Friday, April 24, 2009

I have had many opportunities in the past few weeks to be creative with my food. I'm not talking about playing with my food, like an absent minded child who has no desire to eat what is in front them. But being creative when I am going to be with people who do not have to care what they put into their mouth.

I discovered, a few weeks ago, that I have become intolerant of gluten. A substance found in more foods than I ever thought possible. While my granddaughter and daughter have known about this lifestyle for some time, I am a newbie at this. I have it alot easier than my daughter did while she was trying to help her own child fight for her very life. She has found the links to websites that provide vital information for her family. She became a warrior; a fierce mama bear alert to every possible danger on the horizon or those lurking in her pantry and refrigerator. She was a "wedge-breaker" of sorts. And through trial and error, she has saved the life of her daughter and herself. And she has made it much easier for me to set out on this journey. A journey I feared and never wanted.

So now I know I have an intolerance to gluten. What was mistaken for gall bladder pain, has ended up being a sensitivity that causes bloating, gas and excruciating pain. But beyond all of that's not bad caused a rethinking in this world of fast food and easy meal plans. Menu choices might as well come with a side order of cautiousness and paranoia. Every label must be read before I can buy the simplest of grocery items. Salad dressing, dried fruit, even Butterball Turkey can contain gluten or just be made in a plant that contaminates it enough that it might as well be gluten. If it was simple enough to just have meat, fruit and vegetables, I would be fine. But my palate is made for the more extravagant. For gravies, cream of something or just the occasional slice of bread. I have recipes from my mother and grandmother overflowing in their box. Tastes and smells that reach out to me from childhood and remind me of home. All of that is now a poison to my body. Some can be remade into a dish that I can eat, but it's not normally the same. I'm not normal or the same either. I have given up more in the past few weeks that I ever thought I would....but pain is a difficult task master and the best deterrent to straying into the land of "NO".

I will spend the rest of my life learning how to adjust to a world than has no idea what gluten is or where it can be found A world where eating what others cook for you is taken for granted and a true luxury. I will learn to plan ahead. Which is not a bad thing. In fact, it is the goal of most people. But where their failure to do so may cause them to be late or propel them to the nearest store to purchase what they forgot to pack.... my failure can cause hungriness, isolation and severe pain.

Food is a binder. Much like gluten. It is the centerpiece of almost every gathering where people come together for celebration or mourning. Picnics are for lovers, popcorn and candy for movie goers, barbecues for summertime lovers and funerals a place for the potluck. Tonight was my oldest granddaughter's five year old birthday. It was held at a kid's restaurant. A place no adult in his or her right mind would enter...without a child dragging them by the hand. The smartest thing this restaurant, and I use that term loosely, ever did was offer beer on the beverage list. I know this was to keep the adult overseers on a calmer plane and less likely to bolt out the front door at the most opportune moment.

But for me tonight was one of isolation and hunger. Tonight hunger won out and I am paying the price. In a place where pizza reigns supreme, I knew I could not and would not succumb to the temptation to take a bite. But having worked all day and being unprepared with snacks of my own I sat next to friends and family celebrating together by eating a common meal. I put my hunger pains aside and took up my camera. I took on the photographer role and began recording the joy and fun that a 5 year old birthday party could bring. When it came time to open gifts, my stomach won out and I went in search of anything I might be able to eat. Lightheadedness from lack of food is not becoming or understood by anyone when you are surrounded by mounds of cheesy, greasy, pepperoni covered dough. The explanation takes too long and by then you could pass out.

I found it. Something I could eat. The salad bar. But wisdom and being on guard was knocked out and placed outside. I put sunflower seeds (probably contaminated) and blue cheese dressing right onto my salad. Fresh veggies were okay I kept telling myself. I didn't put croutons on. I patted myself on the back. So I proudly went back to the table and sat next next to the pizza eating, beer drinking friends and family who were clueless to my isolation. Within the hour they cut the cake and passed it out among the guests. It looked wonderful. It looked sweet. It looked like heaven. But I couldn't have that either. I dug in my purse for a piece of candy. Anything to accommodate the sweet craving that had taken up residence in my mind and belly. But...I was unprepared. Nothing. But there was no real reason to worry. By the time I left the building my stomach began to bloat and cramp. It was painful to touch. I knew the cardinal sin I had committed against my body and I knew the penance would be a nighttime of uncomfortableness and discomfort.

This new life is hard. It is hard to constantly be on alert. It is hard to explain it all the time. It is hard to have family who neither know or care about how this affects you. It is hard to get excited about upcoming vacations. Where and what will I eat. Will I have to forgo eating with those I travel with? Become creative, even on vacation? Or just live in fear that everything I put in my mouth will cause my severe stomach pain? This will become easier as I practice this life of abstinence. I will become adept at it. An old pro even. But until then I have a growing list of foods to which I must say a very fond farewell. I will continue to celebrate. I will continue to crave. And I will continue to be diligent while striving to be better prepared and organized to go out into a world than is no longer as forgiving as it used to be.


  1. Mom, I know this stage is difficult. I promise with all of my heart it will get easier. The planning ahead is always the most difficult, especially when traveling, but it is well worth it. Yes, you will become an "old pro" at knowing what you can eat and can't eat. Writing is a good way to vent when it is difficult or call me. Change isn't usually that fun in the beginning but in the end it is always better. A great encouragement that I can remind you of is that with you taking care of yourself you are not only making life for yourself better but also for all your family. Your grandkids love you and need you and the only way you can enjoy them is if you are at best, gluten free! I love you, Mom. (And just for future note, almost all blue cheese has gluten. Don't eat it. Just think of your Italian roots, olive oil.)

  2. Thanks for your encouragement Lauren. I cherish you as a daughter and friend and I am grateful that I have a person who understands what I am going through and cheers me on while I try and do it right.

    Damn blue cheese. Seriously, why can't things just be left alone?

    Can't wait to see you again. It's already been too long.