Monday, May 6, 2013

Teens Need Cookies, Too

by Kelley Lindberg

This past weekend, we flew to California for a memorial service for a long-time family friend. While we were there, we attended the usual gatherings – at a couple of homes, the church’s fellowship hall, and restaurants.

My son is 14 now, and I’m not nearly as paranoid about being around food as I used to be when he was little and we’d go to these types of gatherings, because I know he is careful now. Gone are the days when he’d stick anything in his mouth without knowing what it was, fortunately. He’s old enough to ask, to read labels, and to make judgments on his own.

After one dinner, as people were roaming the large guest house and sitting in clusters inside and out, someone announced “Pie is ready!” Since pie is one of my son’s favorite treats, I jumped up and headed to the kitchen to make sure my son didn’t dig in before I’d verified it was safe. (I hadn’t seen him in a while, because he’d joined a card game with some other teens at the party.) When I got to the kitchen, my sister-in-law (his aunt) saw me and said, “He’s already checked it out. The pie is safe, but the ice cream isn’t, so he just got the pie.” I was pleased that he’d been so proactive and responsible.

At the other gatherings, he wasn’t so lucky with the desserts. There were brownies with nuts, Bundt cake with almonds, cookies that weren’t labeled, and other delectable-looking bites that he knew better than to even ask about. But there were plenty of other finger foods he could eat: fruit, small sandwiches, veggie trays, and cheese and safe crackers. Because he’s only allergic to peanuts and tree nuts, he was really only limited by the desserts, which is usually the case and something he’s very used to.

So when we were flying home, I was surprised when I asked him how he felt about the food at the gatherings, and he said “It felt like there wasn’t anything there I could eat.” I pushed back a little and started naming off the many things I’d seen him consume, from the sandwiches to deviled eggs to strawberries to the wheel of Brie he gleefully ravaged. “Yeah, but I couldn’t eat any of the desserts.”

That was it? Because he couldn’t eat the desserts, he lumped the whole spread into “I couldn’t eat anything”? I was a little puzzled and disappointed.

We always skip desserts when we go out. We seldom find desserts he can eat at any parties, which is why I usually volunteer to bring a dessert to potlucks. We know that desserts are the favorite hiding place of peanuts and nuts, so it’s just in our habit to skip them. Dessert isn’t a common occurrence in my house, either (sweets are an occasional treat, not an expectation). But I admit that this time I indulged in the tiny brownies and macaroons myself, while I watched him eat strawberries and Fritos. He hadn’t seemed to mind.

But apparently it bothered him. Which just goes to show that the things I sometimes feel comfortable with are not necessarily the same things HE feels comfortable with. While I was busy being pleased that there was enough safe food at each gathering that I wouldn’t have to drive him to the nearest store to get something else to eat, he was still feeling left out because he couldn’t have the brownies or cookies.

I need to remind myself that teens feel things more deeply that they show. They feel left out more easily than adults do. They can appear mature and rational on the outside, while they’re really fragile and upset on the inside.

While this doesn’t mean that I’m going to start packing little baggies of safe cookies for him everywhere we go now (like I did when he was a toddler), it does mean that I need to remember to check in with him more often at functions like this. I need to make sure he’s feeling okay about his choices, and that he’s not giving in to temptation. I need to let him know I care about his feelings, and that I’m not callously eating a macaroon in front of him just to make him feel bad. And that if there’s nothing there he can eat, I promise to find him a solution so that he doesn’t go hungry.

It was a good reminder that even though he’s taller than me and shaving now, he still needs to feel reassured, loved, and not forgotten. And he still needs a safe cookie every once in a while.

I think I’ll go bake a batch right now.


Barb Lindberg said...

I think he even split a second piece of pie! He did pretty well for himself!

graham and heather said...

This was me! I only have the tree nut allergy but it was always hard not being able to have desserts. I am fine now, obviously I don't need all the extra treats but it is a great reminder that it is nice to have something.