Friday, April 30, 2010
Want Some Candy Little Boy?
“Here, small child who will put anything in your mouth, wanna piece of candy?!” said the strange person at the park to my almost-two year old who was running ahead of me. Oscar snatched the candy out of the lady’s dirty hand, crammed it into his mouth and kept running towards the slide. Seeing this all too familiar interaction, I bolted towards him and in one practiced swoop, removed the un-inspected, not-yet-mother-approved food item from Oscar’s toothy grip.
This daily occurrence represents a major cultural difference between Americans and Mexicans. It seems in Mexico, if you do not have some sort of über sugary cookie or sweet in your pocket to give to random children you encounter, you are not a good person. In America, I am pretty sure the stranger-danger, allergy-brigade, anti-sugar mom-tourages everywhere deem innocent food sharing practices highly taboo. Quite the contrary in Mexico; everywhere we go, the general public is doing their part to make sure Oscar is exposed to all of the foods I don’t want him to know exists. It is game over once the first piñata opens over his head. The secret will be out, but for now I am trying to inhibit the development of a sweet tooth.
Having learned that all strangers have pockets lined with goodies, he has become quite proficient at begging. On our last flight, Oscar was trolling the aisle for chips and gulps of coca-cola when the stewardess let him visit the cockpit. Within three seconds the co-pilot whipped out a cherry flavored bubble gum lollipop. He is just carrying around sugar bombs? Yeah, thanks, Mr. Co-pilot. Jack my kid up on sugar in an enclosed space with three more hours in the air and 400 people watching my parenting skills. Do you hate me?
Interestingly, not once has Oscar been offered a grape or a slice of orange, i.e., something healthy. And the really crazy part, no one has ever conferred with me, Oscar’s mom, if it is OK to give him a bag filled with cotton candy or a peanut butter cookie the size of his head. I believe in the States you could be thrown in jail for such careless acts of kindness. In today’s world, trace amounts of peanuts can kill and every other kid has a dairy, gluten or soy allergy. And then there is the whole don’t-accept-food-from-strangers razor-blade-in-the-popcorn-ball fear.
In defense of the Mexican way, which could and probably should be interpreted as selfless sharing and the bolstering of toddlers ability to influence their world, Mexicans don’t have food allergies. There are no peanut free school zones or special camps. Dairy, gluten and soy are not enemies here. Oscar is on alert for celiac disease—he has a 22% chance of having it, because I have it—but his pediatrician knows very little about the test, protocol, etc. It just is not a common concern here.
On our recent trip through Copper Canyon, I made a preemptive strike. I could hear the crinkling of junk food wrappers getting louder and louder as people settled into their seats. Knowing that my little social bug would be on the prowl in no time, I walked up and down the aisle of our train car and explained to everyone that the little gringo child has already been fed, has allergies, and please do not feed him. The car was filled with child-loving Mexicans and my act was viewed as something just short of child abuse; clearly the gringito needs love, and judging by those skinny limbs, lots and lots of marshmallows. People nodded and smiled at my request, but Oscar still came running back to me with face aglow and gluten-contraband crumbs all over his shirt. Some things just don’t translate.