Radioactive Food Color Poisoning: How a Parenting Win Began with a Personal Fail.
Me: “Kids, it’s bedtime! Brush your teeth, Pj’s, and get in bed please!”
Sasha: “Mom! You never fed us dinner!”
Me: “Yeah I did!”
Sasha: “Nuh uhhh! You never feed us anymore.”
Me: “You had saltine crackers, a spoonful of peanut butter, and a glass of apple juice. Oh, and don’t forget the ½ package of uncooked Ramen noodles squirreled away under your pillow and yeah, the crumbs were a dead giveaway, my dear daughter.”
Sasha: “Hmmmph! We don’t have anything to eat in this house.”
Me: “What do you mean? I made a very delicious vegetarian lasagna. I’m sorry you missed the part where you actually have to eat it, not just glare at it for it to fill you up.”
Sasha: “When I grow up I’m going to buy and eat whatever I want.”
Me: “Can’t wait; invite me over when that happens. I’ll bring the pepto-bismol.”
Sasha: “NOT INVITED!”
Me: “Noted. OK, fun is over, hand me the noodles.”
Sasha: “Here. Now go away so I can starve to death in peace.” (Throws noodle package across the room.)
Me: “Nice. Enjoy vacuuming that up in the morning.”
Wow, 10 year olds, amirite?! I have to remind myself to be patient because I was the same way growing up. My mom would get after me for sneaking granola bars out of the emergency food storage closet. I wasn’t clever enough to throw the evidence in the trash and when she found empty wrappers shoved in the couch cushions I’d get in trouble. On one occasion I actually remember saying: “When I move out I’m going to eat all the food in the whole world right in front of the TV. I hope you still love me when I’m fat and blind.” She raised her eyebrow, tried not to laugh, and continue to spoil us with garden fresh, “rabbit food.“
I don’t know why I loved processed food so much; my favorite kind was the greasy cafeteria meals that students would typically complain about. Standing in the lunch line at school I’d pretend to agree with my friends that it was “like totally gross and whatever” but secretly? Ohhh ho ho ho! Secretly I was doing the Running Man dance move in my head chanting: “Buttery corn, chicken nuggets, and French fries, yah!”
I couldn’t help myself; it was so salty and convenient. It wasn’t until I moved away to college and experimented with addictive substances like sweets and diet soda, did I truly understand the negative impact it had on my body.
I was so excited to go to college that I moved into my apartment a whole week early. I wanted some time to settle in and decorate, perhaps calm down a little before I met my roommates. It didn’t take me that long to unpack so I used my leftover excited energy to walk down to the store and buy my favorite treats, shredded coconut and a box of Froot Loops. I sat cross-legged in the living room about two feet away from the TV watching Days of Our Lives and dove in. It was exciting that my processed food binges no longer had to be done in a closet. I could eat my shame all out in the open and there was no one to stop me! I ate the whole bag of coconut and about five cups of bright, potently colored cereal in about twenty minutes.
The feeling I had was amazing! I hopped up and sang to the commercials on TV. What freedom I felt! “No one to stop me!” I yelled as I jumped back and forth from couch to couch. My heart was racing; my cheeks flushed. Why is it so hot in here?! Is it just me or did anyone else just get asthma too?!? I unbuttoned my pants then took my shirt off and spun it around my head like a helicopter.
*Wheezing* Sugar highs are the best! *sharp stomach pain* See Mom!? Nothing bad haaaapp… nothing baaaa… oh, I don’t feel so good… ow cramp; and that was the end of that. I dropped to the ground and clenched my abdomen. It was making low rumbling noises. Bbrrrrwaaaa waaaaa waaaaaffft. Keeping the fetal position form I tried to roll down the hallway to the bathroom. The pain was sharp, I squeezed my eyes shut and tried to navigate blindly. I kept bumping into the wall because I couldn’t use ab muscles; my arms and legs paddled and grasped at open air so I could flip over. I looked like a mentally challenged potato bug.
When I finally reached the toilet I hoisted myself up and tried to relax. The seats small compact shape felt foreign on my bum, almost like I wasn’t aiming correctly. The fluorescent light whined and flickered in protest to being turned on, it was creeping me out and I desperately wanted to be back in my own bathroom sitting on my puffy elongated toilet seat, running my toes through the peach fuzzy rug, and staring at the wheat berry wallpaper. I wanted to be home sick, not homesick.
Braaaaa braaaaagggggtttt. I imagined the story the local news would write about me: “College student dies from ingesting 37 grams of fiber and poisons herself with food coloring.” I grabbed my ankles and laid my head on my knees. Please make it stop. I swear I won’t ever do something so stupid again! Brrggggeeettt. Groan.
And then, without warning there was lift off. My stomach rejected all the contents I had ever eaten in my entire life in one explosive fury. Even after three flushes the water remained what can only be described as “radioactive green.” I was stuck on the toilet for an hour.
