I mentioned this last week, but not everyone listens to the podcast. So here is the text version:
One of the great delights of parenthood is introducing someone to candy. You get to be the one to put the very first piece of chocolate in the mouth of another human being. You get to see the look on someone’s face when they discover that chocolate is a thing that exists!!! Granted, they haven’t usually mastered language enough to describe the experience, but (judging by most photo albums) toddler facial expressions are worth a thousand pictures.
Things didn’t work out this way with our oldest. When Bay was growing up she couldn’t tolerate candy. Give her some candy, and twenty minutes later she’s gone red in the face, with dark circles under her eyes, and is engaging in uncharacteristic self-stimming behavior. As a parent, it was pretty unsettling. I’m not going to detail all of our efforts to figure out exactly what things were doing this to her, but it was not a precise process. Eventually we discovered that if we kept her away from corn and the usual food dyes, she was fine.
About the same time, we discovered I couldn’t have corn either. My symptoms were different, but the result was the same: Eat corn, feel terrible.
We called this a “food allergy”, but I’m not convinced this has anything to do with the immune system. Then again, I don’t know what it is. When I was growing up, I never heard of anyone who was “allergic” to corn. That’s crazy! That’s like being allergic to water! But then as the 90s rolled around I’d occasionally hear about people having this problem. Then in the 00s the problem afflicted Bay and I. These days it doesn’t seem uncommon at all. I know several people who can’t touch corn without taking a voyage through the Valley of Regret, down the river of Oh God Why Did I Eat That.
The worst is when I go to a party or family gathering.
It’s a sunny day. High summer. There’s a homemade sign reading “SO-AND-SO FAMILY REUNION”. There’s a MURMUR of laughter and conversation from people gathered around. Two picnic tables have been pushed together to form a buffet line. Most of the men are holding plastic cups of beer and telling hunting stories. The women are drinking iced tea and exchanging information about which great-grandchildren are married, dating, or launching careers. It feels like the average age is somewhere north of retirement.
Shamus is standing in the pavilion where the sun can’t reach him. He’s wandering around with a plastic cup full of water so people will stop offering him beer. He looks at the table of food, trying to figure out if there might be anything that doesn’t contain corn. Suddenly he’s AMBUSHED by…
Oh Shamus! I haven’t seen you since you were a skinny little thing. Are you still into computers?
Yup. I’m really fond of “computers” these days.
Here, try this cake. Agatha and I spent the whole afternoon on it yesterday and everyone loves it. You should try some before it’s all gone.
Oh I can’t. (Flustered pause.) I’m… allergic.
Oh don’t worry Shamus, it’s safe for diabetics. Albert is diabetic and so we-
No, I’m not actually diabetic.
Well this pie is gluten-free. You could try that.
That’s not my problem either.
Are are you vegan? I think someone brought some-
No no. I just… I can’t have corn.
What the hell is wrong with you, boy?
Actually, my relatives are sweethearts. Uncle Benny might think it, but he wouldn’t say it out loud and he wouldn’t think less of me. My relatives are fond of me and are gracious towards me at gatherings. They just find me (and my family) perplexing. So I’ve had my share of awkward conversations over the years as I discover I’m unable to adequately explain myself to normal people.
Sometimes when I describe the problem people will offer me unsolicited explanations for the rise in food “allergies”:
- It’s the pesticides they use on crops. You know that stuff doesn’t totally come off when you harvest it?
- Yeah. People are just eating too much corn these days. It’s in everything. After a while your body just decides it’s had enough.
- I was reading on Facebook this is caused by antibiotics. People take them too much nowadays and it ends up killing the gut bacteria that helps you digest corn.
- That’s not allergies. That’s just gettin’ OLD! Welcome to the club!
- I heard these people talking about “corn allergies” and “wheat allergies”. I figure it’s all in their head. We’ve been eating corn and wheat for generations and it’s never been a problem before.
- It’s prolly all them GMOs I keep hearing about.
- You’ll digest your food better if you get up and move around some! People spend too much time sittin’ on their backside, typing on their phones and whatnot.
Unsurprisingly, none of these conversations has ever reached any sort of scientific conclusion or consensus. I don’t know. Maybe we needed more beer?
While it’s annoying to have food allergies you can’t explain, it’s far worse when your kid is the one with the allergies. Not only do you have to explain to other people why you can’t let them give your kid candy, you also have to explain it to your kid! And they probably won’t understand anyway!
It always made me feel like the World’s Worst Dad. Other kids are munching down on Twix bars and Starburst Fruit Chews, and my kid gets a dye-free all-organic sugar-free vegan ginger chews. Having tried the stuff myself, I promise you it’s not the same. It’s the color of rotting fruit, it has the texture of a dried-out Twizzler, and it doesn’t really smell or taste like proper candy. I mean, there’s a reason they don’t make ginger Nerds or ginger Mike & Ike.
Just to complete the odyssey of disappointment, it also sticks to the wrapper. By the time you manage to eat the damn thing your fingers are sticky and you’ve consumed half the packaging.
Bay is all grown up now, and experimenting with candy on her own. And apparently she’s able to eat some of it! Maybe she’s grown out of it? Maybe she’s just adult-sized and so the occasional Twizzler isn’t such a big deal for her body to absorb? I have no idea. Whatever. I’m just glad she can have it.
She bought a huge bag of popular candies and she’s been sampling them and writing about the experience on her blog. Pictures of facial expressions are included. It’s not as adorable as seeing a toddler go through the same experience, but it’s way funnier.
The product of fandom run unchecked, this novel began as a short story and grew into something of a cult hit.
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