The Gingerbread Fiasco
Growing up, our holiday celebrations included many food traditions. Platters of Christmas cookies, a homemade gingerbread village, hot chocolate with marshmallows and a candy cane stir stick. So many great memories…and traditions that I would love to share with my own kids.
But when you have a child with food sensitivities, navigating day-to-day meals is challenging enough. Holidays? Unfortunately, it is easy for some of the joy to be bulldozed by stress and guilt. Sorry, kids, we can’t go to the family gathering because the menu would be too tempting to a carb-loving (and carb-sensitive) 3 year old. Hot chocolate? No Timmie’s drive-through; it has to be made at home, with dairy-free mix and almond milk. The cookie that our friend gave you? Yes, it’s beautiful…and oh-so-tempting. But if you ate it, you’d be sick for days. Social gatherings are chosen carefully, and usually require food to be brought from home.
I’m not sure what nudged me to take a risk last week. I don’t recall if it was a childhood memory that surfaced, a Facebook photo that flashed by, or maybe a display in the grocery store. But the guilt hit: my youngest had never joined in the tradition of making a gingerbread house. Being sensitive to dairy and gluten, the store-bought kits wouldn’t fly. So, breaking our grain-free streak, I bought gluten-free graham crackers. Carefully carving them with a knife, I stuck them together to form a makeshift house with dairy-free icing. I had already planned on using some ‘weird, my-Mom-is-a-Nutritionist’ toppings like raisins and dried cranberries. But the guilt, combined with my love of food, convinced me to buy a few candies as well. Off to the bulk store I went, to get a tiny sampling of some dairy-free treats. There. Now things seemed more traditional, and the guilt was momentarily eased.
The boys had a blast decorating the houses; it was such a joy to watch their faces. Memories and photos? Check.
And then came the aftermath.
Little B had sampled a few of the candies, and munched on one wall of the house. Within a half hour, complete chaos hit our house. He was spinning in circles, fidgeting non-stop. Talking so quickly that he was interrupting himself, often with pure nonsense, rather than words. He would be happily laughing and singing one minute; the next he was lying on the floor in a full-blown tantrum. This continued until he finally collapsed into a restless sleep, an hour later than his usual bedtime.
And…food dyes are now added to the list of forbidden foods.
It broke my heart to see him reacting so strongly like that. And my heart broke again the next day when he repeatedly asked why he couldn’t have any more of his beloved gingerbread house (which, by then, had been tucked out of sight in the compost bin).
Cancelling get-togethers, avoiding restaurants, spending a small fortune on speciality flours and ingredients, and altering family food traditions. I admit, it can be easy to get stuck in a “woe is me” cycle. It is very easy to feel overwhelmed and isolated.
Knowing that these emotions will easily fester if I let them, I remind myself to breathe and release the self-pity, guilt, and frustration. To look at my son’s sweet face and remind myself why I go to this extra effort.
Time to brainstorm a *new* family tradition. A creation made from fruit? A hand-painted cardboard gingerbread house big enough to play in? I’m not sure yet exactly what next year’s celebrations will entail. But I do know that with some extra effort, a little creativity, and lots of love…we can create a family celebration that allows *all* of us to focus on the joy of the season. Do I miss all of the treats? Honestly, yes. And, I also know that, even for this foodie, a smile on my (healthy, pain-free) child’s face is much more delicious than any edible treat.
Happy Holidays, everyone.