I still am not sure how it all happened. I started out doing all the right things when it came to my child and snacking. I took detailed notes when my pediatrician warned me about snacking and urged me to limit snacks to just once a day. I nodded dutifully at his insistence that all meals be administered while the recipient is in a seated position, preferably at a well-appointed dinner table with flowers and light music playing in the background. And yet, somehow, here I am, a mom with a traveling cooler of snacks, ready to dispense nourishment at the snap of an impatient child’s finger. You can find me in the passenger seat of every car ride – whether it is to the Whole Foods a few miles away or a three-hour-drive to the beach – with enough food on my lap and at my feet to feed a small village. A village of picky eaters who will whine and wonder why you didn’t bring “the long pretzels” and complain about how the ice has melted in their sippy cups, but still.
I wasn’t always a snack Sherpa. When my first son was just starting to eat real food a friend of mine with a daughter around the same age and I would meet for coffee with our kids. We’d sit down at the bench outside of a café, and thirty seconds later, she would be reaching into the undercarriage of her stroller and hauling out a miniature cooler overflowing with all of the food groups. Her daughter preferred to eat in “courses” at the time. First was the protein course – sliced cheese or bits of turkey. Then, the good fats – a nut butter spread on bread or pieces of avocado. Third, was the wild card – sometimes she’d feed her child cottage cheese, or a rice cake, or yogurt. Then, the fruit course. And lastly, the ‘amuse bouche’ of whatever would keep her daughter occupied (cheerios, puffs, animal crackers) while us moms got down to the business of chatting. Naturally, I thought she was insane. Who travels with so much food, I wondered? It's not like we were embarking on foot to Timbuktu. Most of the time, we were too afraid to go farther than a five-block-radius with our portable ticking time bombs slash children.
Soon, it wasn’t just that one friend of mine who was traveling with an army of snacks wherever she went. Others around me started doing it too. We were like soldiers falling, one by one, into a trench littered with Pirate’s Booty and grapes cut in quarters. We were a modern day Meals on Wheels, Mom Edition. One day another mom friend showed up at the local indoor play space with a second diaper bag lassoed around her stroller handles. “This one’s just for snacks,” she explained, in response to my questioning look. “Yeah, but what, exactly, is in there?” I asked. She unzipped the pack to show me: reusable snack bags (handmade, purchased off of Etsy) of Annie’s bunny crackers, phthalate-free containers of sliced strawberries and blueberries, squeezable organic yogurts, freshly made banana bread, a sippy cup of milk and a sippy cup of water, a stainless steel container of black beans, a pack of string cheese, and I think also, a live goat (raised in the best conditions, fed four-star meals, etc.) from which she could replenish her cheese supply. Or at least that’s how heavy the bag felt, anyway.
Suddenly I couldn’t ignore this snack revolution happening around me and my son couldn’t remain immune to it either. He’d see his little friends sitting smugly in their strollers, munching on raisins and peeled and sliced apples and naturally, he’d want some too. I would try over and over to appease him with, “Honey, we’ll eat when we get home, OK?” But how do you explain to a one-year-old the concept of delayed gratification? After a couple times of dealing with my son’s whining, I finally allowed my friends to share their kids’ snacks with my son. I felt like the person who declares she is on a diet and just orders the steamed veggies but then ends up eating off of everyone else’s plate at the restaurant. It was no longer possible for me to walk around with the badge of being a “snack-free mom” anymore if the only difference between my friends and me was that I “wasn’t carrying.” Plus, mooching off of someone else’s snack stash on a consistent basis is frowned upon, in most civilized God-fearing communities.
It did not take long before I had become “one of them.” I didn’t go anywhere without several snack containers – the contents of which, I realized, were not being used so much as to actually nourish or feed my child as they were to make him shut up so I could text in peace or gossip with another mom friend. If aliens descended onto our planet and observed my mom friends and I, they wouldn’t wonder for long just who, exactly, was in charge on this fine planet. They would see our children sticking their chubby little hands out from beneath their stroller canopies, demanding this snack or that – like little Will Farrell’s, all of them, yelling, “Ma! The meatloaf! F$%k!” The aliens would see us panicking, “Oh! The child is HUNGRY!” reaching into the coolers, the lunchboxes, the diaper bags, for the desired snack. The children would either grunt in appreciation or throw their rejected snack items over and behind their strollers, occasionally taking aim at their mother’s faces. Oh, the glory and fulfillment one gets from being a mom!
I am resigned to what I have become. Now I have two children, and going from point A to point B nearly requires that I attach a street-vendor-sized cart of food to the back of our stroller. Sometimes I consider packing extra so I can make a little side business of providing snacks to moms on the road who have been caught unprepared. A few times, I’ve tried to reverse the damage I’ve done, by lying and telling my children I don’t have any snacks. I’m usually able to withstand the pressure for a maximum of ten minutes before I take out the secret stash that I brought with me anyway in the very likely event that my kids would revolt. Or if I was really feeling dangerous that day, and I truly and honestly didn’t pack reserves, then I would find the nearest bodega and purchase the non-organic version of what I could have brought from home that costs five times the price. As a mother, I believe it is my purpose, as each moment passes, to consistently undermine any sliver of authority I may have previously been clinging to the moment before. I’m proud to say that at least this is an area of parenting in which I really excel. And you know, it really is the truth, as the saying goes: once you go snack, you can’t ever go back.
Alexis Barad-Cutler is a writer, editor, and published author. She writes about “the kind of stuff no one talks about in Mom Group” on her blog. Her writing is also regularly featured on WellRoundedNY, MommyNearest.com and RZBeyondMom.com. You can follow this Brooklyn mama on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook and read all of her posts on Glamamom here.