Over 800 times, I checked and double-checked against the current list in my head. What is she allowed to have today?, I asked myself as the restrictions lifted, one by one. I paused as I used my mixing bowls, contaminating them with the newest addition, knowing I might have to throw it away if this food trial was a failure. I paused as I asked Sammi if she liked the newest recipe, worrying about the possibility of taking it away again later. I paused and paused again, rethinking each ingredient and each interaction around food.
When Sammi passed every food trial, her doctors could not explain it. They shrugged, confused, and sent us on our way. After more than 800 meals governed by rules and restrictions and embarked upon with my shoulders squared and my resolve set, the journey was over. We were at square one: all choices available to us, all foods a possibility, the road ahead open.
It was an unbelievable mindfuck.
For me, who governed the meal preparation with a focus that could not be shaken, I admit that my difficulty with this result was hard to explain. “Aren’t you so relieved?!” people asked me. “She can eat anything! She beat the odds! She’s CURED!”
I smiled and said that it was wonderful to let her eat whatever she wanted. Indeed, it was. I sent her to day camp that summer without a cooler of snacks, and she sat at the picnic tables with her friends and the dixie cups of Cheezits, happy as a clam. When I arrived and observed her from a distance, my focus soft and relaxed, she looked like everyone else, and I was glad. Whenever I went home and made an easy box of macaroni and cheese for lunch, though, I made it in the pots I had bought to replace my contaminated ones at the beginning of the diet, and I tensed, wondering: what was all of that FOR?
It has been four years since the end of her six-food-elimination-diet, and when I asked her about it recently, she said she can’t remember it. She remembers the endoscopies, the days of recovery on the couch with a sore throat, but she has no memory of my all-day cooking frenzies, the panicked reading of ingredient lists, the nights when I tearfully threw away a pan of inedible mush and fed everyone gluten-free soy-free nut-free vegan pancakes for dinner. She cannot remember the box of special snacks in her kindergarten classroom, the one I decorated cheerfully with her name on it so that she’d have something to eat when kids brought in snacks she couldn’t have. She remembers none of the struggle we went through to feed her.
Without question, I am grateful for that. In part, it means that we did our job, leaving the worry to the grownups and keeping her life as normal as possible while it was truly strange behind the scenes. She remembers her kindergarten teacher, being on the hip-hop dance team, and the swings of the kindergarten playground. That is as it should be. That was what I’d hoped she would remember.
But then when it was all done, I was the one who remembered it best. I mourned the year I spent doggedly following the rules to get an answer to a question that, in the end, had become moot. What is making her sick? became forget it, she’s actually fine.
We had almost a year-and-a-half like that, not knowing, unrestricted. Without the fences around her health, I didn’t know how to focus my wonder. What would be next? After chasing my own tail, I was left bereft — guilty for wanting the validation, guilty for not living in the moment of gratitude.