Holidays – they’re really NOT about the food

This year everyone in my family has a food allergy of some sort.

Unfortunately, none of them (well, other than those of my sister and I) actually match.

She and I are gluten-free. I, however, tend to be particularly problematic, because I also make it a general rule to avoid most dairy, meat, refined sugar, and other forms of processed food.

Her husband, although not gluten-free, has his own issues. Namely, he’s deathly allergic to mushrooms, walnuts, strawberries, and a number of other random things. Notably, he also has come to realize that reducing (though not eliminating) wheat helps his arthritis. As does reducing pork. (Pork?! That must be about all of the chemicals with which most “meat” is processed. I use the quotations meaningfully, as if he’s talking about most processed name-brand sausage, it’s not meat. In fact, I have known vegans who still eat sausage on the basis that there’s practically nothing in there that even remotely resembles flesh. But I digress….)

My mother is on the “white diet.” Meaning that she can’t have anything with fiber. No whole grains, no fresh fruit or vegetables. No tomatoes. No chocolate. No spices. She, hands down, has it hardest and I know that the thing that she’s most hoping for this year from Santa is a fully healed esophagus at the end of two long (and too long) months of pale, texture free food.

And my poor father has been having severe indigestion – agonizing pain that my mother thinks may be related to his gall bladder.

So where does that leave us on a holiday that is typically centered around food? Rich, glutenous foods with lots of spices, grains, butter, sugar, and lightly steamed fresh vegetables?

Well, I brought my blender. And even though I missed having a green smoothie today (the first in a week and, yes, I am feeling it), I got up this morning and had my hemp shake per usual. I did this while my sister and mother enjoyed freshly baked gluten-free corn muffins with Craisins and my father and my sister’s husband went back to bed.

As you might imagine, there’s been a lot of discussion about food. What who can eat and what we’re going to make and when we’re going to make it. But interestingly, unlike other years, no one seems to really be making it and that which is getting made has gone largely uneaten.

There is also a lot of food-related resentment in the house right now. Particularly from my mother, whose diet was imposed on her by medical personnel, as opposed to my sister and I who chose gluten-free freely and with eyes wide open. Mother has also used language which suggests that she thinks that she is being punished. But my sister and I are feeling it too – especially when we offer to make things or do things, which are systematically refused.

My sister, for example, who had just spent the last three days cooking full out healthy meals for my parents asked:

“So what did you have for dinner?”

Mother turned away, looking more like a twelve year old than someone who is all too fast approaching 70.

“Your father had a sandwich and some onion and I had some oatmeal and a piece of toast.”

You could literally see the steam come out of my sister’s ears. But, bless her heart, she held her tongue and proceeded to make my mother some chocolate free pumpkin-butterscotch fudge.

I have no idea what the actual holiday meal will hold. My aunt and her family are bringing over a turkey, the stuffing, and numerous desserts, while my sister and I will make a lot of sides. I’m sure there will be yams, asparagus, and Brussels sprouts and I know that my sister is planning on making a gluten-free stuffing. I may or may not make my infamous almond and date basmati rice (which, is delicious, but, unfortunately for mother, probably has way too much cinnamon).

So this holiday season has really been about boundary setting and trying to make sure everyone (self included) gets their needs met. There has also been more empathy, such as realizing after buying 10 ripe avocados that I really couldn’t (or shouldn’t) make the chocolate pudding I had planned for because mother can’t eat chocolate. But since the avocados were bought, I decided that that was ridiculous. So, in recompense, I made another dessert for mother (crust-less pecan pie bites) that are not only way better for her, but are also right up her alley in terms of taste.

This season has also been about recognizing everyone’s limitations – not just about food, but their physical limitations. We’re getting older – if not just plain old!

The days of the totally magical holidays – resplendent with lights and trees and ridiculous amounts of foods that everyone could and actually would eat – are gone. One way to think about it is this year is about seeing who we are – who we really are – and, in the case of my sister and I – who we are likely to become.

Thankfully we’re still here – with all of our foibles and our dietary restrictions. And hopefully we’ll learn to appreciate one another more fully because of them, as opposed to in spite of them.

My gift to you: Take some time this holiday to focus on your own needs and the needs of those around you. Spend some time meeting the people in your life where they are and try not to cling too tightly to the way you think they should be or how they’ve always been. You’ll all be much happier that way.

Happy Holidays~

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