The holidays and food are a powerful, powerful bond. Sometimes lovely and endearing, sometimes overwhelming and terrifying. As a little test the other day I questioned a few people about a holiday memory and every single one of them responded with a memory that circled a food or a meal with someone. Seriously powerful. And how can we forget the Rashida Jones/Jimmy Fallon Holiday Parodies, of which my favorite is “Oh won’t you drink with me/ I hate my family/ They’re insane/ It’s plain to see/ Oh won’t you drink with me” (Although the gonna gain some weight/sweatpants combo is right up there too.) Loaded. Y’all have wheelbarrows for all the emotional baggage that comes with it, right?
Let me tell you, it gains a whole new layer of meaning when you’re suddenly dealing with severe Celiacs. It’s already a minefield as it is with the connection (or is it dis-connection?) between food and emotion. If you don’t eat this you don’t love me. You look thin, you should eat some more. You’ve gained too much weight, stay away from the desert table, darling. Take your pick. Loaded. Add in the fact that pretty much everything on a traditional holiday table will make my daughter gravely ill, and I feel like I’m holding a veritable bomb.
I just want to be honest that such a drastic change isn’t easy. Certainly there are moments of ease, but there is so much that you have to learn to get to those little moments where it all clicks. And cross-contamination… since Ellianna was diagnosed, our four run-ins with gluten weren’t even out and out gluten gremlins- it was cross-contamination. It’s not like we handed her a gigantic cookie and said, here, eat up. It was accidental cross-contamination- crumbs on a counter or a non-dedicated serving utensil. Her reaction to this is swift and sure: within fifteen minutes she spikes a high fever (103ish, usually) and while she doesn’t get hives, her skin often lights up, particularly in the diaper and mouth area, where this stuff is entering and ahem, exiting. It’s twenty-four hours at least before things begin to calm down. Frightening! I can’t even imagine what it would look like for her if she had straight gluten…and I can’t even begin to fathom what this looks like for those with anaphylactic food allergies.
You can see where this is going… this loaded intersection is now that much more terror-inducing.
So far, our first year as a gluten-free family during the holidays have gone relatively well.
It’s interesting how God provides what you need before you know you need it. I always wanted to know how to cook better, to be more frugal and creative in the kitchen. It never came together for me, although the desire had been there for years, until just this last year. By the time Ellianna and three other family members were subsequently diagnosed, I had been cooking from scratch most of the time (and seeing serious savings in my food budget) for about six months. I got the groove down.
At first I struggled with the anger and overwhelm that comes with a diagnosis like this- you mean I have to do this, this and this? And I can’t ever do that? I have to change everything! The groove was gone, and I felt as if I’d never find it again. But the more I think about it, I can’t begin to imagine what this adjustment would have been like without that skill set being sharpened just prior. There is so much that would have eluded me and be beyond what I was capable. Now I take what I already know and apply it.
Gluten free baking is the hardest and weirdest. It is absolute chemistry and failures are more apt to happen than successes and you’ll always have muffins that fall a bit in the middle….but they’ll sure taste good. (Or not, if it’s one of the bizarro failures.)
I was able to prepare a Thanksgiving meal from scratch, entirely gluten-free (and un-noticed, which I think is the big hurdle for family members and friends who think that allergen-free meals are nasty, etc.) I’m not saying that I wasn’t nervous as all get out and I didn’t sweat bullets, because I very much did. But I tell you, that feeling of sure success with that meal has carried me through many other failures in the kitchen as of late!
My next hurdle is traveling. We’ll be travelling out of state over the Christmas break, and we’ll definitely be dealing with family members who don’t understand what is going on with Ellianna.
I think I should say this here, as a parent. I never blame or judge anyone in any situation that doesn’t have a GF/allergen free meal option available for my kid. That’s not their job or their responsibility. It’s mine. What I do get frustrated with is when you won’t respect the boundary of my child’s needs and I have to police what is going in their mouths (and clearly if I haven’t told you about her GF needs, this is out the door, but if I have and you still do it anyway?) that brings out the mama bear real fast. I wouldn’t make your child eat/drink poison, so please don’t do it to mine. You may not understand why this is so dangerous for my child- but I do. Just trust someone when they set this boundary for you when dealing with their children. (Wow, hopping off the soap box now.)
I’m really nervous about traveling. I felt it hard enough to travel with a large family before the additional food needs- frugally- so yeah, this is a new frontier for me. It’s one thing when you have your own kitchen and food sources available (where would we be without Trader Joes? Broker than broke! I can’t shop at Whole Foods (*cough*) Whole Paycheck! ) but it’s another thing entirely when you’re headed somewhere that might not have those options. I’ve already begun to formulate battle-plans. We’ll see how it goes.
And if you’ve read to the end of this, bless you. Thanks for letting me be honest about a place I feel very not peaceful in at the moment…over time I’m sure I’ll be able to find a way to hold a space for peace for my family in this area, but I’m very much not there yet!