Clarissa Johal: July 2009

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Pirate Squirrels

I love animals. I've been a vegetarian for over 20 years and would do anything and everything for an animal in need. Just ask my family. They share their house with no less than three cats, two dogs, two turtles, two mice and eight tanks of fish. It's quite a menagerie.
However, the squirrels in my backyard are not part of my brood. They are probably the most pirate-like, crafty, little tree-rats I've ever seen. Lately, they've taken to draining my hummingbird feeders of all the sugar water.
I hope they get cavities.
Anyways, today I caught one chewing on a poisonous ant bait trap, of all things. I have no idea where he got it from, but thinking of his welfare, I immediately ran outside to stop him. Oddly enough, the thing hightailed it off my deck and up the nearest tree.
So, there I stood, heart pounding and visions of convulsing, dying squirrels in my head. Frantically, I started tossing sticks at it, hoping to scare it into dropping the ant bait. Nothing. I yelled at it, explaining that it was making a huge, life-altering mistake. Still nothing. The thing continued to chew away on the ant bait like the stubborn, little tree-rat he was.
In a fit of despair, and because I couldn't have a death on my conscience, I kicked off my shoes and climbed up the tree.
My one thought; "What dumb squirrel eats ant bait?"
Oh yeah, mine do.
Cursing like a sailor, I managed to climb half-way up before I realized:
1) I had my lacy and expensive black skirt on which was now, 2) stuck on a tree branch behind me and fluttering in the breeze.
On top of that, (or under it) I was now panty-flashing my neighbors who were having a civilized BBQ with about five of their closest friends.
All were looking up at me with either amusement or shock--I couldn't tell which, because suddenly everything was much too bright.
Meanwhile, the squirrel had nimbly jumped to the next tree--ant bait still clutched in his ratty little paws.
I stared up at the pale, blue sky, wondering what the weather was like somewhere else, and casually reached behind me to tug my skirt to a more acceptable level. Climbing down with my remaining dignity, I silently reprimanded myself for thinking the worst squirrel hating thoughts you can imagine.
The battle rages on....

The Ripple Effect

A friend of mine is a social worker. She was recently worrying that what she did for a living was related to her ego rather than a genuine desire to help people. Yes, before you shake your head, I too, say, "If it's ego,then so be it. You are doing so much more than 99% of the population of the world!"
It takes a very special person to dedicate their lives to helping others. And really, the rest of us could do a little of the same. Sharing the milk of human kindness with this ailing world would make the drink go so much further. My response to her thoughts was that the world operates on a ripple effect. There are "good" ripples, and there are "bad" ones. Any good ripple is valuable, regardless where within yourself it comes from.
Here's what I tell my kids, and bear with me, because it is extreme to illustrate a point.
Let's say you are on the playground and there is another child there that looks a little dirty, acts a little unacceptable, and generally isn't someone you would walk up to and play with. And, let's say, that child decides, through some twist of fate, to come over and ask you to play. What do you do?
Of course, my girls, being the lovely children they are, decide that they would both run away screaming.
So, let's go with that.
You run away screaming. The child, unfortunately, assumes that he is unworthy of playing with and his self-esteem sinks even lower than it started at that morning. Never mind that his mother's washing machine broke earlier that week, which explains the dirty clothes. And never mind that the stress at the child's home has been high that week because the father has lost his job due to the economy and can't provide for his family. The child has come to the playground that morning to escape the fact that his parents are, at that very moment, arguing at home and contemplating a divorce.
This would be, the pre-ripple effect.
So, back to my kids running away screaming.
The child has come to the unfortunate conclusion that he is unworthy of playing with. Tiring of playing alone, he decides to go back home. Unfortunately again, he walks in on the argument his parents are having and it has turned ugly. The parents, embarrassed by their behavior, turn their stress on their child and compound the child's feelings of unworthiness.
And it goes downhill from there.
The "bad" ripple effect. Everybody loses.
Here's another scenario.
My lovely children, playing at the playground, see another child there that looks a little dirty, acts a little unacceptable, and generally isn't someone they would play with. And, through some twist of fate, they decide to go over and ask him to play.
If only because there happens to be no other children at the playground that day and my children don't wish to play with just each other.
Or perhaps, because it is what my children should do.
In a perfect world.
The child is able to escape, if only for an hour, from the stress at home. Which has been caused by the father losing his job and inability to provide for his family. Which has been compounded by the washing machine breaking and the mother's inability to clean her family's clothes.
The child is able to have fun and be a child. If only for an hour. And at little cost to my children.
The child's self-esteem inches up a fraction. He goes home and is able to completely miss the argument his parents have had, and were eventually able to talk out.
Things go up from there.
The "good" ripple effect. This may be an extreme example.
Or not.
Every little thing you do affects something. Every ant you step on, every disapproving look you give to your kids, every telephone call or email you don't return, every "white lie" you tell, every smile you don't give, every stray you don't take in, every favor you opt out of, every child you ignore, and every "hand up" you choose not to offer.
I hope my children will realize that any little "good" thing they choose to do, is valuable.
And I hope my social worker friend does too.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The "New" Kid Food Pyramid

