Apples, Little Tikes, and Good Parenting (March 20, 2010)

Wednesday I went to my daughter’s elementary school and had lunch with her. This is one of those obligatory-anticipations but pleasurable-on-reflection events I make a note to do a couple times a year when I happen to be working from home and have a hankerin’ for tatter-tots.

Walking by the gym while the youths play basketball on an eight-foot basket, like Gulliver in a modern-day Lilliput. I can’t help but thinking, “I could totally slam on that.”

Not surprisingly, but somewhat to my disappointment, I found I couldn’t be drawn into my daughter’s conversation consisting of bad knock-knock jokes, Pokemon card collections and silly songs with animal noises. This left my mind free to wander…. and it wandered to apples.

Of the twenty-three children sitting at our lunch table, eighteen had purchased lunch and five had brought their lunch. All eighteen buyers had an apple on their tray and one of the brown baggers had brought an apple.  Only one of those nineteen apples had even come close to fulfilling its destiny, and that one looked as if the school mouse had been working on it most of the morning.

Then it occurred to me: how much of the apple industry survives on parental guilt? I know my kids don’t like apples in their lunches, yet I pack them anyway. The apple’s odds of being consumed are increased if I skin the apple first and put it in a Ziploc with a little lemon juice to keep it fresh.  But even that is only marginally helpful, if my informal survey of lunch boxes coming home with the bag of still-fresh apples  inside is any barometer. (Though I’m always surprised at how well the lemon juice works. That’s a great kitchen tip.)

The lunch ladies (much more physically fit than my memory or last trip to the Improv would suggest) must know, including apples is folly; and certainly the custodian has figured it out carrying the trash bag to the dumpster.  This hasn’t changed in the thirty years since I was in elementary school and I’m going to make a bold prediction that lunch at my grandkids’ school will bear similar observations.

So why do we do it? Why do we drop $6.00 on a bag of apples each week when we know they will not get eaten? Why do schools include apples in lunches knowing they’re headed for the landfill? Guilt. Plain and simple. As a parent, I can’t pack ONLY what I know my kids will eat. A lunch of twinkies, oreos and sodas will be met with great enthusiasm and expanding waistlines.

The apple is a place holder.  If we only included a) what kids would eat; but b) nothing unhealthy, then lunch would consist of two chicken nuggets and two shots of juice. I’d feel like I was starving my child. Tradition dictates that I pack the noontime, brown-bag equivalent of a beverage and four course meal: entrée, two sides (a fruit and a vegetable or carb) and dessert. Half of that lunch is for my child’s anaerobic benefit, half is for my emotional benefit.

I have drawn a similar conclusion about the majority of the Little Tikes line of products. These toys look great in the store or catalog: a rugged plastic kitchen with large, brightly colored utensils; or a big and bold tool bench with safe, easy-to-hold hammers and screwdrivers.  But as any parent who has one of these in the house will tell you, the kids play with it for about ten minutes after they open the box and almost never again. Really, how much fun is it to hammer a fake nail into a pre-drilled hole that facilitates the construction of nothing?  The product line is theoretically designed to facilitate imagination and pretend-play–games recent generations of children are not known to excel at.  The greatest opportunity for long-term fun is from the big box Little Tikes products come in.  (The exception is the Cozy Coupe. The Cozy Coupe rocks.)

Face it: these products are designed for the parents not the kids. The goal is to persuade parents that kids will like the toys, not to get the kids to beg the parents to buy them.  I have five kids. Never once has any of my kids asked me to buy them something from Little Tikes.  It’s all our idea. We have forgotten what is actually fun for kids and so we fall prey to the pretty colors and appeals to imaginative whimsy that could come from hours of pretending to build a spaceship with one blue nail and one red screw. Hmmph.

After the first ten minutes of play (in which kids do everything that can be done with the pretend kitchen—twice—and permanently cross it off their list of things to do) the next time the kitchen/tool bench will be of any use to the family is at next summer’s garage sale, where, once again, on the secondary market it will appeal to a less affluent, but no more insightful, group of parents and grandparents.

Good for the apple industry and Little Tikes that they have found a way to make millions of dollars playing on our guilt and uninformed, but well-intentioned, desire to buy things our kids will like. What a great business model: they have created markets for products that really serve no purpose and which the targeted user doesn’t really desire. They aren’t selling toys and healthy snacks for kids.  They are selling affirmation to parents.  It really is genius. I’d do it if I could.

There is no point to the article, except to note that we are funny beings–we amuse me. Although it does remind me that we need apples.

Published in: on March 20, 2010 at 8:45 am  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. The point of your post is the point of PARENTING. It is a random and almost constant effort to keep trying to find your way. Whether it is feeding them right, or righting their wrongs – it is all part of the job. I reflect on my own awe of this process in my blog. Keep up the great work. W.C.C.

  2. Great post. I especially found it useful, thanks.

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