Sanctimonious killjoys are sweet on banning pleasure

Oh, here’s a cheerful summertime story. You can buy your kid a T-shirt with “Sugar Free Baby” on it. If you’re what the National Post’s Body & Health section calls “a vigilant yet playful” parent. It also works if you’re a sanctimonious hovering killjoy. The Post article said to “Call it radical parenting.” I’m willing to call slapping polemical slogans on your kid radical, but I’m not so sure about the parenting bit. The source of this sartorial equivalent of cod liver oil is a Toronto mom who says if her two-year-old has cake at a birthday party “he becomes kind of aggressive and just not the [name withheld to avoid mortifying the infant] we’re used to.” So when he is “around other kids and with other parents or child-care providers, they just need to know he can’t have three cookies and he can’t have two Popsicles because he might get unruly.”

Right. And an unruly little boy at a birthday party would be: (a) fun; (b) the end of western civilization; (c) not very feminist; (d) something a hypersensitive parent might not want so never mind the kid. Wait a minute. How did option (d) get in there?

Well, this organic helicopter mom says when her kid wears his modern equivalent of a hair shirt, other parents “understand how much it’s a sensitivity for him and they respect that.” But it’s not a sensitivity for him. It’s a sensitivity for her. As she admits, “He doesn’t really have a concept of his sensitivity to sugar,” adding “We’ve had to cleanse the house of sugar on our own account as well because it was pretty duplicitous of us to have sugar when he couldn’t.”

Why? Does sugar make you aggressive too? Isn’t that why you deprive your child of this pleasure? Or is there something darker going on here? Is pleasure (gasp) a sin? Nowadays we make great mock of the Puritans for being killjoys, then an actor playing Churchill in Edinburgh is forbidden to light a cigar the script requires him to smoke. Not, I dare say, the England Winston was fighting to keep … what’s that word … free. And when we’re forbidden to smoke on covered outdoor patios I can’t help recalling H.L. Mencken’s jibe about Puritans’ “haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.”

G.K. Chesterton, who made the sign of the cross over every withdrawn cigar band, once said “A puritan is a person who pours righteous indignation into the wrong things.” Like a kid getting all happy at a party while eating a bit of cake. I say if you’re going to mount a tireless crusade against sin the very least you can do is admit it exists. A perilous step, to be sure, because you might happen to glance in a mirror and …

Chesterton also spent a lifetime arguing against errors in pairs, like either raising your kid on junk food or primly forbidding them chocolate cake at some other kid’s birthday. There is a golden mean. I expect that excess in moderation actually prolongs life, and do you really want a long dismal one anyway? Isn’t 95 years without cake a bit like always winter and never Christmas?

The whole thing is also stupid because there’s sugar in fruit. And tomatoes (technically a fruit but let’s not get pedantic). Heck, there’s probably sugar in broccoli.

Yup, there is. I checked. One medium (148 g) stalk of green death contains three massive sinister grams, enough to turn your passive little angel into Genghis Party. So how about “Broccoli-Free Baby” shirts? But no, the kid might actually want that.

In the Citizen on July 30, Deirdre McMurdy denounced interactive DVDs that let you change how movies end, rightly worrying about children who don’t learn early that life contains its share of disappointments (I expect kids who have to watch everyone else eat the birthday cake won’t have that problem). But, denying she’s a complete Luddite, she made the marvellous observation, “Show me a child without a Gameboy, cellphone or Tamagotchi, and I’ll show you someone who’s got a lunch you’d never want to trade.” So maybe I’ll sell shirts saying “I’m not allowed to trade my lunch … not that you’d want it” or “I’m with hysterical” and an arrow pointing over and up. If you find my criticisms absurd, you can swaddle your little bundle of non-sweetness in anti-fun garments purchased on-line at Meanwhile I might call mine Grimanduptight.arg.

Chesterton also said “the Puritans killed St. George but carefully preserved the Dragon.” Today they might think twice because by killing it St. George stopped the dragon from smoking. But since the politically correct do seem infested with dragons and devoid of heroes maybe I’ll sell T-shirts with St. George standing over the beast quaffing a guilt-free beer.

If you can’t swallow my slogans and images, I invite you to consume the garments instead. High fibre, no fat or sugar, enriched with sanctimony.

[First published in the Ottawa Citizen]

ColumnsJohn Robson