When he was small, my youngest son had a habit of filling his pockets with treasures he encountered in his daily adventures. I didn't always understand the value he saw in his chosen objects -- really, how many rocks and sticks could one boy keep? In his eyes, though, each one was beautiful and important. Life is just like that on a larger scale, isn't it? We gather up the precious bits of our experiences and save them all to learn from and enjoy later. Perhaps you'll find a little something here that you'd like to keep in your own pockets. Thanks for visiting.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Food frustration

I have always had a hard time with the month of November. Call it the melancholy month, if you will; with all of its early darkness, cold winds, and wet, dreary landscapes, it's a month where I sometimes lose my normal tendency to put on a cheerful face and carry on in the face of life's difficulties, and instead start to feel mired down in them. I am not looking for pity here by any means (that's not my style), but I hope you'll forgive me for needing to get something off my chest.

I am completely fed-up with food right now. As many of you know from reading previous posts, both Will and I have had to avoid several whole groups of foods in our diets over the past couple of years, foods that wreak havoc on our digestive systems, and in Will's case, his skin and respiratory system. I usually make this food avoidance routine seem easy to others, but right now I'm feeling that it is incredibly hard.

Never one to be put off by a challenge, I have tracked down many healthy alternative foods, recipes, and cooking methods since learning of our food issues. I am very proud of what I've been able to do with so few options and have had some wonderful Eureka! moments in my kitchen in the past couple of years. Sometimes, though, I fall into a hole of fatigue and frustration that's hard to climb out of, because our restrictive diet is not something we can ever really escape. Take this morning for example: Will was a mess before going to school because today was the once-a-week pizza lunch day. Will obviously cannot eat pizza provided by the school, and no matter what sort of interesting lunch I try to pack as a substitute, he feels anxious about lunchtime and about being different. I felt like my heart was going to break in two when he cried this morning and told me when he can't eat pizza at school he feels "sad, lonely, and left out." While the fact he has to miss out in this case is certainly not my fault, I feel racked with guilt that I'm not able to fix this for him. He's such a sensitive boy and he worries so much about things already that it seems completely unfair for life to have added this burden to his little shoulders.

With food sensitivities, going on vacation is an experience fraught with stress and extra work instead of being a relaxing break, a fact that I was reminded of again on our recent trip to Florida. I spent hours before the trip reading websites of Orlando grocery stores to find out if they carried safe alternatives to milk and gluten-containing grains, and then spent more time in the stores themselves carefully reading labels of unfamiliar products. I read countless restaurant menus in advance, trying to figure out where we could safely eat so I could at least get out of cooking dinner sometimes during the week. (I will say that Disney does a fantastic job of accommodating people with special dietary needs!) I spent time every night packing snacks and lunches for the next day so we knew Will would always have food he could eat if he was hungry. Even venturing out to carefully researched restaurants sometimes turned out to be a bust. We took the boys to a really cool dinosaur-themed restaurant that we were sure they would love, and Will had a sad meltdown when he realized the only safe food he could order that he liked was a grilled chicken breast, something we often eat at home. After several days of seeing kids all around him eating exciting looking Mickey Mouse shaped concoctions that he couldn't eat, the disappointment of having a plain old chicken breast was simply too much. It's a lot to ask a child that age to just grin and bear it in these kinds of situations.

The last straw this week came with my discovery of a wonderful new kind of gluten-free bread that is actually soft and great-tasting, rather than dense and rock-hard like most gluten-free varieties Will has been eating for over a year. I was so excited to bring it home for Will to try! After a few meals of eating and really enjoying the new bread, Will's tummy troubles made it clear that he wasn't tolerating the grain it was made of, either, and we've had to return to the old bread again for now. Our weeks are frequently filled with these kinds of setbacks and letdowns, and I constantly feel like a food detective, wondering what the most recent food source of trouble has been. Sometimes it just wears me out.

Our lives as human beings are so complexly involved with food; we eat for nourishment, for comfort, to celebrate, to share a sense of community with others. When someone suddenly cannot eat many regular foods, it's a blow to that person's sense of self, of happiness, of belonging. Yes, I have managed quite well to find good substitute foods to satisfy most of these needs for Will and I, but the truth is, sometimes it's just not the same, and there are always going to be times when we feel sad, and lonely, and left out. It's a reality we both feel keenly, and one we sometimes both desperately wish we could change.

I know this post has been quite the wallow in self-pity, and I hope you've read it for what it is: a venting of sorts so that I can move on and get back to the business of dealing with this challenge the way I usually do. I know there are people out there who have it much worse than we do food-wise. I am truly thankful that neither Will nor I have life-threatening food allergies, as I can only imagine the stress and worry that must bring to families who must deal with them. I'm also grateful for the general good health that eating well has given to all four of us. I'm off now to find my gluten-free, egg-free, dairy-free Christmas cookie recipes -- I have a feeling that the sweet smell of almond flour treats baking is just what I need to pick me up again.

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