“Never again,” I said out loud.
I heard voices, mini heart attack! Who could it be?
My very first college roommate I had not yet met: “Oh, is someone in there?”
Me: “Uhhh, yeah just…ummmm, I’ll be out in a minute.”
My very first college roommate I had not yet met: “Great, my step-dad needs to use the bathroom before he leaves to go back to the airport. My name is Vanessa, what’s yours?”
Me: “Jeeennuuhhh” I groaned by accident. I fanned the air with a bar of soap wrapped in a hand towel; the exertion made the gas pain worse. I gave up and tried to distract her with conversation instead: “I didn’t think anyone was moving in until Thursday.”
My very first college roommate I had not yet met but said her name was Vanessa said: “Nope, today is moving day. Hey, why is there cereal and crumbs all over the couch? Ew, there is a shirt here too.”
Me: “There is?” (I pawed at my bare upper half and mouthed: Shoot, I don’t have a top on!)
MVFCR/Vanessa: “Harold, she’s almost done, you and mom can freshen up before heading back.”
Vanessa’s mom: “Harry, let’s check your insulin pump too, you don’t look very well.”
What I imaged Harold said because he was too grumpy to enunciate: “Grumble grumble I’m not a very nice man and have to pee again because I’m elderly.”
It went quiet.
Panic. Were they going to stand there waiting for me to exit the bathroom? I was trying to hurry things along but the stress was making it worse.
Uh oh, more pressure build up… I decided no amount of self-preservation was worth that kind of pain. I bit down on the toilet paper roll and plugged my ears. If I can’t hear anything maybe they won’t be able to either. I tried to scootch it out a little at a time; at first it wasn’t too bad. The sound was comparable to a light sprinkling of rain on a hot humid day; unfortunately, things got ugly when a heavy downpour hit that was followed by a finale of thunderous clapping. I’m pretty sure my body emitted lightening, I can’t be too sure though because I blacked out for a second.
When that was over they were whispering again. I couldn’t understand what they were saying; my ears were ringing from the sugar and red #40 overdose. I groaned again.
There was a light knock on the door.
Me: (Sniff) “Yeah?”
Vanessa’s mom: “Sweetie, is everything OK?”
I was so grateful to be called sweetie again, it had been a whole day since I talked to my mom and ate food from her garden, and had perfectly formed bowel movements, along with other things like “boundaries” and “structure.” My bottom lip quivered. Being an adult was not as fun as I imagined. I answered with a stutter: “My stomach is just a little upset, you know first time being away from home and all.”
Vanessa’s mom: “Huh, well can I get you something?”
Me: “Can you hand me my sweater on the couch?”
Vannessa’s mom asked with a flat tone: “The one covered in coconut?
Vannessa’s mom: (pushes the top under the under the door) her hands were perfectly manicured with a candy-apple red color. The smell of her expensive perfume (called Poison, it was the 90’s after all) transferred from her hand onto my clothes and it didn’t feel like it belonged to me anymore, I smelled like sewage and someone else’s mom, not really what I had expected on my first day of freedom.
I flushed a few more times to make sure I wasn’t leaving any day-glow floaters, then a courtesy spritz from my hairspray bottle as a last ditch effort to freshen the air. I rubbed under my eyes to remove any mascara smudges and took a big breath. The plan was to slowly open the door and squeeze my body around the frame so the aromatic “meadow muffin” scent wouldn’t follow me out. No such luck; I had been sitting for so long I didn’t realize my legs were asleep and I was momentarily crippled. Stumbling forward I flung the door open and grabbed onto the door jamb for support. The prickle-tickle was so intense I wanted to punch myself in the thigh so it would stop. At this point there was too much to explain so I simply gasped: “Hi, Vanessa and family” *giggle giggle giggle.*
Vanessa’s step-dad threw his hand over his nose and pretended to have a coughing fit. He swore under his breath and muttered something about waiting in the car. Vanessa narrowed her eyes at me. She looked at the coconut cereal mess then back at me. She wasn’t very amused.
Vanessa’s mom backed away and said: “Vanessa, you forgot to show us the clubhouse, let’s hurry down there. Goodbye Janet, feel better. In case you didn’t see it the sweeper is in the hall closet.”
And that was the last time I, having been named Jen and not Janet, ever saw Vanessa or her parents. I assume her mother switched her to a different apartment, but maybe they left the school altogether, who knows?
(Vanessa, if you are reading this it’s too bad you left; that year will go down in history as one of the best years of my life with the most fabulous roommates. It would have been fun to get to know you. Sorry I stink at first impressions.)
*For the record I gave the noodles back to Sasha; I believe healthy eating needs to be a personal choice and learning from consequences can be a good thing. Look at me, I never ate Froot Loops or shredded coconut again (well, at least not together or in absurd quantities). This morning my kids asked for a fruit smoothie, yes, I’m totally rocking this mom thing… sort of.