In Praise of Pop Tarts


“Sprinkles, Mommy!  I want sprinkles!”

“Rainbow or chocolate?”

“Both, Mommy! I want them both!   Ow!”  My daughter winces. “They’re hurting me!”

“Look at me, baby!  Look at me!” I turn her head to face mine.   “Don’t look down there!”

“You can have whatever toppings you want.  You can have every topping in the store.”

“Mommy!  Make them stop!”

S. looks past me at the open wound and at the nurse, in the middle of sewing 17 stitches into her leg, as a result of being hit by a car hours earlier. The staff assures me that she can’t feel a thing, but every time she glances at her injury, she panics.

“What about marshmellow sauce?”

“Yes, Mommy!  Yes!

S. wraps her arms around me and hugs me hard.

For the moment, she forgets about the stitches.

S. was released from the emergency room that night and the next day, I wheeled my daughter, high on codeine, unable to walk and sitting in an old stroller, into the self-serve frozen yogurt store, to make good on my promise.

This has been the year about food.

Not good food.  Not the clean eating green smoothie kind of food that I used to blog about eons ago.

This year has been about comfort food.

It has been about Happy Meals and peanut butter sandwiches and taking my kids for self serve frozen yogurt more time than I can count. It has been about letting them eat their Halloween Candy and Easter Candy that sits in the kitchen cabinet on any day they want instead of it having to be a special day or occasion. It has been about giving my daughter lollipops three times a day when that’s how many times a day I had to change those bandages on her leg, that first lollipop given at 8:00 in the morning.

Our best nights together were are the pancake house, where I never once stopped them from pouring too much syrup on their waffles, the bagels on the way to soccer games washed down by juice  boxes.

Have you ever checked to see how many grams of sugar are in a juice box?

This was the year I stopped caring about things like that.

This was the year that it was more important to me to watch three children marvel at the taste of a waffle when completely engulfed in syrup.   This was the year that I gave them money for school lunch, even on French toast stick day.   This was the year that we ate pizza three nights in a row.

This was the year that while my kids delighted in Girl Scout cookies before dinner or salt water taffy too close to bed, we sat around a table and delighted in each other.  We shared stories, of school days and soccer practices and play dates.  They were conversations sweetened by and bonded over food.

These were the moments that I sat with them.  These were the moments that I listened.

We’ve had our best discussions over ice cream sundaes, when, in between each spoonful, my giddy sugar rushed children, eagerly offered the truth.

One night, a few weeks ago, after B.’s school play and on an 8:00 pm run to Target, with all three kids in tow, Miss F. grabbed my hand as I drove.

“Mommy, I have to tell you something.”

“What is it baby?”

“I did something you’re not going to like.”

“Did it happen at school?”

“It wasn’t at school?”

“Did you hurt someone?  Were you fighting with your brother?”

“No, Mommy. No,  I.. I…”

It was then that she burst into tears.

“I stole something.”

Through her sobs, Miss F. told me the story.  It had happened in Kindergarten, three years ago.  She had taken a tube of Chapstick from a checkout line display in a grocery store, which had sat in a drawer, forgotten about, until earlier that day.

“I want to take it back, Mommy!”

“We can take it back.”

“And I want to pay for it.  With my own money.”

“I think that’s a smart idea.”

“I’m so sorry, Mommy!  I’m so sorry!”

“I know you are baby.”

“Are you mad at me?”

“You’re mad enough at yourself right now.  You don’t need me mad at you, too. As a matter of fact, I think I love you more right now than I ever have.”


“Because you were brave to tell me the truth.”

I pull into our parking space and give my girl a hug.

“I promise it will never happen again.  Ever.”

“I know it won’t.  Just promise me one more thing?”

I gently grab my girl’s face and turn her eyes toward mine.

“Just keep talking to me.  Every day.  About everything.  Please.  Just keep talking.”


This post is dedicated to Eli Pacheco of Coach Daddy Blog, and was inspired by his post, “What Sandy Hook Taught Me: Keep My Girls Close” that I featured as one of my favorites of the year.  His resolve on how to parent in the wake of the Sandy Hook Tragedy is by far the best I have come across.  If you haven’t read this post, you really should. 

This post is also written in memory of my father, Douglas Kaplan, who passed away last week, on the 24th of April. Running is how we kept each other close, even during the years when we weren’t.   Running was our language.  Then, now, and always.  



