Pixie Sticks

“What about Kool-Aid?” I call out to Gracie as I show her the package. “It says it’s orange flavored. Is that a fruit or a vegetable?”

It’s the night of Gracie’s health fair. What started out as a classroom experiment in nutritional education is now the event of the season. And we haven’t had a moment’s rest since. “Dad, you know that’s not healthy,” Gracie says as I shove another nacho into my mouth. Somewhere deep within I know this has nothing to do with educating children. This is revenge. Ever since I volunteered for “Reading Day”, Gracie’s teacher has had it out for me. All she wanted was for me to tell the children how I use reading in my everyday life. But rather than talk about emails, manuals and blueprints, I decided to take a different path. I was going to talk about writing. Writing this very journal and how it became so much more. And by “so much more” I mean ice cream (and maybe a cure for cancer). After all, what’s better than a little cream and milk to make reading enjoyable? And before I knew it, I had taken Gracie’s teacher’s admirable goals and twisted it into a considerable mess of a plan. And then I gave them all free ice cream and promptly left for the security of the office. Ever since then she’s wanted revenge.

Brooke says I’d make a horrible teacher. I can’t even stay on topic in my job, let alone with 20 third graders. Then again, maybe she’s right about something else too – I’m really not that much more mature than a third-grader. And maybe Gracie and I have yet another thing in common.

So when Gracie proudly announced that her teacher was having a health fair that night, I knew her teacher had less than admirable intentions. And when Gracie volunteered that “ice cream was junk food and bad for you”, I knew she had been coached. I can just see her teacher laughing now.

In truth, I really don’t know much about the food pyramid. To me, it’s more of a health circle. Cookies lead to ice cream sandwiches, ice cream needs whipped cream, whipped cream goes well with milk and milk goes well with cookies. It’s “Give a Mouse a Cookie” for the insanely unhealthy and I’m a walking example. Still, I try to understand. “What about this,” I ask Gracie as I hold up a bag of Doritos, “it says it has real cheese. Is this part of the dairy group?” Gracie shakes her head in shame. “And what about this,” I say, opening up a bottle of wine, “it’s made of grapes.” She stops, pondering the food pyramid in her mind. Brooke steps in, grabbing the bottle from me, “no, that’s unhealthy too – trust me.” This time I get the look that I know well after 13 years. I’m this close to sleeping on the couch.

By the time get to the school, I know I’m out of my element. Not since my trips to the local organic store with Elena have I seen so many hybrid cars and sandals. And there in the school gym I’m introduced to organic honey (isn’t all honey organic – do they have synthetic bees?), free-range chicken eggs (why are they brown?) and baby carrots (I’m convinced this is part of a government plot). Even Brooke’s in on the event – sacrificing herself to be an event planner for the big fair. I’m more of an instigator. I take note of the display in the corner. It is a fat chart. On one side is a bowl of apples. On the other is a box of Oreos. Gracie’s classmate asks me what is more healthy. “Why of course the Oreos,” I respond. The other children nearby stop talking and start to listen. “You do know that the cookie part of the Oreo is made of flour, which is part of the grain family and the center is made of cream, which is part of the dairy group, right?” I lie. “But that’s fat and sugar”, the girl replies. “True, but without fat, can you imagine how cold you’d be? After all, we do live in the north.” By now, both Gracie and Brooke have taken note. I notice suspicious looks from both. Gracie’s just like her mother. And before long, Gracie joins in. “He’s just kidding – the apples are better for you,” she replies. I counter, “But which would you prefer to dip in milk?”

Needless to say, I was accompanied around the health fair for the rest of the night as Brooke quickly took my hand to keep me out of trouble. “You know, I found the pixie sticks you packed,” she told me under her breath, “you didn’t think I was going to let you bring them and give them to all the kids did you?” True – even I knew I couldn’t get away with that.

Either way, I wasn’t about to let Gracie’s teacher win. Health pyramid or circle, I’m nothing more than a kid myself. And the note from Gracie’s teacher that she brought home the following day told me all I needed to know. “Thanks for all the help with the health fair. I hope Mr. Desserich ate all the Oreos.” I did.

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