The Rule of Exceptions

Life is full of rules. Most rules are meant to minimize chaos by providing a semblance of predictability. But nothing expected is exciting. Picasso advised, “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.” Unfortunately, the line between art and anarchy is easiest to see in hindsight. 

This past weekend, I played hostess for a precious life event: my family’s reunion. Aunts, uncles and cousins descended upon Lake Wawasee via planes, cars and boats. There were 18 adults and 15 children (by legal definition). But being a “grown-up” is a state of mind that’s hard to maintain while wearing a gorilla mask and a feather boa. We reminisced the people and stories of our familial bond, reverent of the lighted torch such gatherings bestow upon the next generation.

Individual identities and collective cultures arise from the rules that create tradition. Who we are, how we think and what we do are rooted in who they are, how they think and what they do. Families are powerful creators of life. This is why it is so important to examine the lighted torches we are passing to the next generation for unconscious beliefs and unquestioned habits that will undermine future health and happiness.

The most important details of this weekend were centered around food. As my mom, my sister and I did not bear the cost, constraints and logistics of travel, the only thing we expected anyone to bring was their appetite. We planned 8 major meals for 35 people. For several days prior, we each shopped, chopped and cooked the feasts that would bring us all together. And we knocked it out of the park. 

But in hindsight, one detail that must be examined in this modern notion of “kid food.” While the mature palates of our group appreciated the fermented vegetables, homemade breads and succulent summer produce, the children demanded cheese pizza, pop and junk food. And for the most part, they got it. Because it’s a party, and parties rank high on the list of Acceptable Exceptions to the “healthy food” rule. 

It is the exception that reveals the rule, however. Despite unlimited platters of delicious homemade food, including snacks and desserts, discrete outings were made to stock reserves of processed food. As there wasn’t an extra inch of counter space, the bags and boxes were routed to private rooms. The healthy food was a welcomed exception, but Kid Food still ruled.

Is it enough to expose our children to good food, while still allowing the junk because it’s normal and easy? It’s a start, but it’s going to take far more than that to counter the 40,000 advertisements aimed directly at our kids. It seems kids can eat about anything and “get away with it,” but chronic diseases take years to manifest. Sooner or later, we all discover that the longer you eat “like a kid,” the quicker you get sick and old. Hence the sincere appreciation for homemade food (especially when someone else makes it for you).

The powerful influence of family is one we must harness for the sake of our kids. We deliberately show them how to love, how to be thankful and how to forgive. We demonstrate respect and integrity. We train them to work and to contribute. We nurture their talents and encourage them to follow their dreams. And if we want them to be strong and healthy enough to do the same for their children, we must know which food rules we are following before we can decide which food rules to break.