In Praise of Pop Tarts — 54 Comments

  1. What a truly beautiful post, Ilene, a testament to your spirit, strength and beauty.
    I am so very sorry for you loss. xo

  2. You have a way with words and have made me tear up… such excellent points… times they will cherish and remember. There have been more than a few occasions in my past where a Pop Tart was the only thing I could keep down (day before my wedding, early weeks of my first pregnancy)
    (I’m carrying weight around my middle like I never have before either. I, too, have always been a hips and thighs girl.. not sure if its the aforementioned Cortisol or my age *sigh*)

  3. I’m so sorry for your loss. Thinking of you.
    And I love this post. Bonding and talking is so important and so much sweeter over comfort food. I have no doubt your children will keep coming to you and keep talking.

  4. Having those open lines of communication is so important and there are times when I wish my kids would talk more! But I have found for me the best way to get them to talk is on their own terms…do something with them that they want to do…and eventually they open up. The waiting sometimes is so hard!! Maybe we should have had more PopTarts in the house growing up! Loved this post!

  5. You are doing it right, mama! She came to you. She opened up to you. I am overwhelmed with joy for you right now. This is what we all want. Keep your heart just as it is, Ilene. Your kids know that it is always right there with them! You’re all incredibly fortunate! xoxo

  6. Love, love, love the way you handled the chapstick confession. You’ve shown her that she can talk to you and tell you everything. You’ve made your arms a safe place, one that can be trusted. You’re just a fantastic mom. 🙂 And sometimes it is time for poptarts and frozen yogurt. Beautiful!! –The Dose Girls

  7. I have written three comments to this post and had to delete them all. I’m speechless…. this is powerful!
    I can say that you are amazing! Amazing mom! Amazing friend! Amazing daughter and amazing writer!

  8. Wow! I absolutely LOVE this post. It’s so real, authentic and it’s your truth. Nothing is more appealing to me, as a reader……a writer, and more importantly, as a mom. I send my condolences, in the lost of your father. I’m glad that you two had a special bonding factor.
    As a mom, I LOVE that you found a connection with your children via comfort foods! Sometimes we have to do what’s necessary, instead of what’s politically correct. Keep up the FABULOUS work!

  9. I got Caroline through a much smaller cut and being cleaned up and glued back together while talking about what doughnut she would pick. And telling you about stealing something in Kindergarten? That’s freaking priceless. I’m so glad you’re keeping close to your precious babies.

  10. How beautiful. I struggle with the right words for a comment. I’m very sorry about your father. Last year around this time my daughter got her hand stuck in the van door. It was fine but we rushed to the hospital and my husband met us there. She went home with him, because I was 9 months pregnant and sobbing every two minutes, and they took the long way home to get M&MS and yes, Pop Tarts, and other delights we used to worry about but became absolutely meaningless in the face of crisis.

  11. I have got to stop reading your posts at work because, seriously, you always make me tear up! I love, love this post! My daughter came clean the other day and told me that she had to move her clip from green to yellow in class because she wasn’t listening to the teacher. Being in kindergarten, things like that are super important to her day. I told her that night too, that she can always tell me anything…anything. I will always love her, no matter what!

  12. This is lovely, Ilene. I am very sorry for your loss. How wonderful that she came to you, that you have those open lines of communication. Moments of sharing, whether over syrup-soaked waffles or lollipops or green smoothies are precious – and so very important to us all.

  13. This is beautiful Ilene – had my heart in my throat with tears.
    It is so important to keep our relationships with our children, I tell my children all the time to just talk to me because nothing they say will ever make me stop loving them.

  14. Ilene,
    I think you have a perfect balance here of healthy and comforting; of honesty and pride. You must be doing something right! And condolences on the loss of your father.

  15. Precious. Simply precious. Every word of it. I get it. I get you. And I loved Eli’s post and I honor your father and the relationship you had with him. Bless your heart- your beautiful, passionate and honest heart.

  16. Oh, Ilene…I had no idea! I’m so sorry. This post shows what great people you are raising and what a tremendous job you are doing at one of the harest things there is to do. When we are having one of “those” days, we turn to ice cream as well. When I know there is something that is on my kids’ minds, taking them for their favorite treat usually gets the conversation going (as does a Target trip).

  17. You are doing an amazing job as their mother. Keep them talking, always.
    I am so very sorry for your loss. My heart is with you.

  18. I agree that some of these late night eating occasions will be the things they cherish and remember. It’s out of the norm and kids always remember the things that were out What is it with the weight around the middle? I don’t like this! The weight on my butt I can handle better – I think it’s because even though it’s there, I cant see it! 🙂

  19. It’s so true! Because if I ask my kids to talk, they won’t. It has to be the right moment. I think that the giddiness that lends itself to junk food eating is somehow a catalyst for these conversations. Yes! Keep a box of Pop Tarts in the house!

