Glorious as they are, holidays are also “fend off the sweets” time for me. I wish I could write a post about how very simple it is to just give up sugar. Or eat it occasionally, moderately, or minimally. Even around the holidays.
My earliest memory of sugar is at about the age of three. Alone in the kitchen, in the home we shared with my grandmother, I remember opening the refrigerator and finding a jar of butterscotch sauce. Curious, I opened it, dipping my index finger in and licking off the thick, sticky substance. I was in heaven. Why hadn’t I ever had this before? I reached in again, this time swirling my finger around to collect as much as it could hold, tasting again the sweet, buttery flavor that I would love forevermore.
I was just slightly older when my grandmother, having noticed I seemed to love the maple syrup more than the pancakes at breakfast, poured some into a bowl and handed me a spoon. She wanted to make me happy. So I sat at the kitchen table, eating a bowl of maple syrup just like it was soup. This was back in the day that we didn’t discuss the harmful effects of sugar. There was not a lot of talk about diabetes, heart disease or obesity. What you ate and your health were seemingly unrelated issues.
When my father went out at night and I stayed at home with my grandmother, we would sit in the living room watching television shows, each with our stash of m&ms, sweet tarts, and my personal favorite, malted milk balls. I used to love how they come in what looks like a milk carton, and I would slowly pour them into my mouth, offering myself a “drink” of chocolate.
My father would remind my grandmother not to let me watch adult shows, and that if Johnny Carson came on it meant I’d stayed up too late. But he never told her what I couldn’t eat. So there we’d sit together, through The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Waltons, and Lawrence Welk, eating one piece of candy after the other until the news would come on and, seeing my grandmother asleep in her big chair, I would get up off the couch, throw away my wrappers, and trod off to bed.
During holidays, I would amuse the adults by heading straight for the sweets, sampling nearly everything that was available. Brownies with cream cheese, Christmas cookies in every color, and scotcheroos, the name my grandmother had given to her special rice crispy treats. One year her scotcheroos came out especially dense and so my cousins renamed them ‘hard-to-chews’. But hard as they were, it did not stop me from eating them.
After the festivities had died down, usually at bedtime, I would come down with a stomach ache. My father would find me holding my belly, doubled over and moaning. Feeling sorry for me, he’d sit me up on the kitchen counter while he got out the pepto-bismol. You’d think I would’ve learned my lesson, but this was a regular occurrence. It was around the time the famous Stanford Marshmallow Test was beginning. Surely I would’ve been one of the kids who failed.
Despite my love of sugar, I never struggled with weight. I was a tiny child, prompting people to exclaim, “Where do you put all those sweets?” If only my sweet tooth, as it was affectionately called, had been left behind with childhood… But childhood habits don’t shed easily, and so despite knowing full well how this craving can cause me harm, it still occupies my body with a bizarre persistence, reminding me of my weakness that hasn’t just gone away. I am the heroin addict, the alcoholic, the gambler, the petty thief. Except that I can find my fix for a dollar, at the local store, the social gathering, the meeting, and occasionally in my own kitchen cabinets. It is brought to me on platters, delivered in a pretty basket at my doorstep. Whenever I think I have a grip on it, there it is, taunting and tempting me. Birthdays, holidays, end of school, start of summer cookouts, a thank you from a neighbor- I’ve determined that we celebrate, give thanks, start and end every occasion in life with a piece of cake.
All hope is not lost though. When I’m at my best, I like to see the struggle as an opportunity to see what happens in those spaces when I don’t reach for the sugar. I believe something wonderful can come from something difficult. Today, just for today, I reach for whatever is beneath the craving, to the absurd nature of this habit. In a sweet surrender, I allow it to surface, express itself, release me from its grip.