One first grader can change the world. Or at least herself.

thalia in the paperI did not sleep well this week.

It might be a strange thing for a parenting blogger to confess that the idea of her daughter appearing in the paper is mildly terrifying and yet, that’s exactly what it is.

You know, it’s one thing to write about your children, with full control over what gets put out there in the world. It’s an absolutely different thing to put her story in the hands of a newspaper, let alone the New York Post (no offense, Post), allow her to give an interview, pose for some photos, and then…it’s out of your hands. Even if it’s a really nice story.

Evidently, my mom tweeted my post (to Mark Bittman no less) about Thalia’s April letter to the principal about her issues with the school breakfast. The tweet was seen by the reporter–good lesson that you don’t need a million followers to get a message out–which lead to an interview and a photo shoot and Thalia doing her best not to smile as the photographer asked her to raise a finger and look mad.

Thalia has never not smiled in her life.

It stressed me out.

There were images of the Miley Cyrus Vanity Fair shoot in my head; it’s easy to see how a kid can get swept away in the moment, pleasing an adult and losing sense of herself. I was nervous that they would give Thalia credit for a terrific eco-campaign being run by some other kids in school, just because she’s little and cute. I was nervous that they would turn her into some kid who actually eats more than three foods for dinner. But mostly, I was worried about the smiling. And so was Thalia.

That was enough for me to write to the very nice reporter, just to let her know all these things. Nate told me, multiple times, oh my God you’ve turned into That Mom. And I was like, hell yes I have. And when it comes to my kids, I will always be.

Overall, I think the paper did a nice job.

[edited to add: I think the writer did a decent job. I would like to have a few words with the photo editor who created a caricature of a kid that is entirely unfamiliar to me.]

[edited to add again: Okay you’re all right. The story is intentionally provocative and misleading and “gadfly” hardly describes her actions. Sigh. ]

But Thalia wants me to tell you the rest of the story that didn’t make the cut, so here it is:

Several weeks after she wrote the letter, a series of posters went up around the school from a group of fifth graders launching a full-on petition drive to make the school cafeteria more eco-friendly. Thalia was so excited to find a group of kids that shared her mission, and we talked about how there’s strength in numbers, and how she could do more with the fifth graders than she could by herself.

So she got permission to go upstairs and ask some of the older kids (thanks Trixie!) to come down to her class with her, so that she could personally ask her own classroom to sign the petitions. She talked to them about why it’s important to help the environment. And why she’s worried that kids can “get diseases” if they eat lots of bad food. She called herself the “first grade helper.” She wants to go around to all the classes in her grade and talk to them too.

And now Sage is asking to do the same for the pre-k.

All of this made Thalia feel as proud to help the fifth graders as she felt handing in that letter to the principal in the first place.

And it made me so happy to recognize that we’re in an awesome public school run by an administration that allows children to speak their minds and pursue their passions, and talk openly about the things they care about.

It will be exciting to see where Thalia is by the time she’s in that fifth grade class, and it’s time for their annual campaign once again.

But what I’m really excited about is not whether she’s turning into a little activist or not (though heaven knows it’s in her DNA). Right now I love that she’s learning she has a voice. And I love that she’s now thinking harder about her own choices that she makes. That very day after the interview, the cafeteria had a chef’s salad on the menu, and she promised me that she would choose that instead of her usual peanut butter sandwich.

As it turns out, the salad was, in Thalia’s words, “about six pieces of lettuce with some chicken nuggets next to it.”

I guess we have a ways to go on the school lunch front.

But on the Thalia front? Maybe Jamie Oliver and the New York Post just convinced our daughter to do what we haven’t in nearly 7 years–eat better.

Also, Thalia asked me to show you the picture she really wanted in the paper. Which is this one.

Thalia's letter

What can I say. She was born smiling.


61 thoughts on “One first grader can change the world. Or at least herself.”

  1. What an amazing girl! Good grief, I can hardly imagine what she’ll be capable of by the time she hits double digits.

    I like her choice of photo better, too.

  2. What an amazing experience for Thalia–to see that her voice can matter! And yay for the school that gave the opportunity to the kids to demonstrate leadership and advocacy. Plus, (ok, my teacher hat is on right now) I can only imagine the number of younger girls in her school that now look up to her as a role model for doing what is right and taking a stand on important topics.

  3. I can totally identify with how terrified you must have felt. Brava of course to Thalia, but also to you for letting this all happen and not letting your fear get in the way.

  4. I love her commitment and her energy. She reminds me of someone…hm…

    The newspaper where I worked wouldn’t allow posed photos unless it said in the caption “John Doe poses…”
    But I guess the Post has its own ideas.

  5. Wow! Way to go Thalia, 5th graders, Sage, and being “that mom” (which you may not know is actually what my children call me; Jill is “this mom”). Good going!

