When I was between the ages of 7 and 8 and living in Kelowna, one of my rituals with my Dad was to go to the local rec. centre and practice swimming. Afterwards, he would often take me to the local Dairy Queen for a hamburger and fries or an ice cream. It was kind of a reward for those times when I pushed outside my comfort zone, as I was generally terrified of putting my head under water. I’m sure that my general level of terror had something to do with being on the spectrum as I remember trying to breathe once under water and getting chlorinated water in my nose and how awful that felt. We Aspies are generally either extremely sensitive to certain stimuli, or not sensitive at all. So when we do feel certain things, we feel them to a much greater extent than Neurotypicals do. I think that my fear of swimming is related to this because most other kids had no fear of it, and the severity of the emotional meltdown that I had the first time my mother tried to take me into a pool with her just isn’t something that I ever saw at any pool where young kids were present again. But, buy age 7 I had progressed to the point where dad could take me for a weekly swim.
On this one particular day, my brother came along with us. After we were done, on the drive home dad suggested that we stop into the DQ for a sundae. I eagerly answered “oh yes! Yes dad!”. Dad eventually turned the large Ford station wagon into the local shopping centre parking lot and we eagerly got out, prancing over to the DQ entrance. As we waited in line to the sounds of “Knock on Wood” blaring from the jukebox located in the corner, dad said “Ok kids, you can have any sundae you want in any flavour up to a large”. Now in those days, Dairy Queen had what was called a “jumbo”. A jumbo was a cup about 4 to 5 inches wide and 3 inches deep. It would be filled with a couple of large dollops of soft serve and topped with an equally generous amount of flavouring. To a 7 year old kid, it was like eating a hamburger 2 feet across, or one of those 50 ounce steaks that you get for free if you can finish them. They don’t even have them anymore, which is surprising in the current age of excess that we live in where the large of yesteryear is today’s regular size. I wanted one of those. I wanted one bad. I was going to have one come hell or high water.
“I want a jumbo dad.” I said. “No, Chrissy, you can have a large. Look how big a large is.” “No! I want a jumbo!” I said raising my voice. “Fine. You can have a jumbo. On one condition. It has to be marshmallow, and you have to finish it all.” “Oh yes! Yipee dad!” I said, having absolutely no idea of what lay in store for me. Dad did though, and I’m sure it took everything he could muster to maintain his composure. After paying he handed us our sundaes and I skipped happily over to the booth where we were to be seated. I sat down, got settled in and took my first mouthful of the sundae. It was heaven; sweet and creamy and everything a 7 year old with a sweet tooth could want. I smiled and dug in my little plastic spoon for another bite. Then another. Then another. This went on for about 5 minutes or so and then all of the sudden a nauseous feeling came over me. My brother tells me that at that precise moment, I went a distinct shade of green.
“Dad, I feel sick.” I said as I looked up at him. “Only 2/3rds left to go son.” Was his answer. “We had a deal. You agreed to finish this if I bought it.” My heart sank as I looked down on the mountain of now melting, sticky and gooey ice cream. “If I have to finish this, I think I’m going to throw up.” I thought, as I dug the spoon into the mass. I felt sicker and sicker with every bite. It seemed for a long time like the sundae just wasn’t getting any smaller. Every so often I would look up and see the serious and unemotional look on my dad’s face. I kept hoping that at some point he would say something like “It’s OK Chrissy, you’ve learned your lesson.” But he never did. I pressed on, taking longer and longer between spoonfuls as the sick feeling just grew and grew.
Eventually, I started to see the mass of gooyeyness begin to get smaller and smaller, and finally I took my last bite and collapsed with my head and elbows on the table in front of me. Dad just let me rest there for a few minutes before telling me “Ok Chris, let’s go. Bring your tray over to the garbage.”. He held the little door to the garbage bin open as I tipped my tray in. By now the sounds of Rod Stewart were blaring from the jukebox in the corner, and I absorbed them as we walked out towards the car.
We drove home in almost complete silence, with dad stone-faced at the wheel. I think he was trying to decide whether to reinforce the lesson of the night with a speech or other talk, but in the end, I think he decided that I had suffered enough and to do anything more would just be rubbing my nose in it.
I never did ask for a jumbo, or anything larger than what I was offered ever again. It also took until 2008 while on a camping trip with my ex and my son before I had the courage to eat marshmallows again. I’m sure that I probably did eat some that were included in other dishes over the years, but I NEVER sought them out again until that night in Algonquin Park in 2008.