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Screw Sugarplums
by Deborah Markus

o it's December, and my son's not-sosecret stash of Halloween candy is not only not discernibly smaller but, if anything, seems to have gotten larger. I think it's the Tootsie Rolls. They're making babies. Look, he got a couple of those extra-industrial-sized ones from some misguided mall cop, and now his bag is full of the normal dinky sized ones I remember so vividly from my own childhood.

Specifically, I remember throwing them out, because, let's face it, Tootsie Rolls are the duds of the candy kingdom. I don't mean Milk Duds, either, which my son didn't get any of this year and which are at least edible, and even pretty good if you can forget the fact that your teeth will be welded together for some three hours after you consume them, which makes them not only good cheat-on-your-diet candy, since you won't be able to cheat again for a while, but may qualify them to have a diet actually named after them. No, Tootsie Rolls are the lowest of the low, tastewise. They were undoubtedly conceived by one of those accidents that gave the world Postit Notes and soap that floats. The difference is that this is the kind of accident that maims and kills, rather than gives us a product we can actually use or at least be mildly entertained by.

My husband is sensitive on the Tootsie Roll issue. "I know you like them," I say, tossing a few into his lap as hush-money as I rummage through the sack and hope feverishly that the white-noise machine in my sleeping son's room will cover the noise I'm making.

My husband doesn't rise to the bait, and I notice he doesn't eat any of the little brown bastards, either. "The flavored ones are good," he says.

"Flavored?"

"You know. They have all different kinds now. Banana, strawberry, vanilla cream..."

"Oh, please."

"They do."

"Those aren't Tootsie Rolls," I say.

"They're taffy what-you-la's."

"What you what?"

"You know what I mean. Just because they're shaped the same -- "

"They have 'Tootsie Roll' written right on them."

"Oh, and I guess since 'white chocolate' has the word 'chocolate' right in it, it must be good."

He doesn't say anything to that. He doesn't dare.

I'm taking so much time pilfering from my innocent three-year-old son -- okay, hold on. Let me just say in my own defense that first of all, we live in an extremely granola- intensive household here. I have been known to sneak organic broccoli into breakfast. So the fact that I let the kid have refined sugar in here at all should be seen as a major concession. Other than letting him go at it pretty hard on the day he obtained his loot, I limit his consumption to one treat a day. Which means that, if someone with a more mature digestive system who's willing to sacrifice her own health for a good cause doesn't step in and help here, we're going to be looking at this stuff well past next Halloween.

It was so much easier last year. He was only two, and didn't have the steel-trap memory he's been developing lately. He had a couple of his treats, and then I shoved the little plastic pumpkin into a high cupboard and pretended like it had never existed.

Out of sight, out of mind. My raids were still clandestine, but much more relaxed.

This year, he's savvy enough to realize that big ol' bags of junk food do not just stroll off on their own. Everyone thinks I'm this wonderfully trusting mother to let my little angel keep his cache in his room. I tell them that since I let him have a little every day, he doesn't feel deprived and so doesn't eat on the sly, which is true. What I don't try to describe is the sheer physical damage his shrieks would do if I tried to pry that damned bag away.

How did he carry all this stuff, that magical night? How on earth did he get it all? We didn't even go to that many houses! Of course, he's still in that dangerously cute stage. He's so small and solemn, and he dressed up like a jolly, jaunty spider. Women were throwing candy at him like they'd throw hotel keys at Elvis. I only wish they'd aimed a little more chocolate his way. Because when he is awake, he's nice enough to offer me a treat whenever he has one, and he always runs and gets it, and it's always a Dum Dum or, of course, a Tootsie Roll. And I have to be nice and thank him because if I don't set him a good example of being a goddamned gracious recipient, no one will. But I don't like hard candies. Or weird plastic-looking gummy ones, which he's fascinated by ("I can eat this? Are you sure?"). I want chocolate.

Which is why I'm here now. I'm reasonably ethical. He can't usually have it, since he likes his treats after dinner, and he can't have caffeine that close to bedtime. So why not me? I'm inured. I've been running around after him all day -- a Milky Way won't keep me up tonight.

Ah, Milky Way. Queen of the candy bag. Whenever I laid out all my loot to sort and count as a child -- I don't know one person who didn't do this; my son does it now, and it's not like anyone taught him to. I think I may have stumbled on hard evidence of the collective unconscious here -- the first thing I'd tally was how many Milky Ways I got. Never more than three or four, no matter how long I'd pounded the pavement. Three Musketeers were a little easier to come by, as were Snickers. Tons of lollipops. Smarties. Mounds -- I was popular because I liked those and lived in an anti-coconut neighborhood, so I was a good post-Halloween trading partner. Jolly Ranchers -- boring. And of course the omnipresent Tootsie Rolls.

My rules for raiding now are that I can't take anything my son doesn't have more than one of. Partly because I'm nice, and partly because, although he's not old enough to actually start keeping a list, he might just remember what he had and wonder where it went. Or rather not wonder at all, and also not remember all those long nights I spent feeding and comforting him when he was young and indiscreet. No, all that will matter is that MOM TOOK MY CANDY.

So I'm stirring anxiously, looking for please one more Milky Way please please WHERE ARE THE MILKY WAYS? WHY don't people give these out more often? Everyone likes them. They're not more expensive than the other candies.

I swear to God I'm going to start soaping windows if I don't see more chocolate next year.

Or else -- and this is just a thought -- I'll start giving back. Leaving a pile of those T.R.'s on some well-chosen porch. You like these so much? YOU eat them.

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