  6. Thalia- what a wonderful example you are… Not only for the other children at school, but for your sister. I know how my small people look up to each other! Great job. (and I love the picture you would have chosen)

    Liz- you’re doing something amazing. I can see so much of her in you. Beautiful.

    1. Thank you guys. You are presenting a much better set of comments than the ones from the dickwads who read the Post.

      1. Newspaper comments sections are the worst thing on earth. I suspected people would be awful in this case. They also said that kid at the baseball game who cried (he looked to be about 4) when the people next to him snatched his foul ball – they said he was a spoiled brat who felt entitled. Sigh.

  7. I have a feeling that the lessons she has learned from all of this will last far beyond what she was taught in the classroom. What a great story!

  8. As much as I wanted to open a can of whup-ass on the nasty Post comments, instead I just said, “If enough kids start thinking like you, maybe they won’t grow up to be as obese and unhealthy as so many of the adults out there.”

    We are all so proud of you, Thalia! xoxoxoxo

    1. i am so proud of Thalia and I left a comment on the Post article saying just that.

      I am shocked! that there are nasty comments on the Post article. I am not going to argue with those crazies. This is where I wish people would leave their nice comments in blog posts and articles rather than on Twitter where, when I last checked, a tweet has a shelf-life of only a few minutes. I want Thalia to be able to look back and to have a record of my thoughts for a long time.

      1. Obviously I agree Isabel. Thank you! You’re so amazing and supportive and I lurve you in every way.

  9. Kudos to Thalia and Mom!
    I am so happy that parents are teaching their children that they have a voice. Congratulations for giving Thalia the opportunity to say what SHE means. You go Thalia!!!

  10. Our 5th graders led a school lunch boycott one day, after the pink slime story had broken, on “chicken nugget day.” I mentioned it on FB, my father decided it was big and emailed the main Atlanta paper. A reporter called him, contacted me, and I set him on the correct path to the (parent of the) 5th grader who had led it all. The article was good, and fair. I think they love this sort of story. Why can’t the school systems realize that when the kids start asking for what the parents have been asking for– that maybe they need to start changing?

    1. How amazing for your kids! You must be super proud, and I bet they loved seeing it in the paper. It’s so encouraging to know that you can have a voice in a democracy, at any age.

  11. Way to go Thalia! So proud of you and the way you let your voice be heard. Keep up the good work

  12. awwww, the photo SHE wanted it downright adorable! what a cutie…and still so proud of her – I still can’t get over how great her letter was! go thalia! 🙂

  13. you have such sweet daughters.

    i made the mistake of replying to one of the idiot commenters on the post article so another idiot replied to me. i won’t respond to the crazies.

    1. You’re so sweet. And too smart to engage with people with agendas that have nothing to do with the article. Be grateful it’s you raising the next generation, and not them–I sure am.

  14. I just *knew* that story would go big! So glad that the important issues are gaining prominence, thanks to a first grader who knows she’s got a voice and that she can rally others around her. It’s okay if you’re *that* mom… you must be so proud!

  15. I am so very very proud of her. If she could achieve all that as a 1st grader, I have the most hope in the world for the future if children like her will one day be running it.

  16. Ooooh, you have to share this blog with Thalia.

    It’s from a 9-year old in Scotland who’s rating the quality of her school lunches. She’s just started the blog but is receiving press mentions and also posts photos of lunch options from kids around the world. She’s donating money to feed children in impoverished countries and has even received a signed copy of Jamie Oliver’s book.

    Aren’t these children brilliant! If only the adults can listen…

  17. Great post. If she could achieve all that as a 1st grader, I have the most hope in the world for the future if children like her will one day be running it. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Well, she hasn’t achieved much. But I think she’s on a great path. I’m glad we both have hope. Thanks Jennifer.

  18. Where is she interning this Summer? Maybe her Uncle Jeff can get her a job with a political consultant. We need people like her to help save the Congress

  19. I’m speechless (rare occurrence) and all teared up on this story. There is a hope for this world, we are leaving it in good hands. Now it is up to us adults to make sure we are not trashing this world completely, and there is something left for next generation to make wonderful.

    I would go back to first grade just to sign your petition, Thalia. Plus, your choice of pics rocks.

  20. Bravo Thalia! — LIZ, you should be so proud of her activism.
    Thalia is achieving MORE than I did, and I sat on the lunch committee at my school where the powers that be think it is better to drink chocolate milk full of corn syrup than no milk at all.
    I had to sign a letter saying that it was OK for my kids to take water over milk. really.
    As for the meatloaf and mashed potatoes at lunch time, I just had to say that I would pack – R

    1. An awesome thing about our school: They switched to a no-HFCS chocolate milk last year after a parent complained. It was great. They’re very responsive; they just don’t have the authority to change school board mandates.

