It’s 1982 and I am seven years old, celebrating my second grade graduation with my friends, my family, and an eight scoop hot fudge sundae from Swensen’s. This was very unusual for my family because we always celebrated at Friendly’s. But in the spirit of camaraderie, we made an exception and indulged in Swensen’s with the rest of my class.
I have celebrated every momentous occasion in my life, good or bad, at Friendly’s. Little League Champs? Let’s go to Friendly’s! Lost the soccer tournament? That’s okay, we’ll make it up at Friendly’s. In fact, I can still remember the look on my father’s face when, after my high school graduation, I asked him for the keys to the car so I could go out with my friends. He was crushed. “What? No Friendly’s?” And I looked at him in the way that teen girls look at their fathers and said, “Dad. I am way too old to celebrate with ice cream.”
Yet somehow, I found myself sitting at Friendly’s today for the third time in one month. How did this happen? I mean, I am a child obesity specialist. I should know better. But it really wasn’t my fault. I would never take my kids to Friendly’s unless it were for some, um, momentous occasion.
And this month has been crazy. It started with my daughter’s fourth birthday. Of course we celebrate birthdays at Friendly’s. Not the real party but a private celebration afterwards. And then I had to have my wisdom teeth pulled out. And everybody knows that you are allowed to indulge in ice cream when you have oral surgery (like when your tonsils are taken out. Isn’t the same thing true for wisdom teeth?) And then my s0n broke his arm. And I mean, he really broke his arm. I suddenly, unconsciously, found myself comforting him with promises of ice cream sundaes.
My mother-in-law called me at work to tell me that Zachary had fallen off the monkey bars. She thought his wrist looked really bad so I told her to jump in the car and bring him to an orthopedist near me. I would meet them at the office. She handed Zachary the phone and I heard him weeping. “Oh honey,” I said. “Mommy is going to be with you soon. Then the doctor will make you feel better and we will all go to Friendly’s.” Huh? Where did that come from? It just popped out of my mouth.
My promises got more descriptive as his injury got worse. When he arrived at the orthopedist and I first saw his arm, I wanted to pass out. It looked really bad. The doctors rushed him in and the first thing the nurse’s aide did was give him a lollipop. (It’s got to be human instinct!)
As we made our way from the doctor’s office to the hospital where he needed a procedure to realign his bone, I kissed his cheeks, stroked his hair, and said, “When this is over I am going to get you the biggest hot fudge sundae. Just wait and see how big this sundae is going to be.”
As he woke up from the sedation, I told him that “it’s almost ice cream sundae time”.
We didn’t leave the hospital until late at night and we all fell right asleep. A day later, tylenol with codeine was helping Zachary’s pain and he was starting to look like himself again. “Mommy,” he said. “Didn’t you promise me Friendly’s?”
So now you understand why I was at Friendly’s for the third time this month. How else could I celebrate a birthday, ease the pain of a sore tooth, and nurse my son back to health?
Why is it that I immediately jump to ice cream? It must be because that was how I was raised. And that was how my parents were raised. But is that how I want to raise my children?
Clearly, it is not. I don’t want them to use food to heal their wounds or mark their triumphs. It is going to take a great effort for me to break this cycle. I’ve been trying to think of other ways I could have marked these momentous life occasions. A trip to Chuck E Cheese or the children’s museum? A special privilege like a later bedtime or a new toy? I really don’t have the answer but I will keep looking for a healthier substitution and I hope you will too.