Are Happy Meals Making Kids Fat?

For the first time in years I bought a McDonald’s Happy Meal — not because I wanted the food, but because I wanted the toy.

I read that New York City Councilman Leroy Comrie thinks that the toys in Happy Meals are partly to blame for childhood obesity. How? The children crave these toys and force their parents to take them to McDonald’s.

This surprised me because I remember the toys being… well, crappy. But who knows — maybe today they’re giving out great stuff, the fast food equivalent of Oprah’s Favorite Things? So, in the name of research, I stopped at McDonald’s and purchased a Happy Meal.

Here’s what I found out: the toys are still crappy.

In my Happy Meal was a plastic figure of the character Pedro from the animated film “Rio.” When you wind him up, his wing flaps and he revolves. Crap.

I don’t remember my kids ever begging me to take them to McDonald’s because of the toy; we were much more likely to go because of the ball pits and climbing gyms inside. I’d bring one of my sons and after eating he’d play while daddy read the paper. The Happy Meal toy, more often than not, was thrown away later the same day.

Did these trips to McDonald’s develop bad eating habits? I don’t think so. Today my kids don’t eat McDonald’s very often — and on a night that I offer to bring something home, they never request Mickey D’s. No, they usually want something more expensive.

There are plenty of things that contribute to kids being out of shape. It’s just plain dumb to link it to the stupid little trinkets that come in Happy Meals. Instead, I’d urge lawmakers to focus on something even more troubling: the cleanliness of those ball pits.

Trial by Fire

Me and my pal, Doug, used to light small fires behind the shed in my backyard.

Sometimes it was just sticks and twigs, but now and then we’d douse a model airplane or car in Testors glue and ignite the whole mess. Then — and a psychiatrist would have a field day with this — we’d extinguish the fires by urinating on them.

So anyway, one day we were on our way to the backyard and made a terrible mistake. Walking along the side of the house, we were lighting matches and tossing them on the ground ahead of us as we made our way to the burn site. We were in exactly the right spot for Doug’s mother to see us from the kitchen window. Uh-oh.

Doug’s mom could have just handled things discreetly, taking us aside to explain that what we were doing was wrong and sit us down and give us a glass of milk and warm cookies.

But no, Doug’s mom was not the TV mom type, instead, she was more of the run out of the house screaming type. She charged across the street and grabbed us by the collars, depositing me with my father before dragging Doug back home to face his reckoning.

My father sprung into action immediately, Pushing me through the house and down into the basement. The basement! Holy, crap! Why are we going to the basement?!

He yanked me into the room where the furnace sat, and threw open the access door. He pulled me to the floor and help my hand close to the hot blue flames.

“You want to fool around with fire? If I ever catch you playing with fire again, you’re gonna get burned.”

I’m not sure that was the approach I would have used, but I’ll tell you this: it certainly worked. We were done lighting stuff on fire. We were not done blowing things up with firecrackers — nobody seemed to have a problem with that — but burning things? Never again.

How Tall is that Baby, Anyway?

Baby’s are wonderful little creatures that are unspeakably cute. They even smell pretty good, which considering all the pooping and spitting up, is nothing short of miraculous. As the parent of two former babies, I know these things to be true.

But could someone explain to me why we need to know the length of babies?

We recently got a birth announcement with beautiful pictures of the precious little newborn. Very lovely — but there under the kid’s name and weight it said “21 Inches.”

First of all, I have no idea how long a baby is supposed to be. You could tell me the kid’s 12 inches long I’d have no idea that’s small. Is a 21 inch baby tall? Can you even say tall since they don’t stand up? Am I supposed to do a mental calculation between weight and length that tells me if it’s a chubby baby? A skinny baby. A big boned baby?

When I want answers, I go to the internet:

Most full-term babies (born between 37 and 40 weeks) weigh somewhere between 6 pounds, 2 ounces (2,812 grams) and 9 pounds, 2 ounces (4,173 grams). Their average length ranges from 19 to 21 inches (48 to 53 centimeters).

OK, so that is a tall baby.

Weight, on the other hand, I can understand. One baby in the maternity ward may weigh seven pounds while the one right next to it weighs nine pounds. If you think that’s no big deal, pick up a two pound package of ground beef at Price Chaopper. That’s a lot of baby meat.

We have our whole lives to be judged by our height and weight. Thank God your little baby is OK and starting life healthy and sound. I suppose we could do without the baby length — unless you want to do something funny, which would be describing your baby as being 1’8″.

Town and Gown (and beer)

Griffy the Golden Griffin reminds you to behave yourself.We got a letter from Canisius College recently asking us to urge our son not to party too hard during their annual Spring Fest event. It was dated — ironically — March 17, 2010.

Let me just say that I am shocked… SHOCKED to find that there is drinking going on at Canisius! When I was in school, we spent our spare time in the library studying and writing papers.

The college is concerned that kids would rather drink off campus than attend the official event, an alcohol-free celebration with music, food, and other fun stuff that doesn’t involve booze. Hahaha… “Fun stuff that doesn’t involve booze.”

And they’re serious about keeping order. The letter says:

Canisius College seniors who break New York State laws or violate our community standards will not be permitted to “walk” at graduation and underclassmen may face suspension for a semester.

Actually, little Canisius College is no slouch when it comes to spring flings.

In 2008, Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown ordered hundreds of cops into the neighborhood surrounding Canisius — including armored vehicles and SWAT teams clad in camo — to keep the peace during the student party. The streets around the school were flooded with police. Some say Brown was just mad that the college served up videotapes that implicated his son in criminal charges involving a borrowed car.

