While the French are raising happy, well-behaved children without all the anxiety, New Jersey moms have a secret of their own.
When my son was 18 months old, my husband and I, to teach him the value of a dollar, took him to a Paramus mall, where we picked through last season's clothing, reduced to a fraction of what they had cost when the seams were still intact and before they'd lost some buttons. Whether or not a stain would come out in the wash was the major determining factor in what we would ultimately purchase.
At one point, Nicky, belted into his stroller, lost interest in fashion and savings, flinging his arms in the air to signal that no more sweaters were to be pulled over his head. The sweater under consideration, which had pills in only one area, was marked down from $24.99 to $4.99. It was what we called, "a good buy." Nevertheless, it was clear that even if I still had patience, our son didn't. Looking around, I saw that none of the local toddlers were doing battle with their moms. Where had I gone wrong? What do New Jersey moms do to raise such accommodating children? Were they anesthetized?
That's when I understood it. They'd subscribed to the trans-fat method of child rearing. The toddlers' mouths were full. Each kid had a large bag of Cheetos, Fritos or something else that ended in "o." When the bags were empty, they moved onto candy bars. These kids were far more complacent than mine. I suspected this was related to our choice of snack foods. If Nicky whined, I would automatically reach into the outside pocket of the diaper bag, where there were individually wrapped packages of reduced (a word that appears prominently in our family crest) fat cheese, carrot sticks, whole grain crackers and a bottle of apple juice that had been diluted with water. Like so many Manhattan moms, I was determined to provide a healthy diet, as opposed to New Jersey moms, whose parenting groups may have been led by taxidermists telling them to "stuff 'em." My nutritionist-approved snacks had effectively discouraged whining. Instead, Nicky would protest by flailing, an effective strategy that can be done even when confined by stroller or car seat straps.
After filling up the tank with gas (cheaper in New Jersey than New York), we stopped at a diner. While we waited for our egg-white omelets, Nicky colored on and around a clown on a paper place mat, veering off from that to the table top with great regularity. His New Jersey peers ignored the art project, entertaining themselves with squeeze bottles of ketchup until their fried chicken fingers and French fries arrived.
My observations, however unscientific, support that New Jersey mothers are onto something. How else to explain that such a small state produced Meryl Streep, Bruce Springsteen, Dorothy Parker and the ballerina Patricia McBride?