Monday, February 14, 2011

The Hardest Holiday

When it comes to food related treats...Valentines day just might take the chocolate cake.
It's second only to Halloween in candy filled delights, from the dum-dums taped to classroom valentines to the red heart shaped boxes lining grocery and drug store shelves to the scrumptious recipes for sinful chocolate dipped strawberries or swirled fudgy brownies that abound in my email inbox.
The ubiquitous conversation hearts are practically as iconic as candy corn.  And twice as fun, since you get to make up silly poems on your school desk before enjoying them.
And since it's not a "big" holiday...it seems like everyone likes to go overboard.  And feels justified in passing out "just a little candy" because it's February.  What's the harm in having a little fun for a small holiday?
Nothing.  There's nothing wrong with it.  And actually, the gluten free/casein free crowd might enjoy a variety of mainstream Valentine treats...since most of the confections are simply sugar...spun in various forms and molded into a variety of shapes.  Artificially flavored and dyed pretty petroleum based colors, they aren't good for you.  But they aren't damaging intestines the way gluten might.  Or doubling you over the way casein might.
Even the chocolate dipped strawberries can be made safe.

However, when you're 8; and you can't eat artificial dyes without really going nuts, the holiday is hard.
Today there was a GREAT party with cake, strawberries and whipped cream (That Bumblebee could eat!) and then the party became "The worst ever" because the valentines were passed out.
Unfortunately, I've grown complacent.  The kids both had the flu all last week (The scary form of the flu...that had us in for chest x rays and contemplating antibiotics because that fever just wouldn't break), we're on a budget, it's a Hallmark holiday and so I didn't do much in the way of preparing.  Bad plan.
Most of Bumblebees valentines this year included something colorful and edible.  I'm proud of her for choosing not to enjoy them.  I'm sad that she was grumpy and felt left out.  The gluten free kid could eat the candy.  The nut allergy kids could eat the candy.  There were other kids who chose not to eat the candy (kids like I used to be...who just don't like suckers and chewy artificial goop) but Bumblebee felt like she was the only one who **couldn't** eat the candy.
She told me she could've and I wouldn't have known the difference.
I agreed.
But she didn't because she doesn't like how it makes her feel. 
"I want one of my candies" she told me, "And I'm going to choose to eat one unless you can give me a good reason not to!"
I opened my mouth.
"Ten good reasons!" She amended.
When I said that artificial food colors are banned from kids' food in Europe she asked why Americans let kids eat them.  Penguin interrupted with "Because they're dumb."
"Why do you have to be smart, then?" Bumblebee grouched at me.  (I corrected them both with the information that most of our society is simply uninformed.  Not dumb.) 
I started to falter around 8.  She grinned, then giggled.  Gave an exaggerated sigh at 10.

And then she enjoyed a bit of pudding cake.  (My experiment du jour...it was a success, although I thought this first incarnation might be a bit too rich)
Some will probably wonder why on earth I'm leaving something like this up to her.  Why is it such a stress?
The answer is simple.  Food dye reactions are mostly behavioral and fall in the neurological and 'intolerance' spectrum.  That means that there isn't a lot of medical backing, or reassurance.  It means she doesn't have a quantifiable reaction.  It also means that we might take calculated risks.

When it comes to true allergies, there is no gray area.  You either need to avoid the allergen, or you don't.  Penguin has distinctly debilitating (but not life threatening) reactions to gluten and dairy.  And blue dye.  There is no acceptable risk for her.  There isn't an "Ugh, oops...oh well."  If she is exposed she misses at least 24 hours...more like 48.  And she seems to feel 'bleck' for longer. If a person with an anaphylactic dairy allergy eats something with a touch of butter on it; they can stop breathing or go into cardiac arrest.  There's no room for a learning curve or experimentation. 
But Bumblebee's intolerance is in the gray zone.  If there's a way to avoid the dye, we do.  If she were to need an antibiotic that was colored, though, we could muddle through.  Calling it an "allergy" without following through with total avoidance lessens the view of allergies in general and creates a false sense of security.
So why do I leave such an important decision up to her?  Because it is her body.  And ultimately, it's her choice.  She can cheat on this "diet".  I wouldn't know the difference; except that she was exceptionally more difficult than usual.
It has to be her choice to be healthier, happier.  I'll support it one hundred percent, and if she makes good choices I'll provide safe, appropriate, and FUN alternatives.  If she chooses poorly, I won't be nearly as supportive through the recoop time.  I won't punish her, but I won't provide (expensive) alternate treats.  And I won't go to bat for her if she's going to waffle around.  It's not fair to the kids who can't cheat, who can't even take a calculated risk.  And it isn't fair to her to have rules that bend and change to fit the day's requirements.  Only she knows the best choices for herself.  So at this point, I'm letting it be harder and telling her I disapprove of her eating them but not forbidding it.  Mean, but hopefully it will strengthen her resolve in the long run. 

Meanwhile, Penguin's homemade valentines came out adorable.  She cut key shapes out of cardstock, wrote little sayings on them (which I'm not supposed to read or share) and then attached them to little heart shaped keychains.  Bumblebee taped markers to fuzzy poster valentines.  Fun, cute but not "over the top" since she doesn't like to stand out too much. 

And on the brighter side, Penguin had an awesome Valentine's day in Middle school.  Her friends gave out cutesy cards.  And since she's still recovering from the flu...she doesn't really care about the limited candy making it's way around.  She's just tickled that there was a lollipop that's safe for her.  :-)

1 comment:

Noe said...

Sounds to me like you're handling Bumblebee's choices very well, and teaching her how to make informed and intelligent decisions. Bravo.