  21. The school should give out free chocolate milks for breakfast and lunch!!!
    Can’t imagine elementary or middle school without chocolate milk!!!

  22. Thalia, you´ve inspired me in so many ways. I wished my 4 YO could read this. She can´t yet, but I´ll tell her about your story so she too can make healthy choices.
    I love your smile. Don´t ever let anyone take that from you!!

  23. To “Rob” who no doubt will return here looking for his trollish comment and a good fight:

    1. You don’t get either. Ad hominem attacks are not allowed in this forum. You will have to spew your misplaced anger elsewhere.
    2. Wake up and smell the newsprint. A little girl wrote a letter to her principal about chocolate milk AT BREAKFAST. The Post (hardly a paper grounded in principles of truth and accuracy) didn’t want to print the letter, which would contradict their provocative angle: turning her into some kind of anti-sugar “crusader” in the Bloomberg brigade, complete with absurd posed photo. All just to rile people like you, which is great for page views. Congrats, you took the bait.
    3. Liberals aren’t ruining the world. Hate is.
    4. I don’t eat kale chips.

  24. What a smart and capable little girl! You should be extremely proud! 🙂

  25. Congrats to Thalia. It’s awesome to see a first grader with so much passion for improving the world. Can’t wait to see what she’ll do when she’s old enough to use social media. 🙂

  26. I was really wrapped up in Occupy Wall Street. I’m still very curious (and supportive ), but I was, like, *super* into it for a while. I kept lamenting that my oldest was still too young to visit the action in Zuccotti Park… until a brilliant friend of mine, a (former) master 1st grade teacher, corrected me. He absolutely was old enough to go down there, she explained, and she helped me come up with a plan for how to speak to my son about the social movement in an age appropriate way.

    My friend came up with this whole thing about “being heard”—that it’s not something that just happens when you speak. Being heard can result from writing, saying something with signs, being in front of a camera (there was still a lot of mainstream media around Zuccotti at the time). It was brilliant and something we still reference all the time.

    What a powerful lesson for Thalia to understand not just how she can make herself known, but also how she can amplify her message (in effective and ineffective ways). Amazing. Jeeeez… I’m a sucker for this social activism shit. And just maybe I’m particularly, um, emotional that she’s standing up for good food. The learning is very deep all around this story. Love it.

  27. Thalia is awesome for speaking up, but I do have one bit of info to share – is the milk at her school packaged in those little cardboard cartons? Our school district used to use those, and my boys told me they ordered chocolate milk because it covered up the gross cardboardy taste of the white milk. And if it’s lowfat chocolate milk, it does have calcium and protein, and is better than what many kids would get for breakfast otherwise.

    We used to stop at a local convenience store in the mornings that was known for their homemade donuts. I would see kids getting two donuts and a fountain Coke to eat in the car on their way to school! I’d much rather have my kids drink a serving of chocolate lowfat milk in the morning than have donuts and Coke, you know?

    It’s terrific that Thalia wishes her classmates would make healthier choices, but unfortunately, the chocolate milk is probably not going to go away. I applaud her efforts though!

    1. Hmmm I have heard this argument Elizabeth. You’re not alone. However I don’t think we should be giving our kids food because “at least it’s better than Coke and donuts.” I think we should be giving them good food, period. I’m all for bake sales and cupcakes at birthday parties in class. And in general, I’m all for choices. But why not make them healthy choices? Especially when parents aren’t around to guide those choices,.

      We’re lucky that our own school sources from a local farm in Queens, and uses the chocolate milk without HFCS which has significantly fewer calories, carbs and sugar. Even so, is it something kids require to be able to eat Corn Flakes? I have no issues personally with chocolate milk as a treat. But breakfast? Oy. I think that’s what Thalia was feeling after watching the Jamie Oliver show. (I wasn’t there by the way. She really surprised me with her thoughts!)

      I’m also wondering why you suggest that it’s not going away. Many schools in the country have eliminated it–at least during breakfast. Just a few:
      LA school district:
      Fayetteville, AK
      Washington DC:

      Ours alone eliminated the HFCS stuff simply because a parent took the case on last year. Don’t underestimate the power of a vocal community!

  28. Just now got caught up on this – I love that Thalia took that initiative, and it saddens me so much that people are so fantastically ignorant that they can comment negatively on the situation. Who are these people that think that voicing your opinion and suggesting change when you don’t agree with something is a bad thing?

    1. Thanks Adam. Who are they? Well, you’re the best person that I know at giving those kinds of people choice names.

      The sad thing is, most of them don’t have the reading comprehension skills required to understand what exactly she’s trying to change: chocolate milk at breakfast. I didn’t see one comment disagreeing about that. Just angry people projecting their crap on a little girl who wrote a letter.

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