Thursday, 29 October 2015

The Food Allergy Debate - MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS!

Should I be sorry for growing increasingly tired of the gluten-dairy-free debate? Well, you know what, I'm not sorry! I'm really tired of it so there, I said it!

Every man and his one legged dog seems to have an opinion on whether or not I should change my diet to suit them and worse, they even have the audacity to debate whether or not me and people like me, are genuine. Who gave them the right to have an opinion on MY diet? I certainly didn't. 

As the mother of a diagnosed Celiac and another child with severe dairy intolerance, I have developed mysterious food allergies over an eight year period and can tell you - it's no fun. A stupid, harmless virus that left no long term ills in anyone else, affected my stomach and left me unable to eat products containing gluten or cow's milk. I have no idea why, the doctors have no idea why but eight years on, I'm gluten and dairy free and manage fine as long as nobody contaminates my food by accident. All biopsies have come back normal, so despite having a Celiac child, I am not. Nor is there any medical evidence for why cows milk makes me instantly sick. Nobody can offer me a medical reason why I have such a strong allergic reactions to certain foods; I just do. And in case you've got this far and decided I'm just nuts, I saw a counsellor in case it was in my head, but it's not. You think I haven't investigated this? Then shame on you. My body doesn't want this stuff and it won't say why.

So, without a medical certificate to wave over my head like a truce flag when I enter the debate, I must apparently sit with the 'fakers', the 'fad tryers' and the 'weirdoes'. Thanks for that.

I watched the online posts from the Irish cafe owner who banned vegans unfold across the internet like a pair of badly elasticated granny-knickers. Oh dear. While I don't appreciate the way he handled himself, I'm inclined to agree with him. I ring ahead before dining out or stick to places I know sell food I can eat without getting sick. It's not fair to assume a chef will ignore the other forty regular customers to nip out to the supermarket to cater for me without prior warning. Why would I derail someone's business like that? I'm not that selfish. I regularly go out with family and enjoy a glass of wine while they eat; I want to be part of the experience so don't exclude me from that too. If I'm invited for dinner, I take something I can eat and make it big enough to share because I don't want to be a bother.

I once starved for a whole weekend at a church camp in Rotorua because the chef - who was warned about my diet a month before I arrived - didn't think I was genuine. He apologised a few hours before we departed for misjudging me, having watched as I lived off soy bread I brought myself for an entire weekend. At the time he said he was sick of catering special meals for gluten free people who poured gravy over their designer meals. Or whipped up individual portions for a dairy free person who then doused it with cheese sauce. At the time, I thought fair enough but now I DON'T!

How dare he? I PAID to be on that camp just like everyone else. Did he run around smacking people around the head because they slurped ketchup all over his shepherd's pie? NO! What gave him the right to starve me because he thought I was faking or might add something else to his meal? Isn't that my right?

Yes, I've stood at gatherings where I've been catered for. Not satisfied with their four tables of food, others do seem attracted by my tiny take away box and gravitate towards it like vultures towards a carcass. I've also watched others 'try' my small portion and leave me none. That's not nice either. If you want different then order it. And I'll stand next to you and eat mine. 

GF/DF Banoffee Pie my daughter made for me
I could eat the whole thing, but I won't.

There must have been a lot of hype because it made the NZ national news recently; that doctors are concerned by adults removing staple items from theirs and their children's diet without medical advice. What the heck? Do parents of overweight children drag their offspring to the doctor just before pumping them full of sugar-laden-energy drinks to ask if it's ok? NO! Do they give them supplements to offset the effects like most parents cutting out gluten or dairy? PROBABLY NOT! So they can obviously hurt their kids but we can't try and sort out inherent problems for ours without criticism. 

So a parent living in a nightmare and scratching around a problem at home is wrong are they? Why? 

Well, for wondering if all the crap sprayed on flour in its storage state might be making Jonny run up and down the walls at bedtime. Or if all the rubbish injected into and fed to cows might be causing his face to look like a fifty year old with shingles. They're trying to get by and solve issues, just like everyone else. They need the effort you put into condemning them to support them and make helpful suggestions. 

I want this debate to just go away. It puts people like me even more under the microscope as if it's not bad enough already. Is it fun clutching my home made salad or distinctly marked cardboard wrapper with GF/DF in neon marker pen, while someone scoffing chicken nuggets breathes all over me, asking, 

"What  happens to you when you eat gluten or dairy?" 

You think that's not bad enough? Imagine his face when I tell him. He won't be hungry for a while. And that's without mentioning the eczema, headaches or feeling poisoned for days. 

I'm over it; I'm really over it.

I don't have to justify myself to you. You get boozed up on Saturdays and eat chocolate until it runs out of your nose and I'll eat rabbit food and say nothing. Do I make you justify why you need that massive four-person lunch or the three vodkas before you go to work? NO!

