic meal and crayons?? I only recall seeing porteño mother & kid teams tucking into ham and cheese toasties on nutritionally deficient white bread while sipping coca-cola, with Power Ranger or Barbie toys lying close by.

Across the Ocean, the same author and mother went on "...In my local playground on a Saturday morning, around the sandpit, mothers brandish healthy snacks and educational toys like Mulberry handbags. The children are roundly drowned out by their parents. "Come and have one of these nourishing but delicious muesli cookies that mummy made this morning, Lola darling," they shout across the climbing frame, "and then it's time we went to your drama workshop/Sudoku group/thank-you-letter-writing master-class."..."

The author and I agree on one point at least and that is it has always been thus, of course. However, favoured methods of showing off one's brilliant child - and, more importantly, one's A-starred parenting skills – are primarily the reflection of the time we live in.

For instance, when I first recounted with horror to my mother that Argentine children are routinely fed milk with added sugar and all other forms of terrible junk, my mother calmly told me that it too was the custom to "treat" children this sort of food when she was a young girl living in the more austere post-war era; back then common folks were not educated on nutrition. Clearly, A-starred parenting skills in the affluent and more nutrition savvy cultures of today have move on and beyond refined sugar and "white" carbohydrates.

"In these Jamie Oliver obsessed times, it's all about breeding a child who wrinkles their snub nose in the face of chocolate and pines for soya milk and papaya." says the satirical author who has "...a friend who still talks in hushed, shocked tones about the infamous occasion last year when one mother gave the children - wait for it - sandwiches, as if such a wheat-laden, non-gourmet GI snack was akin to offering a tray of stiff gin and tonics."

I chuckled as I imagine how this friend of the author would feel if she ever saw what I see frequently at my local supermarket where parents wait in line with their toddlers to pay for their trolley filled with dulce de leche, crisps and frizzy drinks.

Of course, food is only a little patch within the minefield that's modern parenthood. In a more recent Guardian article, another author talks about the wanton excess that is a child's birthday party fuelled by competitive parents. "...Children have no innate sense of one-up-manship; they invariably want their birthday party to be exactly like the most recent birthday party they attended. Parents, however, do not like slavish imitation; they constantly feel the need to produce something more imaginative, impressive and fashionable than the other parents, to the extent that British families now spend an average of £82 per birthday party, although £500 is more like the norm in certain parts of north London."

At current exchange rate and where we draw the poverty line, £500 is more than a large number of middle class Argentine families earn in a month; and I don't know which one of these societies is screwed up.

The choice of presents may be very different but London or Buenos Aires, the current party scenes are similarly characterised by an orgy of ungrateful excess. One gift after another being ripped open at alarming speed by a child who never even pauses to see who it is from seems the norm.

I am sure when we become parents, Guillermo and I may run the risk of being accused of child abuse just because we do not believe or condone this sort of parenting style which encourages immediate gratification and feeds more materialistic desires and demands. However, I do like the idea of instilling healthy wholesome eating habits in our children even if it means they would only accept Green & Black's organic dark chocolate with 70% cocoa solids; as long as I don't flaunt it and that it is how we eat anyway, I reason that it isn't all that pretentious ;-)

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