I scream, you scream

Screw It, Eat Ice Cream Every Day

I highly recommend it.

Lais Borges/Scary Mommy; Getty

Every weekday between 6:30 and 7pm, I get home from work, and give my kids dessert. By this time, the nanny has finished their dinner and bath time. The kids are in their pajamas, their curly hair damp, their skin dewy with lotion. They come running when they hear the creak of the front door, excited for my arrival and the promise of sweets. After a gleeful welcome, I serve them a small scoop of ice cream and we sit at the kitchen table, chatting about our days.

This evening ritual started because of my son’s food allergies. We discovered his reaction to dairy when he was just three months old. My maternity leave was ending and, worried I wouldn’t be able to pump enough at work, I tried a bottle of formula with him. Soon after, his little body was covered in red spots. His egg allergy emerged a few months later.

Our pediatrician often suggested that he would eventually grow out of his allergies. But eight years later, my son was still missing out on the majority of childhood food traditions — cake and pizza at literally every birthday party, macaroni and cheese, donuts, Girl Scout cookies, Halloween candy, Thanksgiving pie. The list was never ending.

Eating out became a source of dread, especially when he was younger and couldn’t communicate how he was feeling until it was too late. At restaurants, I interrogated the server about every item on the menu. Even French fries could be tainted with butter or parmesan. Desserts were usually a non-starter, save for a lone fruit sorbet. When our food arrived, I watched my son take his first few bites, waiting for the telltale look of panic in his eyes. “Mama, I don’t feel good.” This phrase meant the meal was over, doomed by an overlooked ingredient or unwitting cross-contamination. I raced to get the bill paid before he started swelling, vomiting or wheezing.

For my son, his food allergies turned special occasions into a field of culinary landmines. He spent every party and family get-together eating a separate meal I packed for him, unable to participate fully in a communal experience. I made sure he was full and safe, but I couldn't protect him from feeling like an outsider.

So, I let him eat vegan ice cream. One scoop, every evening, in a small blue bowl. Turns out the non-dairy options had improved significantly since I’d last tried them, when my childhood best friend became a vegan. Back then, we were lucky to find a few freezer burned pints of Soy Delicious in the frozen aisle of our local ShopRite. Now vegan treats were a burgeoning category with trendy packaging and exotic flavors. Oatly Salted Caramel. Van Leuwan's Peanut Butter Honeycomb.

Ultimately, the daily ritual of dessert brought my son so much delight, it felt like a worthy trade-off for all he was denied. He ate well, considering his restrictions, but we were both still hungry for a little more joy. Having dessert at home was easy and comfortable, an antidote to the challenges of eating in the outside world.

By the time my daughter, who has no food allergies, got old enough to understand her brother’s routine, it was too late to revise my position on dessert. She was, as they say, “grandfathered in.” If my first child hadn't had food allergies, I don’t think I would have been so relaxed about dessert. But I think it worked out perfectly. Sweets have just become a part of everyday life, a pleasure to be enjoyed. Everything in moderation, like my mother always said. It was the unplanned lesson I was teaching my kids, one bowl of ice cream at a time.

Sumitra Mattai is a New York City-based writer, textile designer and mother of two. She holds a BFA in Textile Design from the Rhode Island School of Design and an MFA in Creative Writing from The New School.