You feed your kids what they want and I'll do the same, but mind your own business. You don't start a debate about what my kid's missing out on and I won't stare at the thighs on yours as it sips that sugary drink and chows down on those nuggets! 

Let's talk about something that really matters but basically, leave my diet alone! 

I made these scones yesterday for my husband who isn't GF.
I wore gloves but probably still breathed in flour particles because
today I have a sore throat and headache. That must be what happens
to fakers!

#dairyfree #glutenfree #foodallergy

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Parents - teach your children the art of being alone

I love my own company; many writers do.

I said to someone recently that I felt it was a learned skill and it is, because there were times when I couldn’t stand to be by myself. Those were the times when I dumped myself on my poor mother or sister. There was a difficult period in my life when I would pick my 4 year old up from school and trail my whole tribe around to my sister’s house most days of the week. With four children under 4 it wasn’t a happy time and I’m still amazed my very forthright sister didn’t say anything about my constant visits at the worst time of day for someone with two children of her own. Any mother understands the misery of the 4pm demon. As the clock ticks round it’s the golden hour for grizzling, fights, tantrums and unreasonable behaviour as tired little bodies look for sustenance and relief from busy days packed full of activity. With adult children now leading wonderful lives of their own I’m still left with the 4pm legacy and find myself cringing as it arrives, imbued with a sense of grumpiness which seems to come from nowhere.  

I was a loner at school but not by choice. It was just easier. In a school where most people carried knives by the age of 13 and knew how to use them, it was safer to have nobody around me to mask the threat or join in. At university I had good friends but they came and went with the advent of unsuitable boyfriends and only one remains in my middle age.

Life tries to teach us to be content in our own company but we resist, plugging the gap with anything we can to avoid its lessons. We’re fools. We crave five minutes peace and then waste it, worrying, complaining, seeking busyness or other people and crying we’re bored. Fools

I tried to teach my children to be content with themselves and respect time as something to be valued and not killed, but only their imprint on the world will tell if I succeeded. I encouraged them to seek time alone and when they were lonely, tried to help them embrace it. When isolated as very young children in busy playgrounds, I sent them to catch fairies and hunt unicorns, feeding imaginations which had the power to create company and fill empty voids with better than this world has to offer. I knew they’d need that skill many times over. And they will.

I still remember those empty months after childbirth when my husband went to work and left me alone with my eldest daughter. She couldn’t talk back and tell me what was wrong, her crying filling me with a sense of inadequacy and desperation and I craved company, finding it less painful when someone else was there. I walked miles pushing her pram, finding something cathartic about being outside in the fresh air. But I was still alone.

Emigration put me back there, only this time my husband was at work and my children at school. The 4pm demon brought children off a busy bus nursing different agonies; isolation, friendlessness; loneliness and dissatisfaction. I had to learn to be alone and not waste my life wishing the hours away, knowing one day I might beg for those hours back.

I prayed, painted, studied and wrote. I learned to be alone and found a deep security there inside my faith and myself.

I met a wise lady once who had ten children. While we sat drinking tea and chatting she called to one of her children and patted the seat next to her. The child left her play and ran over, sitting next to her mother, popping her thumb into her mouth and just sitting quietly there. She didn’t demand any more attention than the soft hand on her shoulder and she made no sound. After a few minutes my friend praised her daughter, kissed her cheek and released her to play again. When I asked what she’d done, she said, “I need my children to come when I ask and do it without question because one day it might be important. I want them to sit without entertainment and feel secure in themselves as though it’s normal and my hand on their shoulder reassures them I’m there today. One day my hand won't be there and they'll need to remember that being alone is still ok. Later my daughter will tell me some deep thought she had in those few moments of peace and it may be profound or it might be random; but it will be her thought and not something shouted in her face by friends, siblings, TV or media. When I pat the seat my children know to be quiet and I can take them to church, restaurants and friends’ houses without worrying boredom will make them naughty.”

My friend was interrupted in her explanation by another of her children who sneaked onto her knee and whispered in her ear, “Can it be me next, Mummy?”

I wasn’t sure about her methods and pondered a little while she cuddled her son and fixed his Lego toy. She turned a wise face towards me as he skipped off happily and said something I’ve never forgotten. “I teach my children to be alone and satisfied because my lessons begin in love but the world conducts hers with unkindness, humiliation and fear.”

It strikes me that children today don’t know how to be alone, truly alone without the blare of the TV or the constant thrum of beat music. Computer games and online strangers fill the void and they don’t know what it is to stand in a crowded room with only their own selves for company and feel secure. The 4pm demon has morphed from a creature demanding sustenance and comfort to a raging monster needing constant entertainment. If they’re unlucky, our children will be dragged kicking and screaming into situations which call for self-assurance and a sense of confidence and find their strength in the pit of despair and the palm of misery. Those will be painful times of loneliness, rejection, friendlessness and poverty. Each of those things has the power to drag a vulnerable person down undesirable paths in order to dodge the pain of looking in the mirror and seeing only their own face staring back at them blank eyed and frightened.

