I was teaching the second conditional to a class last week, when I had to stop what we were doing and explain what Kraft Dinner was. Ok, maybe you need more info than that, that might read in a really confusing way…
Let’s try again: I was teaching the English grammar rule ‘the second conditional’ (If I had a million dollars, I’d buy you a house) to a class the other day, and I was using the Barenaked Ladies song, ‘If I had $1,000,000‘, to help them understand it. It’s really an entire song written in the second conditional, and I use it for teaching this unit every. single. time. The students get a real kick out of it, and also about talking about what they’d do if they had a million dollars. There’s a line in the song that goes ‘we wouldn’t have to eat Kraft Dinner…’, and I had to stop the song and explain what Kraft Dinner was, since I’m teaching Germans who don’t have Kraft products over here. (yes, this was a better explanation)
Moving right along… In the explanation I gave them, I had to kind of describe the phrase ‘comfort food’ and tell them about the food I ate growing up. I’m not sure about the rest of you, but I am at the very tail end of Generation X, a few months before the beginning of Generation Y (we like to call ourselves ‘Generation Catalano’), and I grew up eating some very specific things:
Mac n Cheese (from a box, with powdered cheese)
Hot dogs at the soccer and softball fields
Italian Ice (chocolate with marshmallows) after softball games
McDonald’s after band concerts and when we were ‘good’
Sandwiches made with Wonderbread
Is that about right for everyone else who’s around 30 years old? Because it’s pretty much what all of my friends ate growing up. We grew up in an age of very few health questions, the Presidential Fitness Challenge, the Patriot Test, and unsupervised fun in the woods or at the lake.
I explained this to my students, and I got a lot of wrinkled noses and comments like ‘that’s really unhealthy, Gina’, or ‘why did your parents feed you that stuff??’. And it got me thinking… here I was explaining the foods that I will eat no matter how bad they are for me, because they’re what I was raised on. They’re the pitfalls of my dietary restrictions. They’re the thorn in our sides. Yes, many recipes exist out there for healthy (and even GFDF) mac n cheese, but does ANYTHING taste as good as that powdered crap from the box? Never. No. Not for me, it doesn’t. And every SINGLE time I order a Double Cheeseburger from McDonald’s or the Chicken Nuggets, I know EXACTLY how terrible they are and how I shouldn’t be supporting McD’s… but I do it anyway, because my brain was literally TRAINED to love these foods.
This was not the fault of my parents. Sure, they made me these foods and used McDonald’s as a ‘reward’ for when we were good, but no one really knew back then how bad that shit was for us. I mean, sure, there was the beginning of suspicion, but you were definitely ‘the weird kid’ if you weren’t allowed to go to McDonald’s after the band concerts with everyone else.
So anyway. I was having this conversation with my students and almost defending how I grew up eating, and it hit me: every single day, I have to literally FIGHT this upbringing if I’m to stay on track and be a healthier person. It’s detrimental to my health. This is a part of my upbringing that is SO DEEPLY INGRAINED in my subconscious that I’ll eat these things even though I know full well exactly WHY I should not be eating them.
I’m supposed to be gluten-, dairy-, and legume-free. And I still crave the Double Cheeseburger. And hot dogs. And I make exceptions for these things. I shouldn’t.
This is a hard battle to fight. How many of us grew up drinking Coca Cola almost every day? I know how hard it was for Kamay to kick that habit: she fought really, really hard and it took TIME. When I first went Gluten-free, I had to think of bread as the enemy, as an ADDICTION that had to be fought, just to make it through a day in my city spent walking past a bakery on every corner. And let’s be honest: there is absolutely NO reason I should ever eat at any fast food chain, since every single thing I’m not supposed to eat is in every single thing that I want to eat on their menus.
But this isn’t the only way we have to fight our upbringings.
Every woman and man has to fight against how they were raised and trained to act, to think, and to be… not just by their parents, but by their peers. How many of us grew up with an overly critical parent or ‘friend’? How many of us grew up being told we had to be better, or to get an A+, or come in first? How many of us were told that if we didn’t keep that scholarship, we wouldn’t get to stay in college? That if we weren’t nice enough, he or she wouldn’t like us?
Everything I just wrote was said to me repeatedly in my youth.
And it has made me an amazing overachiever, but it has also made me excessively hard on myself and insecure. I might not show it, but it’s down there. It’s in all of us. It’s led me to have high expectations of not just myself, but of everyone around me. And it’s something I have to fight every. day. I have to force myself to slow down and not try to conquer the world every day. I have to keep telling myself ‘I’m not overweight, even though I was smaller a few months ago’, and ‘you don’t need to finish that today’, ‘you can’t expect that from everyone’, and ‘it’s ok to not be perfect’.
I don’t think we yell back at the voices in our heads enough. And once we’re discouraged, it’s really easy to just let those thoughts come in, circle around in our heads and send us into a downward spiral of negativity. I know some people who seem to think that bitching and complaining is a completely normal form of conversation, and it’s the ONLY way they know how to talk!! It’s frustrating, and it’s hard to protect ourselves from that type of negativity when it’s someone we care about or see often (like coworkers).
I often hear people justify how they’re acting or what they’ve said as ‘well, that’s the way I was raised’… I hate that, because it shows me that these people 1) take NO responsibility for their actions, and 2) don’t feel the need to question whether or not the way they were raised was ‘the best way’. Why would we question it? If you love your parents, then whatever they did was fine, right? It’s only the people I know, people like myself, who fought with their parents day in and day out that seem to question whether it was the best environment they could have had.
I’m not suggesting that we all go ahead and get angry with our parents. Not at all! I love my parents, regardless of what they did right or wrong or what they fed me. I was able to learn a lot from the experiences I had. It’s made me a strong person. But to NEVER question anything is to never know what IS right and wrong. Or better or worse. For you. Or your kids. Or anyone.
We need to fight against what we know is wrong. Whether that is injustice or bad food, we have the knowledge, and that knowledge is power. We need to be stronger than our urges in order to be successful. I need to stop going to McDonald’s, and we all need to stop being so hard on ourselves.