Friday, February 14, 2014

Food Allergy Festivus

I was not aware the holiday season stretched into February. But it must be so. For, you see, my family has decided to celebrate Festivus this week.

For those who are not Seinfeld fans, Festivus is the celebration involving the airing of grievances. And boy, is my family in the holiday spirit!

As we've all gotten older, my large family has developed lots of cracks and splinters in the social veneer. Most of us have strong, polarized political beliefs and it spills over into our interactions, even with the best of intentions to keep religion, politics and hot-button social issues out of conversation. However, each year in February, my mother celebrates her birthday. The one thing she always wants? All of us to gather and pretend to get along.

This year, it started with an email from my brother: "Why don't we all go out to Incredibly Cheese-Intensive Family-Style Italian Restaurant for mom's birthday so no one has to cook?" 

I couldn't even bring myself to reply. Nineteen years we've been at this and he's still not aware that my kid cannot eat anything in an Italian restaurant?

My husband sent the next volley: "Why don't we all go in on a computer for her?" 

You know where this is going, as it's obvious to anyone who deals with food allergies that a conversation about a gift will inevitably lead back to  you guessed it!  the unfair restrictions of food allergies on everyone around them.

"How's your new car working out?" Food allergies. "What'd you think of that Superbowl game?" Food allergies. "We're thinking about getting another dog." Food allergies. All conversational roads eventually lead to one place.

I've puzzled over why that is. These conversation never result in my family actually retaining any knowledge about food allergies. The people who don't support us continue to not support us no matter what we say, and these conversations seem to actually cause them to do a worse job with unsafe dishes and cross-contamination. So what's the deal?

It finally struck me that food allergies have actually become a proxy for the other topics we avoid. Unbelievable as it may be, my child's medical condition has been polarized to the point that my siblings use it now as a passive-aggressive way of letting me know they disagree with everything else I stand for.

By bringing that unsafe dish, unannounced, to Thanksgiving dinner, they're taking back control and letting me know that they don't believe us and will never believe us. It's inconvenient to their world view. It is actually easier for them to convince themselves that my child is faking it than it is to have to consider that they have used a child for nineteen years as a pawn in their mind games.

When it happened last Thanksgiving, that unsafe (cheeseburger) stuffing went right between the other two stuffings. I could have ruined the holiday and thrown it (and them) out of the house, but we don't fight that way. So, instead, I spent the next two hours hovering in the kitchen, trying to prevent people from passing utensils back and forth between the dishes. They knew it. I knew it. Passive-aggressive mission accomplished.

And here we go again  the same, tired conversation about what to bring and what not to bring, which will result in these people bringing something completely unsafe "by accident."

We are all polarized on certain topics. We all feel that emotional limbic system rush of rage around certain issues that should not obviously generate such a strong feeling. But food allergies?

You betcha.

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