Ronda Kaysen: The jingle of an ice cream truck used to make me smile with thoughts of summer abandon. Now that I have a toddler, it makes me cringe in anticipation of a full-on tantrum.
My son, who has the ears of a bat, can hear that truck coming from a mile away. At first, when he naively thought it was just a music truck, the creepy melody would merely tear him away from his ball or his book or his dismantling of my apartment and send him running to the window shrieking "Moosic tuck! Moosic tuck!"
But after the first time he reached through the truck's dingy window and retrieved a creamy treat, the jig was up. Now, just strolling down the street can send my child into hysterics as he obsesses about where the music truck is and why it hasn't stopped to visit him.
His outsized expectations that the ice cream truck will spontaneously materialize at his whim might have something to do with our local playground.
As sure as the sun will rise tomorrow, a Mister Softee truck will be planted outside that playground fence waiting for my 2-year-old. What follows is one of two scenarios: a mid-morning tantrum or a pre-nap sugar high. Sadly (for my son), the former is usually the result.
Why, oh why, is that ice cream truck camped out at a playground? I was under the impression that a playground was a place where little people got some exercise, not an outdoor cafeteria where they tanked up on empty calories.
I'm happy to report that I'm not the only soft-serve scrooge. Legions of other New York parents have unleashed a mother lode of fury on the City Council. The city, it turns out, happily accepts hefty checks from ice cream trucks all summer long, permitting them to set up a permanent station in front of public schools and playgrounds, where they can peddle their wares uninterrupted.
The News reports that the city gets in the neighborhood of $6,000 for each truck parked outside a school or park.
The city claims that fattening ice cream and exercise go hand in hand. "Food and parks have long been associated together," said spokesman Phil Abrams. "Having an ice cream in a park is a great summertime tradition."
The salesmen, of course, see no harm in taunting children with promises of sugary treats. "We're not pushing anybody to eat ice cream," Frankie, an ice cream truck driver who is permanently parked at a Brooklyn public school playground, told reporters. "As a parent, you have to know how to say no."
Thanks for that parenting tip, Frankie. I wholeheartedly agree that parents need to set limits with their kids. But when you parade a brightly colored truck that blares a funhouse soundtrack at a child with zero impulse control, the result is pretty much guaranteed. And it isn't pretty.
May I add this small nugget to the conversation: Most New York parents have no choice in the summer but to take their kids to the city playgrounds. We live in small apartments with no outdoor space and no air conditioning in a town that gets ridiculously hot and humid. So, for all intents and purposes, we are a captive audience. And every day, when our kids kick and scream for ice cream, we grit our teeth hoping that Mister Softee will find a new place to dole out his saccharine sweets.
|Ronda Kaysen is a freelance writer. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, BusinessWeek.com, Architectural Record, Huffington Post, New York Observer and AM New York. She lives in Brooklyn with her family.|