When my five year old daughter learned that her esophagus had healed after eight weeks on the six-food-elimination-diet — eight weeks without dairy, soy, nuts, wheat, or eggs — the first food she wanted to “get back” was eggs. The doctor in charge of her case at the time was willing to let us decide which foods to introduce first, and so, on the way home from the hospital, I let Sammi come with me into the grocery store for the first time since her diagnosis. Until then, I hadn’t wanted her to walk past the thousands and thousands of products she couldn’t eat.
We held hands and literally skipped through the store together, planning the things we’d do with the eggs first. An omelet! Fun shaped hard boiled eggs in her lunch! Egg salad! Baking gluten-free muffins! It was a song, that list of foods. It was a banquet, oval and cool and encapsulated, even if I knew in the back of my mind that this was a test she might fail if eggs made her esophagus fill with eosinophils. We had at least six weeks to love eggs.
We got to the eggs and Sammi jumped out of her skin with joy:
As we prepared and ate eggs every way possible for the next several days, the last shred of the judgement I’d held about what people put into their pie holes just fell away from me forever. I’ve been a vegetarian since I was fourteen and highly lactose intolerant for the last fifteen years. Though I felt slightly uncomfortable with them, I still ate eggs to keep my dangerously low cholesterol from tanking. Even so, my diet was naturally still very limited, and eating just for fuel was a regular part of my life. I’ve spent many meals eating salad and bread for dinner at the homes of loving family who I couldn’t reasonably expect to follow what felt, even to me, like a daunting set of restrictions. I joked often about eating “hot wet noodles & vegetables” at weddings and steak houses when my social life required it.
Under it all, I resented everyone else’s ability to embrace cognitive dissonance. I had friends who fought bravely to save the whales, save puppies from puppy mills, end animal testing for cosmetics, and then ate hamburgers because they were so delicious. I had friends who popped Lactaid pills and went right on eating gelato against the messages their bodies were sending them. In my head, I couldn’t understand it. I wasn’t judgmental, really, I told myself, because it was just confusion. How do you hold these conflicting thoughts in your heads at the same time?
And then Sammi went through this crazy, crazy diet, and I finally got it: life is short.
Life is short, and you get a limited number of pleasant experiences in it. Joy can be finite. We all sit down with our conscience at some point and make a deal: I’ll do this and you’ll agree it’s ok, right? Parents do it all the time, little agreements with their values about how much television their children can watch, whether it’s ok for the kids to hear us say SHIT!!! when the door slams on our fingers, if staying up late on vacation is probably ok. We’re doing the best we can — with our bodies, with our hearts, with our children.
And just like that, I was done. Feed yourself and your family what you like. I don’t know what’s happening behind the scenes in your house, and vice versa. I sat my nagging, finger-wagging inner voice down and said: shut up. We’re all in this for the joy.