Maybe it’s because I haven’t turned 21 yet, but growing up hasn’t lived up to the hype.
Sure, it’s fun getting more privileges as time progresses. It’s nice to have more freedom to meet up with friends, drive a car, and possibly have more money to spend. These additional privileges are necessary to keep us from growing bored and jaded—I’ve spent much of my youth anticipating each milestone, and I certainly would think twice about returning to an age at which I could not drive, vote, or order off of the adult menu. I am, however, often reminded of how much I miss early childhood. The nostalgia of a foregone youth pangs me most deeply in the oddest of places—the grocery store.
As a little kid, tagging along with my mom to the grocery store opened up a world of possibilities. My house rarely had the kind of treats that stocked the shelves of Shaw’s, but with each trip, there was a small chance that I could persuade my mom to get us some Ring Dings. The phrase “Go pick out some desserts for you and your brothers” meant utter victory, a source of happiness whose legitimacy and certainty could not be questioned. As I cartwheeled over to the Pinwheels and gushed over Gushers, I was so overwhelmed by my anticipation for these desserts that any other problems that had arisen that day were rendered moot. At Christmastime, seeing the store all primped up for the birth of Jesus brought hopes and expectations for pumpkin eggnog, homemade fudge, and sugar cookies—expectations that were rarely disappointed. I could look forward to making and sharing these treats with my family and counting down the days to the 25th. My seasonal responsibilities didn’t include much else.
This satisfaction from sugar didn’t end in the store, though. I miss the days in elementary school when it was commonplace to cajole a piece of Fruit by the Foot from a friend. (To be fair, I still try to do this.) Some of the best times as a little kid came on the rare occasions when my dad asked us if we wanted to get donuts after Sunday Mass. If, by some grace of God, we had a pizza or holiday party in school, the sense of joy and fulfillment would linger throughout the week. Perhaps it came from the sense of community and knowing that my teachers and parents cared about my happiness, but it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that this joy stemmed mostly from eating to my heart’s content. (Needless to say, I was a chubby little kid.)
But, one can’t live like that forever—long gone are the days when I would have sold my soul to the Devil for one of his Dogs. Eventually, some things in life become more important than the next sugar high, and those school Halloween parties and post-Mass donuts start to seem trivial. The Christmas fudge and cookies are still enjoyed, but exist as more of a medium for family time than as an end in and of themselves. My parents very often send me by myself to do the grocery shopping, and the few times I’ve even considered buying some of the sweets for which I used to beg, I’ve fought off the urge. These factors of sugar, budget, and health that were so foreign to my younger self now dominate my decisions. Rather than eat everything in sight if I spot free food, I hold back so as not to seem like a glutton … sometimes. Nowadays, Christmastime has become a balance of staying somewhat healthy, decorating, shopping, and event-planning, all while trying to enjoy the time I get with family. It makes me wish I could go back to the days of baking and watching The Grinch.
Is it good that my happiness doesn’t depend solely on food anymore? Probably. (According to my doctor, anyway.) It’s considered childish and immature to care so much about dessert, and that’s because other things are so much more important. Celebrating food as a medium for gathering friends and family is perfectly appropriate, so long as our priorities are in order. Mine certainly weren’t.
And yet, I still feel that strong pang of nostalgia for it. There’s a sense of comfort that comes from having one’s wants met in such a simple way. While today many happy moments are clouded by other future troubles or worries, the nearsightedness of childhood allowed for a few times every now and then when ignorance of impending consequences let us be truly happy. Call me immature, but I do miss it dearly.
Featured Image by Ha Lam / AP Photo, Whole Foods