My mom was a health nut. Growing up in the 70’s only fueled her fire to subject myself, her only child, and my step-father to her nutty, crunchy ways. Many times we found ourselves eating questionable food—we knew it was healthy, but we were never quite sure what was in it. Combined with the fact that I also grew up in a household that was forever pinching pennies, there was never the option of not finishing my dinner or being picky to any degree. Casserole? Who knew what leftovers were lurking in it? We ate it all. Meatloaf? We ate that too, even when she was going through her soy nut-loaf phase. Sunflower seeds, homemade bread, barley soup? Those were always in my school lunches; shelled and unsalted, crusty and burnt on the bottom, stinky and lumpy (but nutritious!) I ate it all. Penny pinching led my mom to make some very unpopular choices. When the ferries went on strike and we couldn’t get milk delivered to the island we lived on, we drank powdered milk for an entire three months out of necessity. After the ferries were able to bring the "real stuff" to our island, my mother decided that we had saved so much money drinking the powdered stuff, she would continue to purchase it.
And there is nothing that tastes more disgusting than powdered milk.
But, we drank it. Because we had no choice.
Fast-forward many years later to myself and my own two children.
Where did I go wrong?
We are all well-acquainted with the Food Pyramid set forth by the USDA. It is well-balanced, can be adjusted for different cultural groups and dietary needs, and looks sound and sane...on paper. There is even a separate Food Pyramid for children.
It is comprised of; 6 oz. of grains, 2-1/2 cups of vegetables, 1-1/2 cups of fruits, 3 cups of milk, and 5 oz. of meat or beans.
Let me pause for a moment because I cannot write and laugh at the same time.
Here is the Food Pyramid for children, as it exists in my household.
There is the “White Food” group. It is comprised of potatoes, rice, noodles and milk (not powdered) and includes bread, with the crusts cut off, and bagels with cream cheese. It is well received, coveted in fact, as long as you don’t try and put anything, I mean anything, upon or in the first three things. A serving size could range anywhere from several grains of rice to a spoonful of mashed potatoes or quite possibly a whole entire, small bagel with a smear of cream cheese.
There’s the “Fruit” group. No issues there as long as there is no white stuff left on the peeled oranges or bruises and other suspect color variables on the outside of the fruit and it’s skin. A serving size could be 20 blueberries or even a whole, entire banana...on a good day.
There is the “Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich” group. Without this group, most children would starve. As long as the jelly is grape. If there is a one inch by one inch cube missing from the very center of the sandwich, chances are, the sandwich is finished and can move onto the bird feeder outside.
There is the “Sugar and Other Yummy Things that Mom Won’t Let Us Have” group. Let your mind go wild with that one. Serving sizes vary according to how generous I'm feeling that day.
And then there’s the other one. The “Vegetable” group.
Oh yeah, those things.
Serving size: whatever you can sneak or suffer "The Look" through.
Once, in a fit of despair and self-righteousness, I chopped up broccoli and mixed it into my daughter’s peanut butter for her jelly and peanut butter sandwich.
It was not well-received.
I tell my children that because they do not willingly eat their vegetables, I am forced to hide them within my cooking.
Cooking. Ha. Let me digress a bit.
A definition of cooking is as follows. Cooking: to combine several single ingredients thus creating a new and complex dish that is both edible and palatable.
Not in my house.
Combining ingredients would mean that two or more things would be touching each other on the same plate and we all know, that would be breaking an unspeakable kid-law punishable by looks of disgust, screams of pain and torture, and retching. In other words, I don’t even try.
So, here is my letter to the USDA Food Pyramid people.

Dear Sirs or Madams Who Do Not Have Children of Your Own:

While the Food Pyramid undergoes revisions to include the Vegetarian Food Pyramid,the Mediterranean Food Pyramid, the Asian Food Pyramid and the Latin-American Food Pyramid, it appears that your Kids Food Pyramid may need some revisions as well. In order to keep parents everywhere sane and boost our crumbling egos, please revise your Kids Pyramids along these lines:

(Serving Suggestions will be omitted in order to better facilitate parental and child harmony.)
Thank you,
Clarissa Johal