Junk food and more junk food

Today is a gorgeous sunny day and I am feeling optimistic about settling in. This comes on the heels of a day or two where I was starting to feel homesick and tired of being in Colombia. I kind of felt like I do after several days of camping – OK, that was fun, now let’s go home. I want a hot shower and a comfortable bed. I was tired of being cold (houses, even very expensive ones, do not have central heat here and it gets pretty chilly) and homeless.

That might sound dramatic but living in a hotel does get old. And since the hotel is about 20 min from school and I can’t drive here yet, every morning I pack up my backpack with whatever I think we might need for the day and head over to our nanny’s house. From there, I work and write while the girls are in school, then pick up Siena at 1 pm, then Jade at 3 pm. Then we all hang out at our nanny’s house until Esteban picks us up after work. Of course I am grateful than our nanny lives across the street from the school and that we have her house to hang out in, but her house doesn’t feel cozy right now. We are going to need to invest a little to make it cozy – get some rugs and lamps and pictures and warm throws… and wood for the fireplaces… and electric heaters.

In truth my funk started after the Anthroposophy (the philosophy that Waldorf education is based on) class at school two days ago. I was excited to go and meet other parents but as we settled into the discussion, I was really having a hard time following the conversation. Granted, anthroposophical texts are hard to understand even in English but I was still disappointed by how handicapped I felt by not being able to understand everything. I realized how much I rely on language to connect with people. At times, I feel so socially awkward here. People are so polite and have such elaborate greetings and goodbyes and I often find myself tongue-tied trying to keep up with the social niceties, let alone the anthroposophical texts.

So I have learned in my life that when I get into a funk, I need to do something about it. And for me, getting out of a funk usually involves connecting with people, i.e. making some kind of social plans. Given that my choices of social plans are limited here, I made a play date for Siena with one of the little girls from her class. I met the mom in the Anthroposophical study class (turns out that despite being a native Spanish speaker, she was just as lost as I was) and asked her for a play date, figuring that Siena might feel more comfortable at school if she gets to know some of her classmates better outside of school. (My three years in New England have taught me to be proactive in making social plans and not wait for invitations.)

Like everything else here, the play date was an interesting experience in terms of cultural differences. As a backdrop for those of you who aren’t familiar with Waldorf education, one of the things that Waldorf schools typically ask of parents in that children, especially those younger than ten, not be allowed to watch TV or movies or play on the computer or play video games. In short, as little media exposure as possible. This is one of my favorite parts of Waldorf education and has made an enormous positive difference in my children and for our family life (but that’s a whole different topic). Another part of Waldorf education that I really appreciate is that the schools tend to attract families who are into a more holistic way of living – spending time in nature, minimizing materialism, eating healthy, wholesome, chemical-free food, playing with simple toys made of natural materials (wood and wool for instance, as opposed to plastic), minimizing exposure to toxic chemicals in mainstream cleaning products, pesticides, junk food, etc. This school in Chia works hard to uphold the Waldorf standards. The school materials are simple and natural. There is a huge emphasis on the outdoors and balancing the education of mind, body and spirit. They serve delicious and wholesome lunches. Junk food is not allowed.

So imagine my surprise when we arrived at the play date and the computer and TV were on and the following snacks were served: sugar free lollipops (full of artificial sweeteners), followed by hot chocolate with colored sugar beads, followed by Oreo cookies, followed by fruit loops, followed by butter cookies with margarine and sugared fruit preserves, followed by potato chips. Yikes!  Every bit of food offered came from a package! And this from a mom who has a business shopping for and delivering groceries, primarily organic fruits and vegetables.

Now to be fair I should not have been that surprised. Janet, the school director, told me during the school admittance interview that media and junk food is really ingrained in Colombian culture and that they have a hard time getting parents to support and follow their requests for no media and healthier food choices. Still I was disappointed and concerned. It’s hard to make friends in a new culture so there is tremendous pressure to just go with the status quo. I know that an occasional movie or some junk food isn’t going to kill my kids. In fact, we are not such purists. Our kids get their share of sweets, although I don’t keep any sweets or junk food in the house and try not to serve any sugared products or foods made out of white flour or white rice. Still when we travel, we tend to eat what’s available and not think too much about it. But the bottom line is that this isn’t a two week vacation. This is a year-long adventure and I truly believe that these foods are poison (thus I don’t want them to be a regular part of my kids’ diets) and that media, for the most part, is either poisonous to young minds and souls or at the very least, precludes them from spending their time reading or playing in a way that increases their imagination and creativity.  Again, an occasional age appropriate movie is fine, but TV as a way of life doesn’t work for me. And don’t even get me started on the advertising aimed at kids.

So what’s a mom to do? I don’t want to come across as preachy or make other people defensive about their lifestyle choices. I just want to raise my kids according to my values. Living in New England in an earthy/crunchy neighborhood and going to the Waldorf School, we were for the most part surrounded by people who shared our values and this wasn’t ever much of an issue. Now that we are out in the world, it’s a whole different story. Of course, I knew this would happen as we ventured into the world but I really thought that their friends from school would be a safe haven of people who shared our values.

To be fair, the mom at this play date asked me about TV. She heard from her husband who is in my parent training class that our family doesn’t watch TV. I tried to tell her as non-chalantly as possible about our process of letting go of media three years ago and the positive impact that it had on our family (and of course that it was strongly requested by our school on Boston). She didn’t say much but later, she told me that when they joined the school, a very pushy lady told them that TV is poison and they mustn’t ever let their kids watch TV. She said that they were so taken aback by her attitude that they disregarded the message but that hearing me talk about it without any pressure and explaining why it’s important and what the positive outcomes were, really made her think that perhaps they should cut out the TV too. So maybe there is hope! I was tempted to mention the snacks but wisely decided to avoid it. Perhaps she will get the message when I invite her and her daughter to my house and serve cut up veggies and fruits and whole grain bread and nuts. Or perhaps, as Esteban joked, nobody will want to come play at our house.

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