Sometime in the years before I can remember, my parents decided that our family shouldn't eat chocolate.
There were a few reasons for their decision. For one thing, my mother once surreptitiously ate a couple dozen chocolate chip cookies when she was younger, and ever since then, chocolate made her sick to her stomach. For another thing, my father felt it was prudent to teach my brother an object lesson that affected all of us — for decades — and that lesson involved following through on the idea my brother had (when he was very young) that chocolate was bad for the body, like tobacco or alcohol, and we shouldn’t eat it.
But none of that really registered to me until I was much older and I started questioning authority. (The conversation where I asked my parents why we didn’t eat chocolate was more serious than you might think, given the subject matter.) For most of my childhood, all I knew was that we didn’t eat chocolate, and my parents treated it like an allergy.
I didn’t have the chocolate birthday cake my classmates brought to school. I didn’t eat my chocolate Halloween candy. When we ordered dessert at a restaurant, like ice cream, my dad made sure to tell our waiter not to put chocolate on top, and he would send the dish back if they forgot. We avoided it like it was poison.
For some reason, white chocolate and carob were acceptable, so I grew up loving Zero candy bars and eating carob brownies. And for a long time, when I was confronted with chocolate chip cookies, I’d wholeheartedly take the cookie and eat around the chocolate chips, even when no one was watching.
Until, one day, I ate the chocolate chips instead of throwing them away.
They were delicious.
So I ate some more. And some more. And by the time I was a teenager, I occasionally, surreptitiously bought chocolate treats for myself and hid the wrappers from my parents. My favorites were Butterfinger candy bars and Chaco-Taco ice cream desserts.
By the time I went to college, I thought my family’s campaign against chocolate was unnecessary and even arbitrary. My chocolate-free days were over. I loved chocolate and I ate it freely, and so did all of my siblings — including my brother who had the idea in the first place. Chocolate, especially dark, dark chocolate, was one of my favorite indulgences.
Until, one day recently, I discovered that the chocolate I was eating was upsetting my newborn baby’s tummy.
I’d eat a handful of M&Ms and then nurse the baby a couple of hours later and boom! He’d erupt like Old Faithful and shoot milk across the room so forcefully it also came out of his nose.
I didn’t want to accept it, but after a few experiments, I knew what I had to do.
For the second time in my life, I stopped eating chocolate.
I gave up the M&Ms and didn’t lick the lid of my children’s chocolate pudding cups as I normally would. I quit eating the chocolate ice cream in our fridge, and when it came to the freshly baked chocolate chip cookies someone delivered to our door, I had flashbacks to my childhood as I ate around the chocolate chips and then threw them away.
It took 20 years, but that quirky little tradition my parents established long ago actually prepared me for this challenge, and I can see the usefulness of my family’s abstention.
That’s a good thing, because when it comes to food sensitivity, my 5-week-old baby is just getting started.
It turns out he’s also allergic to dairy.
I’ll let you know next time how that’s going.
Amy Choate-Nielsen is a full-time mom and part-time writer. She spends her days at the park and her nights at the computer. She writes about family history and her quest to understand life while learning about her deceased grandmother, Fleeta.