That’s a rhetorical question, of course. I know exactly where I went wrong. No need to rub it in.
It all started a little over a week ago when Victoria popped a piece of Juicy Fruit gum in her mouth. Wow…Juicy Fruit. I used to LOVE that gum when I was little. My immediate reaction, though, was “That’s not a gum I approve, you know.” Oh, she knows. My comment made little difference as she smacked away on it and tucked the remaining pack back into her purse. I reasoned to myself that a stick of Juicy Fruit was certainly not the end of the world, high fructose corn syrup be damned.
Fast forward to last night at the grocery store, where as I am sliding my debit card back into my purse, Victoria is slapping not one but TWO packs of Doublemint gum on the counter behind me, cash in hand.
“What’s in that gum?” I ask. She shrugs and emphasizes the fact that she’s buying this contraband with her own money. Fair enough, I reason. I try to give my kids freedom in spending their own money while encouraging them to make smart choices along the way. How else will they learn, right?
I pick up one of the packs and flip it over to the ingredients list. Corn syrup, no surprise. Guar gum, gum base, yadayadayada. Holy crap: Aspertame. Acesulfame K! BHT!! I feel my own head exploding as I announce the evil ingredients. “Vic!! This stuff is horrible!!”
“I’m not going to chew a whole pack in a day, Mom!” she protests.
“No,” I reply, “you’re going to poison yourself a little at a time over the course of the next week, rendering your entire nervous system defenseless against the tiny, steady onslaught of toxins. My God, you might as well start drinking Diet Coke! I mean, really, what if you want to have children when you’re grown up? Is that pack of gum worth ruining your chances before you’re even old enough to want them?!”
Yep. There it was. Did you see it? I became THAT mother. I didn’t say anything I don’t believe, but I said it in a way that I can’t stand, and worse, in front of people who don’t understand. I could feel the eyes of the cashier upon me as Dom bagged up my slew of organic, unprocessed, non-GMO groceries. I know she was thinking, “Oh, poor kid!”
Truthfully, though, for reasons I couldn’t readily explain to anyone, I felt like a dagger had been driven through my heart. Aspartame and BHT were two of the first ingredients I identified as dangerous back in 2010. Everyone understood their harmful effects. Didn’t they? Or had the passage of time and priority weakened our commitment to safe and healthy eating?
Our commitment. Was it really ours? Or was it just mine, forced on my family because 8 and 9-year olds don’t have as much buying power as (the now) 12 and 13-year olds? It was a really low moment for me.
In the car on the way home I tried to reiterate to Victoria what Aspartame and BHT do inside the body. I ran a short litany of side-effects. At the mention of headaches, light bulbs switched on for both of us. Vic had been having unexplained headaches for about the past week, complaining at least every other day. We had estimated causes to be the change in weather, change in hormones, not enough sleep. It didn’t occur to me to ask, “Have you chewed any crappy gum lately?” It’s not labeled as sugar-free, because there is corn syrup in it, so I would have never guessed that Wrigley’s made its gum with the artificial sweetener Aspartame. But now we know.
Part of me feels that she’s still young enough for me to control what she has access to. And I do not mean to give that up entirely, lest you think I’m okay with her touring crack-houses as a hobby. But another part of me feels that she has to learn some things on her own. She has to be allowed to make choices, even those that I don’t agree with. My part in this stage of her life is to keep her alive and safe and make sure she can match the effect to its cause in any circumstance and learn from the experience.
I just pray that I have the grace to not be such a jerk about it.