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Ice cream wars and the battle of the childhood bulge

This is one mother who’s not backing down.

LET’S BE HONEST about it. There are certain things that are not welcome in the playground on a summer’s day.

Long, smooth, tanned legs in short shorts. Making the rest of us acutely aware of our purple, mottled ones, discreetly hidden away under our three quarter length track suit bottoms. You know the kind that can be spontaneously produced, on a whim, whenever the sun comes out. Not the kind that require to be locked away in the bathroom, for a half hour’s intensive DIY, before they’re fit to be exposed to the world.

Talk of holidays abroad, whilst pushing the swings, would be another one. Either those foreign trips already taken (and the source of those beautifully tanned limbs), or those planned. Which make the rest of us, who are too disorganised to plan anything more adventurous than a trip to the zoo, or a DART trip to Bray, feel grossly inadequate. Because, whilst they will be applying the Ambre Solaire in a fortnight’s time, having deposited their four year old into the Kid’s Camp, you’ll still be here pushing this same said swing in Dublin 12.

Great in theory. Disastrous in practice.

And last, but by no means least, ice cream. Great in theory. Disastrous in practice. I am immediately reminded of that ad for a well-known chocolate brand which has a beautiful simplicity to it – ‘Joy’. If I were tasked with the job of producing an (honest) strapline for ‘The 99’, it would be ‘No Joy’. At least, not for mum and dad.

Last summer we had a few unwelcome skirmishes with some overzealous ice cream van driver who took it upon himself to drive right up to the playground, and plonk himself in full view of all the kids. We caved, obviously, as we had little choice in the matter. Every single child in there had one because of the sheer novelty and absolute delight of the situation, and I feared that deprivation of that level might prove the stuff of the psychiatrist’s chair in later life. So for the day that was in it, we grinned and bore it, and put up with the consequences. The fact that more of the contents of the cone actually ended up on the buggy than in their stomachs was small comfort.

However a couple of weeks ago the little coffee shop beside our playground (which single handedly keeps many of us long suffering mothers afloat) suddenly started serving cones. There, standing proudly for all the world to see, in it’s pint sized, flapping back and forth, beckoning the kids in, glory, stood the dreaded Ninety Nine sign. I nearly died.

The same effect as amphetamines or maybe a Jägerbomb

An overreaction, I hear to you say? Possibly, but picture this. Ice cream seems to have a similar biological effect on my two kids as, say, speed or amphetamines, or maybe a Jägerbomb. Whatever it is about the liquefied sugar it contains, it goes straight into their bloodstream and sends them into a Mr Whippy-fuelled frenzy. Along with all the other kids running around, high as kites, determined to beat the lard out of one another. Good buzz for kids. Bad buzz for parents.

So the unwelcome addition of this summer ‘treat’ to the everyday menu called for drastic action on the adults’ part. We resolved there and then, never, ever to break the line, a commitment to one another so solemn we practically sealed it in blood. For if even one of us were to cave, that would signal game over. For the kids would know, from thereon in, that there was room for doubt. That the floodgates were creaking, and may possibly open. And the constant whinging and nagging and moaning of the Poor Deprived Ice-Cream-Less would be more than any of us mothers could cope with. Yes, there is strength in numbers, particularly when it comes to the Ice Cream Wars.

Of course the odd time some smug, sticky mouthed kid wanders in to the playground proudly holding his cone, and eyeing up all around him for the sheer pleasure of watching the other, less fortunate, kids drool. And the rest of us mummies turn upon whatever unfortunate parent made the renegade purchase as sure as if they’d walked in smoking a spliff. And our poor kids look up at us, simultaneously wide-eyed and disgusted, with a look that says ‘Why the hell did I get stuck with you?’. But we all know not to break rank. For the only thing lying between the relative civilisation of our current midweek afternoons and all out chaos is the Ice Cream Embargo.

Don’t feed the animals

Obviously there are certain special occasions where there’s nothing more welcome than the novelty of the ice cream van. The funfare, or the beach, or the pier of a weekend. But they are occasions. A special ‘treat’. They are not business as usual. They are not 11 o’clock of a Monday morning. What will we be faced with next? Ice cream cones on sale at the doors of Super Valu? Or perhaps a daily dairy accompaniment on offer with the post man each morning?

And don’t even get me started on Dublin Zoo, with a confectionary machine and an ice cream cart quite literally around every corner. Oh, the sheer irony of it, all those signs requesting that we ‘Don’t Feed the Animals’ as it could be harmful to their health. But feel free to go ahead and stuff your own offspring with as much sugar as they can physically ingest in one afternoon. Yes, us little homo sapiens, we’re well able for that.

It’s hard being the parent who always seems to have to say ‘No’. And it would be a hell of a lot easier if the opportunities for kids to stuff crap into themselves (of the frozen or non frozen variety) were not quite so frequent. But if I’m to choose between a ‘deprived’ child, and a fat one, I know which one I’ll choose. I just wish the odd retailer would support my choice. Because, strangely enough, your average four-year-old isn’t much swayed by calorie counts, no matter how prominently displayed. The fact that one small cone makes up about a quarter of her average daily needs isn’t a statistic she much cares to consider. And so, I will continue to suffer the ‘what a kill joy’ looks I routinely get from behind the counter, when I practically beg the vendor to actually make it a small one (as opposed to a plain ridiculous size for any little mouth to get around).

I am the ‘No Joy’ parent it seems. But that’s OK. At least they’ll still have a tooth left in their heads by Christmas.

Claire Micks is an occasional writer. Read her columns for here.

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