I cut off a lady in the parking lot at Food Lion this morning, and it reminded me of an article I wrote several years ago about obesity. Knowing Michelle Obama’s drive to eradicate obesity in children, I sent it to her. This is the First Lady’s response:
The instigation for the original article was a trip to Starbucks. Some dusty pre-teen kid in triple x clothes asked his mom for a second brownie, chocolate milk and a donut–and she obliged. The boy bulleted about Starbucks for fifteen minutes while his mom sucked down a second frappe of some sort, then he collapsed on the floor near her feet and stretched out, forcing customers to portage around him. And I wondered very simply: How is this not child abuse? How is it possible that she can get in serious trouble for giving him cigarettes but nothing can be done when she pumps pounds of sugar into his bloodstream, heart, and kidneys, likely leading to diseases including diabetes, heart disease, and kidney failure. So I wrote the article, sent it to Mrs. O who read it and subsequently wrote me back pushing her plan to eliminate junk food from schools everywhere. Good idea, I thought, but flawed.
Years ago I worked at a health club where we reminded members at the end of a vigorous one hour workout that they always have two choices: They can give in to temptation or avoid it by reminding themselves of their ultimate goals. Not easy at all, of course. But how hard is it to say, “No, Son, if you eat that you’ll be gross and you might die.” I’m guessing Starbuck’s Mom didn’t want to listen to him whine, though eventually that happened as well anyway because for fifteen minutes he complained of stomach aches.
The owner of the health club was good at helping people lose weight. The best. He had a simple trick when it came to food: Ask yourself every time you’re going to eat something, “Is this a good idea or a bad idea?” As simple-minded as that sounds, it works. The problem, of course, is getting the answer wrong. It is easy to say, “This is a good idea because if I don’t have just a little chocolate I’ll binge!” or “Seriously, I read online that eating four Snickers Bars a day actually helps.” But all things being equal the constant good-bad question can work well, especially if you allow yourself three “bad ideas” a week. That’ll give you something to look forward to, assuming you don’t use up all three during one episode of Breaking Bad.
But a bigger issue looms in this wilderness of ours which turns bad parenting into a symptom instead of a cause: Limited Vision.
Some punk in a jacked-up pickup rode my ass for three miles on a narrow country road last week. I suppose I made the situation worse when I slammed on the brakes not caring so much if he rammed my ass. That might have been wrong. Just as wrong as coming as close as he could because his mono-syllabic brain can’t handle complicated thoughts like driving and pinching some chew at the same time. I should have thought through the bad idea/good idea thing and pulled over, swallowed my right to be on the road at all, and let him race on to whatever bar awaited him. My inconvenience would have been limited, my discontent over within seconds. Instead, we played this game for three miles until we reached the four lane. To be fair I had nothing better to do anyway and going ten miles an hour allowed me to watch the birds fly from tree to tree.
But we do this all the time: We decide to address an immediate problem even if it creates a bigger problem later, and all along we ignore the underlying issue which created the initial problem to begin with. My need to get this guy off my ass by braking could have created all sorts of bad situations, not the least of which might have been a bullet in my back in this rural, gun collecting, hunters paradise we call home. Likewise, the enabler mom has created an obese child with a future of complaining, food bills, medical bills and most likely being bullied. In both cases we weren’t thinking ahead.
It happened again the other day when some Earnhardt wannabe rode my tail, but this time I pulled over and let him go and he waved as he went by. Maybe he didn’t realize how close he was. Maybe I didn’t realize he wasn’t so close. Maybe he was late for the doctors, or the airport. I have no idea, but by braking I clearly would have created more problems for both of us. It is just like deciding not to eat another brownie. It really is.
The problem with Mrs. Obama’s plan is it attacks a symptom instead of the cause. The problem isn’t healthy food versus junk food. The problem is decision making ability. Yes children should be eating better, and yes it is a good idea to limit the junk food in schools, and of course parents should do what is right instead of what just keeps the kid quiet. But the solution is for everyone to learn the downside of immediate gratification and the benefits of long-term gain, even if it means sacrifice–or pulling over, or letting the kid scream. Making the right decision doesn’t mean solving “a” problem, it means avoiding new ones as well. The solution to a problem should not create a new problem. Positive actions can have all sorts of negative results. Simply, removing the bad choices will not solve the problem in the long run.
Which is why this is actually about the lady at Food Lion this morning.
I saw a spot open up in the parking lot and shot into it from the aisle, not realizing she had been waiting for the spot from the other direction. My fault. This has happened to me before. I was about to pull back out and give an apologetic wave when she was already out of her car and banging on my trunk. I rolled my window down as she approached the side of the car still yelling. I yelled back, “Are you out of your mind?!?! You could be shot! You have no idea if I’m some psychotic killer just out of prison or what! You don’t know I don’t have a gun, a knife or a baseball bat! Get back in your car you idiot! It is a SPOT! I didn’t see you. I apologize. I’ll pull out and you can have it.”
She looked terrified. Good. It never crossed her mind to simply find another spot and let jackass me have that one. She saw the decision as “one spot and two cars.” In the meantime other cars waited behind her Mercedes, now sitting alone with the door open, fresh for some carjacker. She quickly returned to the car and drove off. I doubt she’ll do that again. Instead of seeing it as a “that spot is mine but he got it” situation, we both could have looked around at the dozens of other spots available. Likewise, Mrs. Obama should be able to place a plate of junk food and a plate of healthy food in front of junior high students and instead work on their decision-making ability.
For the record, I’m writing this at Starbucks, sucking on a chocolate chip frappe and a chocolate croissant. My suggestions are theories, folks, just theories.