Sure, I’ll tell him to take it easy, but you know, he’s 22-years-old.

Old enough to drink, old enough to make his own decisions, and old enough that he’ll most likely be on his way to Afghanistan with the National Guard this time next year. But if I could I’d turn back the clock and make him 10-years-old again.

Grow Up

Seriously, I really do try to act like an adult. You know, I go to work, pay my taxes, try to set a good example for my children —but sometimes the fourteen-year-old inside me cannot be completely suppressed. Like the other night.

I was sitting in church waiting for the May Procession to begin. This is where the kids from my son’s school recite the Rosary and put a crown on the statue of Mary. Thinking this would present some serious zone out time I chose a spot away from the crowd —but not so far away that it would look odd.

I got out my iPod and inserted only the left ear bud. This way no one in the church would see what I was doing. Then I took out my phone and started sending rude text messages to a guy I know who was sitting across the way.

While deep in the haze of the Felice Brothers and tapping out stupid texts Sister Mary Frederick stopped by my pew. She was the principal of the school when my older son went there and wanted to know how he was doing. As I fumbled with my headphone wire and tried to hide the phone I explained how he was finishing his junior year at college and preparing to spend the summer in National Guard training.

In other words, my son is getting an education and defending America —and his father is acting like an eighth grader.

If I were an actual eighth grader both items would have been confiscated and I probably would have gotten detention. Instead I just got to feel like an idiot.

Richard J. Harte of Delmar is Not Amused

My son Zack’s eighth grade social studies class at St. Thomas School recently studied about the Roaring Twenties —and capped it off by turning the classroom into a speakeasy where they danced the Charleston and swigged grape juice. Somebody thought this picture was so cute that they sent it to our local weekly, The Spotlight.

Well, not everyone thought it was cute, like this guy who fired off a letter to the paper:

As a long-time parishioner of St. Thomas in Delmar, I can’t think of a more inspiring way to begin the religious season of Lent than by having a 1920’s prohibition event for the school’s eighth graders… complete with faux “booze” (photo, 1920s roar to life, march 11).

To say I am a little surprised and shocked at both the timing and the function is an understatement. I realize that the purpose was an educational exercise examining the Roaring ’20s, but do you really educate children by having them act out a disregard for the law (Prohibition) and promote the consumption of alcohol as a fun thing to do? Then to publicize the occasion by submitting a group photo of the kids, complete with bottles and glasses in hand. And we wonder why the children of this and other communities start drinking at an early age.

Seriously, “educators,” did you think this out beforehand?

P.S. – Yes, I do enjoy a drink, and yes, thank you, I do have a life.

Richard J. Harte

Yes, Mr. Harte, of course you have a life. Your life is writing ridiculous letters to the local newspaper.

Up in Smoke

My 13-year-old son claims he and his friends were hollered at for pretending to smoke in the schoolyard. It was a cold day so they held twigs up to their mouths and made like their breath was smoke. Can’t kids enjoy anything these days?

When I was little , we used to love candy cigarettes. From a candy standpoint they were not delicious with their weird chalky consistency, but who could beat the fun you had handing them around to your friends? Candy makers stopped calling them candy cigarettes at some point but you can still get them. I’m thinking I may buy some for next Halloween.

Lately there’s a huge uproar over kids pretending to smoke by crushing Smarties and then blowing Smarty powder out of their mouths. When I first heard about this I thought it was a hoax, but then news reports started emerging —and I found that the internet is full of videos of kids showing you how it works. It’s hilarious!


Before you start going off on me about kids learning to smoke by pretending to smoke (and I know you will) consider this: kids don’t grow up and do everything they pretend to do while playing. My friend Raymond T used to like pretending he was a werewolf and chasing after us through the neighborhood —and he’s never actually attacked anyone as an adult. It was great fun, and afterward we’d all relax with a candy cigarette.

Got a Light?

You can buy a Zippo lighter for about $15 —but this one can’t be replaced. It belonged to my father.

He died in 1990 at 62-years-old. That’s too young. Smoking cigarettes probably had something to do with it and a lot of those cigarettes were lit with this lighter. You might feel that makes for an inappropriate memento, but that’s really reading too much into things. Believe it or not, smoking was once viewed as normal in America and smokers were not shunned, forced outdoors, or demonized the way they are today.

The lid on my dad’s lighter is a bit wobbly and I’m concerned it will fall off, so I’m thinking I might wrap it up and mail it back to Zippo. In Bradford, Pennsylvania, where they are are manufactured, Zippo has a special corner of the plant where they do nothing but repair their products. Unlike us, the Zippo Windproof Lighter carries a lifetime guarantee.

Boy With Doll

Zack whispered, “That boy has a doll.” I really wanted to tell him that it’s OK and lots of boys play with dolls, and isn’t it about time we broke down these gender identity roles. But I couldn’t. I also couldn’t tell him about Barbie. When he was a toddler, he got his hands on a Barbie somewhere. Naturally, I was aghast. Alex, who was 10 at the time, demanded to know what I was going to do. “Well…I’m going to get rid of it.” He asked if we could bury it in the backyard. I can’t remember why, but that sounded like a pretty good idea, so early one morning I snatched Barbie and we sneaked outside. In the garden, not far from where several goldfish are interred, we dug a shallow hole and committed her to the great hereafter. Someday someone will find what we buried, but they’ll never know that they’ve dug up more than just a doll.