A Little Slice of Lime – an exploration of what fads mean to small children.

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Fads come and go, sometimes quicker than the kids at school can spread that new stomach virus around (Thanks kids!).  Back in the day it was Pogs, Furby and handmade friendship bracelets.  And who could forget those rockin’ satin pants in the ’80’s?

These days it’s Beyblades, Squinkies, flavored lip balm and those stretchy homemade loop loom bracelets that are making the rounds of my girls’ 1st grade classes and on the playground.

We are an acquisitive species, we humans, and every shiny, eye-catching goodie we can get our mitts on, we snatch up with raccoon-like glee and cart it off to our nest, until we can show it off to the other raccoons our friends and peers.  While I’m not too sure about what kind of loot cave children collected back in the days of paleolithic glory, I’m pretty sure that whatever it was must have bewildered their parents who tripped over piles of it, equally as much as parents today are bewildered by what their offspring suddenly develop a yen for after seeing their classmates showing it off in school.

We, as parents, while no doubt sympathetic due to our own history of childhood collecting, are faced with the dilemma: do we buy our kids every freaking fad that comes down the pike, no matter how silly or strange, or do we put our foot down and tell them we’re not going to waste our money on “that”?

Some fads, to be honest, make it kind of a no-brainer for many parents: The Bratz dolls, for instance.  After all, who wants their children to be playing with toy street-walkers?

Other fads seem to be relatively harmless, but as I constantly tell my girls – the goal of life is not to try turning our home into a fully-stocked toy store!

I don’t want to spoil my kids, especially for some bit of made-in-China plastic that’s going to be left by the fad wayside in a matter of weeks/months, nor do I want them distracted by toys when they’re supposed to be paying attention in school, or risk them becoming shallow materialists, but then again, there is actually a very real social-bonding component among their peer group that collecting these doo-dads helps fulfill.

I speak of the Pickled Lime Dichotomy.

Many of you are no doubt familiar with the children’s book “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott, the story of four young girls being raised by their mother while their father is off doing something with the Civil War, and their merry hijinks with Laurie the boy next door.

In the story, the childhood fad du jour is pickled limes. I know – YECHH!! – right?  But whatever.

So little Amy March sees all the other children going ga-ga for pickled limes and how the ‘haves’ lord it over the ‘have-nots’, and how having possession of the fruit is a sure-fire guarantee of instant popularity, with the possessors grandly bestowing the largesse of offering a lime or even a lick of the fruit to a favored classmate, whereby both may bask in the awe, envy and butt-kissing by others desperate to become so favored.

(Of course, now that I’m a mama myself, the first thing that comes to mind is wondering how many children licked over one slice and how many infectious pathogens were being spread by that vector?)

Such is the power of the Pickled Lime – imbuing its owner with a godlike power over his/her classmates.

Shallow as it may be, my little ones caught on fast about the power wielded by the Owner of the Fad.  And they didn’t want to be left out of  those few, those happy few that ‘fought together upon St. Crispin’s Day’ that Henry the V was blathering on about – or in this case, they also wanted to be seen as those special snowflakes who would frequently and ostentatiously make a big show of removing the flavored lip balm from their pencil cases throughout the day and liberally applying it.

But for every Pickled Lime success, there is a darker underbelly.  In the case of little Amy March, she gets caught by the teacher lime-handed, her precious fruit gets confiscated (and the money spent on it wasted – which the family could ill-afford) and thrown out to be eaten by street urchins.  She is also made to stand in the corner and have her little hand whacked at with a wooden ruler (Thank goodness corporal punishment’s been outlawed, right?).  But it seems that what made the most impression on her was that the limes were wasted.  All the other children were aghast at such brutal retaliation by the teacher – no, not the corner-standing or the ruler-beating, but – you guessed it! – the tossing of the limes.

So what all this teaches me is that while fads are a bit of frivolous fun, with Great Power, comes Great Responsibility.  Occasionally I’ll let my kids dabble (inexpensively) in a fad, with the understanding that they are NOT ALLOWED to be playing with it during class time.  So far, things have worked out pretty well.  They haven’t become shallow or superficial, they have had an experience or two with children wanting to be their friends for about as long as the fad they own is in fashion, then dropping my girls like hot rocks when obsolescence hits, and so far they haven’t had anything confiscated by their teachers.

They also haven’t become greedy, materialistic or overly acquisitive, for which I’m very thankful.  And it’s nice to help them feel they fit in with relatively innocuous parts of the pop culture experience.

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“…you see, the girls are always buying them, and unless you want to be thought mean, you must do it too.  It’s nothing but limes now, for everyone is sucking them in their desks in schooltime, and trading them off for pencils, bead rings, paper dolls, or something else, at recess.  If one girl likes another, she gives her a lime.  If she’s mad with her, she eats one before her face, and doesn’t offer even a suck.”  Ch. 7, Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott.

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