Parents - teach your children to be alone, comfortable in their own skin and able to find peace.

Do it before the gravel road of life cuts their feet and makes them bleed on their journey towards peace and self-assurance.

Do it with a kiss and a hand on their shoulder before the world does it with a knife in their back and a blow to their confidence.   

#parenting #loneliness #raisingkids

Friday, 9 October 2015

A life without running - unimaginable!

I began running when I was 35. It was a shock to my body which enjoyed nothing more than a fast walk since the age of 16, but I didn’t feel I had much choice.

Overweight and with a diagnosis of Rheumatoid Arthritis, I took my last anti-inflammatory pill and broke out an ancient pair of running shoes borrowed from my sister. At 6am under cover of darkness in the middle of an English winter, I ran.

It was a hideous experience, only lessened by the fact I could lump along in the pitch black morning, dragging a yawning dog for protection. One and half miles of walking, jogging, gasping and heart-pounding-headaches seemed to do more harm than good. I think I leaned on every lamp post on Newcombe Street, Stuart Road and Bath Street in a miserable twenty minute circuit of agony and humiliation. By the time I clawed my way up the steps and pounded on the front door, the dog was awake and ready for a proper walk and I was half dead.

I ran four times a week for three months, dashing home to shower and get ready for work. Six months later and I’d ditched the dog because he pulled me into one too many bushes after stray cats and I was running as far as I could get in an hour. My arthritis had abated and my clothes hung off me like curtains. I’d get out of bed on running days and test my ankles, seeing how painful it was to stand. The more it hurt, the more I ran, releasing happy endorphins into my blood to carry me for the next few days.

I’ve run ever since and I’m sure I’ll meet my Maker running on some quiet country road; in New Zealand now, the dark mornings of England swapped a decade ago. Running provides my sanity, my pain relief and my reason for getting up in the pre-dawn peace. I talk to God; I plan my day and I find my equilibrium. It keeps my weight down and I’m better for it.

Below is a short story I wrote a while ago. Nobody else should get offended because it’s actually about me. It’s something of my journey those first few times at the running club - yeah, I even joined the Harborough Runners and still have the tee shirt they gifted me the last time I attended before we emigrated. I’ve treasured it enough to carry it across the world. It reminds me to keep running - and maybe one day I'll squeeze myself into it. 

First Place

Carmen tried not to look at her feet which padded along beneath her. Her body heaved with each new step and her lungs burned with the effort of processing the oxygen she needed. “You’re nearly there!” she shouted at herself, ignoring the flush of embarrassment creeping up her neck. Her body lied bitterly, insisting she gave up, her muscles protesting at the distance and the pace.

“Car-men, Car-men, Car-men!” The shouts unnerved her, calling her name. Emotion hitched in Carmen’s chest, sent up from the space in her stomach where she buried her feelings. She beat it down, not bothering to analyse it and concentrated on her race. The finish line loomed up ahead, coaxing and inviting and yet still so far away.

The way was open. No other runners blocked the view between Carmen and the coloured bunting fluttering in the breeze. Her vision blurred with tears and she heard the sob escape her heaving lungs.

“One hundred metres! You’re nearly there!” 

The shout broke through Carmen’s fragile concentration, filtering through the cacophony of noises to register in her brain. She risked a look towards the barriers and saw his face beaming out at her. The overwhelming urge surfaced, to stop running towards the finish line and the eager faces of the officials and run to him instead; to wrap herself in his comforting arms, eat a burger, watch TV, roll in their double bed with hot kisses and frantic hands. But the pride in Mike’s face crushed the urge as his blue eyes willed her towards the fluttering decorations and the cheers of those lining the home straight. 

“We’ve worked for this, baby! This is what you wanted; you’re winning!”

Carmen turned her gaze towards the ‘F’ on the flapping sign screaming ‘Finish’ and aimed for it, blocking out everything else around her and re-entering her zone of concentration. She pep talked her reluctant body, coaxing out a sprint as her feet pounded the asphalt, shaking every bone and joint with damaging impact. Her vision blurred with exhaustion and the grey surface beneath her danced, pushing up into her face and dashing away again like a freaky fairground ride. She tried not to notice, fixing on that ‘F’ as though her life depended on it, realising the longer she stared how much it mattered. Everything rode on her finishing this race; her marriage, her self-respect, her punishing regime, her sacrifice, herself.

Carmen plundered the depths of her sanity and fought the demons in her mind. They rode her back and laughed at her as her feet pounded the floor. She shrugged them off as the sign for the finish line gave an audible flap in the growing breeze. She was that close. It clapped her to the end, hanging loose from its ties, sticking around an extra hour just for her. The officials sighed with relief as the fat woman pounded under the awning, finally able to leave.

#running #amwriting #rheumatoidarthritis