Tuesday, February 2, 2010

When only one brand of cream cheese will do, what's a mom to do?

Maybe this is about the exception that proves the rule.

No sooner did I finish writing here about how I’ve developed a deep well of self-discipline that makes it easy for me to say no to my kids than a situation arose reminding me of the proverbial gray area.

I told Tim I was going to buy bagels yesterday afternoon. “Not there!” Tim wailed, knowing I meant I was going to the bagel place near Holly’s pottery class. “I can’t stand their bagels! I can’t stand their cream cheese! PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE go to Bruegger’s!”

“Bruegger’s is in the wrong direction,” I told him. “I don’t want to have to drive all the way to Bedford. After I drop Holly off at pottery, I’m already halfway to Bagels Plus, and that’s where I want to go today.”

Tim ranted a little longer about how much he prefers Bruegger’s Bagels, specifically their bacon scallion cream cheese.

This poses a dilemma for me. First of all, I’m not sure I believe Tim. He is an inveterate creature of habit, even more than I am, and that’s saying something. I suspect he likes Bruegger’s because until a week ago, that was where we always bought our bagels. Holly’s first pottery class was last week, and that was the first time we went to Bagels Plus. While we were there, Tim ate one half of a sesame bagel with their version of bacon scallion cream cheese and sulkily proclaimed it notably inferior. But in a blind taste test, would he really know the difference?

Well, let’s suppose for a moment he would, which brings me to the next part of the dilemma. What I wrote about yesterday was saying no to the kids when they make demands that there’s no sensible reason for me to meet. But in this case, it’s a little different. Tim is asking me to do something that he simply doesn’t have the resources to do himself: shop at Bruegger’s. It’s six miles from home. Unlike refilling the seltzer bottle or letting the dog out, there’s no question in this case that I’m the only one who can execute this particular task.

And in general, I appreciate it when they express opinions about food choices. So I’m on the fence about whether it’s reasonable for me to meet Tim’s wish that I drive a half-hour out of my way for a different brand of cream cheese. The fact is, I harbor tremendous ambivalence about being part of a community – and a society – that depends so heavily on driving. Tim is eleven; there are other places we could choose to live where he would be old enough to go to the store himself on foot. But this is where I’ve chosen to live, and in a way, I don’t feel right making my children pay the price for the fact that we live in a community where retail is inaccessible to non-drivers. I grew up here; I know full well what it feels like to be forever waiting for someone to drive you to where you want to go, whether it’s a store, a friend’s house or a school dance. (Years ago, Carlisle’s ad hoc Planned Parenthood task force concluded that their mission of enabling teens to be sexually responsible was nearly impossible in a community where people who don’t drive can neither get themselves to a clinic nor a drugstore nor a public transportation stop without walking or biking at least five miles.)

So I told Tim I was going to stick with my plan for yesterday but I’d drive to Bruegger’s later in the week, because it doesn’t seem fair for him to be disempowered where groceries are concerned. He neither eats a lot nor asks for a lot; if he really loves a particular kind of bagels and cream cheese, it seems reasonable for me to provide that for him.

And then once we have it in the kitchen, maybe I’ll try that blind taste test after all, and see if it really makes any difference.

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