Ode to cheese pizza
The journey of food allergies is one that is infused with fear, exclusion and abstinence. For the mother it means she can never let down her guard. She can never drop her child with anyone without a long list of instructions (in writing) and a handful of emergency medicines. This may include her own mother or husband as they may not be as militantly protective as she. They may not remember to ask all the questions or read the labels as thoroughly. They may ask the chef only once, politely, instead of the three times required to get the true ingredients. She can never let go of the worry that is there around the clock and invades her dreams. She can never be too tired to cook and stop in a café to feed her child. She can never go to a restaurant without first cooking and packing all the food necessary to feed her child or calling the restaurant ahead of time to ask all the necessary ingredient questions. She must suffer the chatter of other mothers who may not understand the severity and believe she is neurotic and magnifying a situation that is probably fictitious.
For the child it means sacrifice. Never having what the other kids are having. A child that is curious about what that highly decorated confection might taste like. A child that often can’t participate in routine school activities and events. A school that doesn’t completely yet understand how to manage. A child that is singled out and isolated even though she may not even realize she is. Often times the allergic child may have brought her own cupcake that might even look more alluring than what is being served creating a child that will hold off and hide her tasty cupcake and wolf it down in the car rather than eat it in front of the other children that might feel bad that they didn’t get it. For the child it means frequent accidents, frequent doses of Benadryl. Frequent school days feeling tired because of Benadryl after a bit of egg white that was still in the yolk her mother washes for her so that she may eat (almost) an egg. For the child it could mean taunting by inquisitive children that are confused that may say accidentally or on purpose terrible threatening things making the child forever know that her life is in danger simply by ingesting the wrong bite of food. For the child it means less independence and a tighter bond with the person that knows all the questions to ask to keep her safe and the person that will have to fight to make sure she’s safe. The allergic child will not ever have a passive parent.
For eleven years, we’ve been on this journey. Her first birthday cake was made of millet and garbanzo bean flour, held together with carrots and applesauce. For, it could have no butter, eggs or milk and I wasn’t about to feed her sugar. It was the most beautiful cake in the world and was decorated with handmade sugared rabbits in mothers attempt to make up in beauty for what was lacking in substance. When served, the cake collapsed into a delicious pudding and was everything it needed to be and more.
The first three years of the journey meant no wheat, eggs, fish, soy, dairy, nuts, beans, oatmeal, lentils and I can’t even remember the rest.
From year three to eleven: no eggs, dairy, nuts, fish, sesame, kiwi or cat.
I’m not complaining. In fact, I’ve been secretly delighted because we have an unfailing excuse to eat a pure, organic diet. We've had a lifelong doctor's note to avoid anything processed. My girls have never had a Coke or any kind of pop. My 9 and 11 year old think McDonald’s is a clean bathroom on a road trip. Your hair will smell like french fries for hours but other than that, their bathroom is better than Exxon's.
This is a blessing. My child chose me. I’ve been reading ingredient panels since I could read. I’ve been wondering what all those long words were on the Suave Strawberry shampoo bottle since I was old enough to shower by myself. In high school, I started reading nutrition almanacs. In college, I began a vegan and raw diet that was gluten free before the term was coined. I just knew that I didn’t feel well if I ate soy or wheat. I grew up with parents that juiced and read books about intestinal health because my father had liver cancer.
I was told three years ago that she would probably not outgrow her allergies so we’d accepted that to be the case and we’ve kept calm and carried on. She's never known anything else so we were ok with that. We happened to test again (because of our kitty) and she has started to outgrow dairy and eggs. We were given a green light to try cooked cheese. In a careful setting we attempted cheese pizza. I’d always told her that I create a substitute for everything she can’t have that is just as good as everything everyone else is eating…. with the exception of cheese. There is no substitute for cheese. Sorry, Daiya, we love you and you are the best but there is nothing like cheese pizza when you’ve never had it in your life and you are an 11 year old. This thanksgiving weekend we celebrated with tears because she actually ate cheese pizza and a real pumpkin pie. For her, it’s about being included and the taste of the food, and for me it means I can chip away ever so slightly at the nagging fear that grips my heart. The truth is I’m not even sure I can let go, or that we’ll change much about the way we eat, but I think this means we are on the journey out of this. We’ve learned what it means to be grateful for food and for life.