No more restaurants, my husband and I said to our daughters when the stay-at-home order began. And no takeout. Just too risky.
But I’m a good cook — inventive, curious, mostly patient. I’ve been pressure-tested in ways that have made me adaptive and flexible. I understand substitutions on almost a molecular level because, for the first nine years of my daughter Sammi’s life, I learned to cook in a gauntlet of food restrictions I could never have predicted.
I learned to cook first without almost all forms of acid: no citrus or tomato or chocolate for my toddler with severe reflux.
Then I learned to cook without dairy, soy, eggs, nuts, and wheat (all at once) when she was misdiagnosed with eosinophilic esophagitis.
So after all of that, cooking normal, unrestricted meals every night while we’re staying at home seemed like it would be no big deal. At first, it was exciting — unlimited time to make whatever I wanted. I even started a journal for the first time since middle school: a few sentences about our day and then a note about what was for dinner and what we watched on tv. My tone was light and my dinners were pretty impressive. I felt proud of the fact that my family could eat well — both in quantity and quality — with me at the stove.
Over the ensuing weeks, I learned to be careful about planning in a whole new way than I’d learned when Sammi was little. Now she and her sister Ronni are both teenagers, and instead of planning around holes in our diet from medical restrictions, I started planning around holes in our diet from grocery shortages. It was — and remains — nothing like shortages in the history of our country or the world; the stores are full of food, and after one fraught trip to our local grocery on March 19, we’ve been ordering our supplies online. They simply arrive at our door, where we sit on the stoop and wipe down package after package of treasures, but always, there are some things the grocery store doesn’t have. Continue Reading…
I was newly a mother of two when a doctor – a kind doctor, a thoughtful doctor – told me that my new daughter would almost certainly end up in the hospital with every respiratory infection she got. Not a great idea, he said about twice-a-week daycare. Probably not, he said about baby-and-parent music classes. No, I don’t think so, was his answer to my hopeful questions about baby swimming, a smaller daycare, a playgroup. After two hospitalizations in her first five months, I believed him.
Through that first winter watched through front windows into an empty courtyard or through car windows into big sister’s preschool, my new daughter and I eyed the world with suspicion: me because it contained too many germs and her because nothing in it made her feel quite right. There was no sleep, no break, no time apart for the two of us to learn the beauty of missing each other and being reunited. There was just us, with the world outside the window a mystery.
I’ve written ad nauseum about food allergies and sensitivities on this blog. Every time I think I’ve perhaps written too much about those topics, I take a peek at my web traffic statistics and note that the most popular posts on the site, week after week, are the practical ones with guides for either the six-food elimination diet (avoiding dairy, soy, egg, nuts, wheat, and fish) or the chylothorax diet (avoiding fat). I imagine that these posts are most commonly read by people struggling to feed themselves or someone they love. In my heart, I wrote them for a past version of myself, up in the night searching the web for information that, quite simply, didn’t exist.
At the holidays — these winter ones or others throughout all four seasons — it is hardest to be someone with food restrictions. Whether it is my daughter, who had to be on those two diets (among several others!) over the first nine years of her life, or me — dairy intolerant and severely allergic to fish — our family is incredibly aware of the limitations imposed on our social life by these restrictions. In my wider family, I love people who are allergic to nuts, who are on anti-inflammatory diets for auto-immune diseases, who are recovering from eating disorders, and who are diabetic. In all likelihood, there are others in my family with dietary needs that they keep to themselves. Yet somehow, we all manage to eat together, in each other’s homes and at restaurants, without too much disruption.
In 2010, my youngest daughter, Sammi, was diagnosed with a disease called eosinophilic esophagitis. Though it turned out that this diagnosis was incorrect, we didn’t learn that for three more years. During the first year of her diagnosis, we had to eliminate dairy, soy, eggs, nuts, and wheat from her already-vegetarian diet. During that time, these ten foods became the most important staples in my kitchen, making me grateful beyond anything I had ever known before. If you or someone you love is following the “six food elimination diet,” these foods might be just the things you need, too. Continue Reading…
On the day that we brought you home from the hospital, we were nearly out of the parking garage when I remembered the milk — my milk, your milk, stored in the infant intensive care unit freezer. I’d been waking up every three hours for over a week to pump it and bring it in a little cooler to you each morning. I sprung out of the car, wincing from the cesarean section scar still healing on my abdomen, and went back into the hospital for it. It was the first thing you brought into our home — you, your tiny perfect self, and twenty-six ounces of expressed breast milk. Continue Reading…