Taking Candy From Babies

The woman at the drive-thru bank window smiles and winks when she pushes back my deposit receipt accompanied by a Dum Dum sucker. I thank her, sigh heavily and toss it into the passenger seat, bracing myself for the round of justifications from Quinn as to why he SHOULD have that sucker at 8:30 a.m.

Oh come on, you think, poor kid, just one little treat’s not going to hurt…

Um, yes it will. Refined sugar is one of the most harmful foods consumed today. It has no nutritional value. My son’s little body will borrow nutrients like calcium, sodium, potassium, and magnesium, from healthier parts to metabolize the sugar. It will rot his teeth and gums. It can make him prone to diabetes and hypoglycemia. His brain could be robbed of B vitamins that are linked to mood stability. And although it may not be the primary cause of ADHD or childhood obesity, sugar doesn’t help. It does hurt.  

And its never one little treat. It’s an inundation of sugar that floods us every time we go to the bank, the grocery store, gymnastics class, preschool, and other people’s homes. Those nice folk plead with soft eyes, “Do you mind…?” Yeah, I mind. If I allowed my son to eat all the candy offered to him, he wouldn’t have a tooth left to gum the next gummy bear. 

Before I rant further, I will share a little family history. I come from a long line of overeaters. Binge eaters who sneak-eat junk food so their loved ones don’t know how much junk goes in. Right now, someone we love dearly has been literally eating herself to death. She is not the only one; she is just the one with frequent visitor miles at the local hospital. We have a plethora of food issues on our family menu, with all the side dishes of depression and guilt that accompany the meal deal. Diabetes, heart disease, addictive personalities, and obesity run strong and hard on both sides of the family. And they are now finding that nature, not nurture, is the strongest indicator for childhood obesity. The genetic odds are stacked against my child. Thus, my anger and motivation for change.

I can’t just slip on a pair of skinny genes, so I control my environment. I try to make conscious, healthy food choices every day, every meal. Although I come across as “holier-than-thou” these days when I talk kids and nutrition, I will always struggle with food. I love it. I love treats. This Valentine’s Day saw a gross amount of junk in the Johnson household. I was snowbound and hormonally imbalanced so I sucked in chocolates and frosted cookies like a black hole. When I allow myself to indulge, I am way more likely to allow Quinn to do the same. Part of me still believes that makes me a Fun Mom.

Despite the casualties of the Valentine’s Day Battle, I am winning the war. I have maintained a healthy weight and diet for years. I weigh less than I did on my wedding day. I brag, because I am proud that I have broken a dangerous cycle. Being pregnant turned my yo-yo resolve to eat right into a nine-month habit. The habit turned into a lifestyle. I don’t want to see Quinn struggle with food like my family has. I am teaching him that we moderate indulgences, we enjoy healthy selections, and that rewards aren’t always edible. My shining moments come when he throws uneaten Halloween candy into the garbage, or bites into a store-bought cookie and says “Yuck, it tastes like chemicals”.

But in our society, “treat” means “sweet”. We reward with sugar. Good job buddy! Let’s go out for a hot fudge sundae. Ooh, good girl went poopy in the toilet! Have a piece of candy! Oh, look how nice you sit strapped in your car seat at the bank drive-thru! Here’s a Dum Dum. Our kids learn to expect candy for good grades, taking a shit, even sitting quietly. If it’s constantly available, is it still a “treat”? No, it’s a given. Sugar carries emotional value. Sugar IS love. Our Grammy is famous for “givin’ sugar” to her grandbabies in more ways than one. That is how many in her generation demonstrate love. I have learned not to confront this strong Southern matriarch because, well, I’m a little scared of Grammy. I quiet my crusade to keep the peace with friends or out of respect for my elders. Especially when they are bigger than me, and from Texas.

But in this societal context, I am the villain. And it pisses me off that strangers AND loved ones continue to put me in the role of the bitch who says, “No” all the time. There is social pressure to not snub the generous offer. I am the butt of jokes and sarcastic jabs among my relatives due to my “alternative” choices. I am the ogre who won’t let her deprived child have just one more, teeny treat. Those who sneak high fructose corn syrup laced with mysterious chemicals into my son’s mouth behind my back are his unsung heroes. They have relieved his abysmal withdrawals caused by his evil mother with a little bump of the good stuff in the dark corners of their kitchens. This cookie is our little secret. What’s next, a puff off your cigarette?

Hey, thanks. Thanks for the setback in my uphill battle against genetics, marketing strategies and candy-infested holidays. Thanks for teaching my son to eat treats in secret. Did I mention this is a popular technique utilized by most of my overweight family members? And I really appreciate your letting me know through that disappointed look you shoot at my son that by controlling his sugar intake, I am depriving my son of love.

Let me tell you how I love my son. I keep crap out of the house. We WILL eat it, so I minimize temptation. I bake homemade cookies and granola bars for him so I can use less sugar, add whole wheat flour and cut back on the butter. I know most, if not all, of the ingredients that go into my treats. I take the time to read labels, even on “all natural” and organic products. I give him water and a snack, not a sports drink, when he’s sweating. I say “No” and stand firm when he throws a fit about treats. He eats fruit, sugar that comes with fiber and vitamins. He gets chocolate, but not an entire candy bar in one sitting.

Don’t you worry about my son. I am a firm believer that models based on moderation are more effective than those based on abstinence. He gets his sugar. But the best sugar comes from the snuggles he gets every morning, or from hearing, “Good job, I’m proud of you!” followed by a big hug, or a “let’s do something together”.

I don’t understand why I am the “alternative” and not the norm.

I challenge parents to take some time to bake, to read labels, to research, and to moderate. I challenge them to spend less money on crap and splurge on a quality piece of organic chocolate that is offered sparingly. I challenge caregivers to analyze how much sugar they serve up while they CAN still control what goes into children’s mouths. Like the child riding in a car with a smoker, your child is a captive audience. What damage to them can you prevent?    

And I beg of you; given his genetic history, let Quinn’s parents decide what’s best for Quinn without giving us shit for our decisions. You are not doing my son any favors by offering him treats, and you ARE hurting him. It is not cute. I AM defensive and angry because this is MY son. So stop creating situations where I have to be a bitch to him and I offend you. 

I don’t doubt that parents who feed their kids junk love their kids. I know wonderful parents with smart, happy kids who eat poorly. I do wonder how much smarter they would be on a healthier diet. I challenge these parents to love their kids just a little bit more by cutting the crap.

It’s easy, really, to make changes. It’s easy as, well…taking candy from a baby.