Our family vacation was only three weeks away when we got the bad news. It would change everything.
About a month earlier, we decided that our health routine could probably use some tweaking…a lot of tweaking, actually. None of us were really feeling our best, so we had full work-ups done at a wellness center in Manhattan. Dr. Morrison examined us, took blood tests, saliva tests, and thoroughly interviewed each of us.
The tests had come in and we assembled in his office for our results.
He went over mine first: No remarkable food sensitivities or environmental allergies. I will say (with a bit of bravado) that I look pretty good…on paper anyway.
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Then he went over my husband’s and my daughter’s reports. There it was in black and white: they were both highly sensitive to gluten.
Thus began the mourning period or as I called it “The Five Stages of Gluten-Free Grief.”
Denial and Isolation
My husband’s grieving process was textbook. He kind of shrugged and said, “Well, I guess I just won’t have anymore gluten then.” Like it would be that simple. He had no idea where gluten was hiding. It was in his soy sauce, his favorite chips, in pizza, in beer! He ignored the fact that he was surrounded by gluten and could be ambushed at any moment. Talk about denial!
Our daughter was somewhat more animated about the situation, to the surprise of no one. (New Flash: teenagers aren’t famous for suppressing their feelings). “Are you kidding me?! What am I suppose to eat now? Water and lettuce? No more bagels? No more soup dumplings? Like I’m really never gonna have another PopTart for the rest of my life?!”
I gave Dr. Morrison a look that suggested my daughter was hallucinating, then turned to her and said, “Oh goodness. You know I don’t let you children eat PopTarts.” Was I in denial myself? Or was I just flat-out lying? I’ll never tell.
She grumbled and complained on our way back to the house. When we got there, she grabbed an entire box of PopTarts, and stormed up to her room, slamming the door.
In fact my daughter is so efficient, she managed to sweep through Denial and Isolation in under an hour; sailing straight into Stage 2: Anger. The problem was, she got there quickly, but stayed a bit longer than the rest of us were really loving. That is, until she decided to stretch her negotiating muscles. Which brings us to…
Stage 3: Bargaining
Since our family vacation was to take place in London, our daughter was already looking for leverage, “If I don’t eat any gluten between now and London, can I have afternoon tea when we’re there?”
If you’re unfamiliar with a proper English afternoon tea, it is a late day meal between 4 and 6 o’clock, consisting of tea with scones, tartlets, pastries, cookies, gluten, gluten and gluten.
So I did some bargaining of my own, “If I find a place that serves a gluten-free afternoon tea, would you settle for that?”
“OK, but if it’s awful, can I get a real afternoon tea?”
She drove a hard bargain, but it seemed fair. After all, she might never get back to London, afternoon tea was something she had really been looking forward to, and was it really worth ruining the vacation over one meal? “It’s a deal!” I said. We shook on it.
We were staying at the Langham London, known for superior service, which I was about to test. I called and arranged for gluten-free bread at every meal and a special gluten-free afternoon tea. Their Executive Pastry Chef, the incredibly talented Cherish Finden, prepared an amazing array of delights that would have made your eyes pop out of their sockets. It was as glorious to look at as it was to taste. My daughter loved it.
If you’re thinking we were lucky enough to skip over Stage 4: Depression, think again. There was no way we would get off that easily. But the depression did not come from our daughter. It came from our son, and who could blame him? Here he was, a foodie with a cast iron stomach, and he had to listen to countless conversations about gluten on his last vacation before going off to college.
I should probably mention at this point that he and I would be gluten-free in front of daddy and daughter, but we guilt-ridden gluten-tolerators were sneaking pizza and sandwiches when nobody was looking. There is no Gluten-Free Grief stage for that, but if there were, it would probably be called, “The Closet Eating” stage or the “You Ought To Be Ashamed Of Yourselves” stage.
Anyway, we were dining along the Thames at a place called Founders Arms. There, on the menu, was a burger called the “Tower 42.” If you are a burger lover, which I am not, you would probably walk through fire to get one. It’s described on the menu as a “double prime beef burger, cheese, bacon, young’s ale onions, lettuce, mayo, ketchup, gherkins, fries.”
Daughter wanted it.
“Sure,” I said, “You can have it without the bun.”
5, 4, 3, 2, 1…
The ensuing argument took place in hushed tones (we were, after all, in a restaurant), but the venom was no less potent. After about 10 minutes of hissing, begging, pleading and general carrying on, my son had had enough.
With his phone hidden under the table, he started texting me: “For the love of god, LET HER HAVE THE BURGER! I can’t take anymore. This gluten issue is ruining my vacation and I don’t even believe its a real thing!”
I texted back: “It IS real! It will make her sick and she’ll be miserable all day tomorrow.”
He responded: “I’m miserable now.”
“Get the burger,” I told her. My husband looked at me as if I’d lost mind. We’d come so far. Placing my hand on his knee, I slipped him my phone so he could see the texts. “But,” I continued to our daughter, “If you don’t feel good tomorrow, you’re just going to have to deal with it without taking the rest of us down with you.”
“I promise,” she said.
Am I a bad parent? Well, which child would you have sacrificed?
Stage 5: Acceptance
The next morning, she was like a bear, poked in her den well before spring; grizzly, grumpy and short-tempered. Prior to devouring the impressive Tower 42, she’d been a total delight; laughing, fun, adventurous, sweet…we had been having a wonderful time. Now, the evidence was staring us straight in the eye. There was no more denying it. Gluten was not her friend. I pointed out that, prior to that burger, she’d been a totally adorable lambkins on the trip. That’s when the lightbulb went on for her, and for my son, and for me.
That was about three years ago. Since that time, both she and my husband have mostly been gluten-free superstars. But on those occasions when they fall off the wagon, my son and I make a run for it…to the nearest pizzeria.