  20. Oh my gosh – that is a HUGE part of the day for a child in kindergarten. And I am so glad that Callia told you. Because it’s hard for most kids to “confess” to the clip down or to getting in trouble in class or anything like that. I hope she always tells you everything too – and maybe I should supply tissues to all of you with these posts? *hugs*

  21. Yes – balance! Believe it or not, I used to not have any foods in this house that had sugar in them! At all! And now, I have shifted more toward the middle. It has been good for them and good for me as a mom. And thank you for your condolences, my sweet friend. xo

  22. Oh, Chris, you are such a dear. Thank you for all of your kind words. I pray that every parent and child has something to bond over, whether it be running, food, or something different entirely. That boning agent is priceless and eternal. xo

  23. If I were your mom, you’d eat a lot of Pop Tarts! But thank you for your kind words. That night she told me will always be one of my favorite nights as a mom, ever. It was what every parent hopes for. And thank you for your condolences. xo

  24. Surround a child with good, real good, and that child will reflect good. I know that’s a blanket statement, but I believe in it. Not the spoiled kind of good, but the understanding, example-setting, connected, deeply-caring, patient and soul-comforting good that you are to your girls. And in ways you probably don’t even realize, those of us who read you.
    To say my post inspired this incredible gem is like saying Scrappy Doo inspired Sherlock Holmes. I’m honored, and so glad to have read this today.
    Our default as parents is too often to yell at the kid when they open up to us like this, and that’s the last thing you’d want to do. Thank you for the reminder.

  25. Ilene, I’m so sorry for your loss. What a gift you’ve given to your children, the open lines of communication … and what a gift from your father, a language that you could use to communicate, even when you couldn’t. I want to be half as awesome a mom as you are.

  26. This is amazing. Made me tear up. You handled the situation wonderfully, and I hope (in many years) that when I become a mother, I can handle situations that appropriately. I also love the open communication that you have with your kids.
    I am sorry for your loss.
    Thanks for this great post.

  27. I tried to read this post in Orlando, but was never able to finish it. I am so glad I came back to it. It brought tears to my eyes. What a touching moment between you and your daughter. I love how you reacted. I always encourage communication with my boys, no matter what it is. We talk every night before they go to bed. It’s often my favorite time of the day because you never know what will come out in those conversations.

  28. Oh, Justine. Thank you so much for your words. I have learned a lot, as a daughter and mom, about how important it is to have that “other language.” Running with my dad, food with my kids, a language that everyone understands, a language that melts the barriers to matter what. xo

  29. Thank you Dakota for your kind words. I think that having this “other language’ has really helped me as a mom – but I imagine would compliment any relationship. IT’s great to have a place to go to where you can communicate without words!

  30. I went back and read your post again for what had to be the fourth time? Fifth time? Before linking it back to my page. And every time I read it I pick up on something I didn’t notice the time before. Now THAT post is the real gem. It’s a parenting manual. If every parent in the world would read your post, it would be life changing. Because your resolve in it is simple – but it’s not. You set an amazing example for all of us on how to stay close to our kids.

  31. Ilene, I am so sorry to hear about your dad. Losing a parent is so very difficult. Hugs from afar, my friend.
    While events like Sandy Hook have always shook my parenting soul to the core, I love how they radically shift my perspective to what’s really important in my life. Just as you said, sometimes it’s just about letting the syrup and the good times flow! xoxo <3

  32. I love this post so much Ilene. There are so many things that I think are important or that I dig my heels in on with regard to my kids and parenting and you know what? Generally, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that they are surrounded by love and understanding and letting things go at the right moments. I worry a lot about keeping those lines of communication open with my kids. I love how you handled this situation and your response. Perfect. I’m so sorry for your loss Ilene. I hope that you are doing well. Lots of love.

  33. It’s so true, right? That as long as our kids are surrounded my love, what else really matters? I get caught up too. And then I remind myself not to get caught up. It’s a process. And thank you for your kind condolences. xo

  34. I really loved this post…I got all teary during it! These are the best moments with our children…when we just let them be kids 🙂 You are doing a great job!
    Natalie recently posted…Bad Mood MommaMy Profile

    • Thanks, Natalie! It’s amazing how my idea of being a “good mom” has changed between then and now. And I am sure it will continue to evolve! But for now, it includes handing out Pop Tarts as needed 🙂