One of the best gifts my husband gave me this Christmas was a KISS. He suggested we keep Christmas simple.
This past Christmas and Thanksgiving marked my third year of gluten-free for the holidays. That first Christmas, I’d only been gluten-free for a month or two, so I barely knew what I could eat. My extended family was less than understanding and I was served dry, over-cooked turkey, dried-out reheated rice, and rubbery canned corn.
Last year, I’d learned how to navigate gluten-free, we stayed home for the holidays so there would be no fuss with family and I cooked quite an elaborate menu with a lovely ultimate potato casserole, cinnamon muffins, squash, fancy green beans, etc. Although it was tasty, I spent the entire holiday in the kitchen. My three memories from Christmas of 2009 were somehow persuading our children (one and one-half and almost four at the time) to pose for portraits before opening gifts, looking at my family from the kitchen as I prepped the potato casserole and later looking at my husband sleeping on the couch as my daughter piled him with the dolls she’d gotten.
This year, with more experience under my belt and a lot to be thankful for, including improving health and a restored marriage, we wanted to share our celebration with my family. Things quickly went from a joyful celebration to sour as my grandmother who not only doesn’t understand gluten-intolerance and Celiac disease, but vehemently denies both it’s existence and necessity. She comes from a line of “food pushers” and depression era thinking. Food simply cannot harm, (although she often restrains from certain foods because they upset her stomach), end of story. Don’t you dare decline something I offer you.
The situation became tough even before our arrival to town my grandmother set the rules for the holiday– she would cook all her normal stuff and we would bring anything we wanted. They bought the Honeysuckle turkey I requested, but it was up to us to prep our own side dishes and she would take care of theirs because they made it very clear that they would eat their gluten. My mother was helpful in attempting to find gluten-free breads, but the tension with my grandmother made things tough.
The tension remained during the meal and sadly, Thanksgiving became only about the food, only about getting the turkey cooked (another point of contention b/c DH cooks it a bit differently), trying to compose myself when my grandmother balked at me asking to keep our gluten-free dishes on one side of the kitchen and theirs on another to prevent cross contamination of utensils, and managing my children who wanted to try all the food.
When we finally served the food, none of us even sat together. We simply grabbed our amazing meal and ate alone. Everyone was too busy with the tv, their own agenda, busy children, and I don’t know what else to enjoy the time together. I had so much to be thankful for and joy to share, but no one share it with as even my children sat at a separate table. It was disheartening.
The blow came at dessert. A few hours after dinner, my brothers and their wives showed up for dessert. Earlier in the week, my grandmother told me to bring a pumpkin pie, but she ended up serving chocolate cake. My two and five year-old were devastated. Great-grandma was serving everyone a delicious chocolate cake and they got a not so great pumpkin pie. (Of all the times for my pie to not turn out!) To make matters worse, she made a big deal over the cake and everyone ranted and raved about it. There was much crying and gnashing of teeth at that moment.
While I desperately searched though my mother’s cupboards to try to find SOMETHING that would soothe my children’s hurt feelings, my grandmother said very coldly to me, “Well, they might as well get used to it; this is the way it will be for the rest of their lives.”
Yeah, that is the way it is, but you don’t rub it in. They ARE used to it. My daughter asks if everything, including her water are gluten-free. However, they also know I always have something for them when we go somewhere with gluten and they look forward to their own special treats. I’ve spent countless hours making sure my children have SOMETHING and they love their special treats. And even the times I’ve blown it and forgotten or didn’t know, they’ve handled it very well, but this time, we just had yucky pumpkin pie and 10 + people they love, trust and adore gobbling up delicious looking cake. It was just too much.
A few weeks later, with devastation still heavy in my heart and my ears still ringing from my children’s hurt, we decided to stay home for Christmas. As I planned our Christmas dinner, I found myself attempting to makeup for the crazy Thanksgiving we’d had. I still needed to CELEBRATE!
Finally, as Christmas approached and I was overwhelmed, exhausted, and cross-eyed from all the craziness that I’d done with food over the past 20 days (making homemade chocolates for friends, gluten-free baking, and other foods for my daughter’s and son’s school celebrations) my husband suggested we keep Christmas dinner simple. “They don’t eat a lot anyway, so let’s roast some potatoes, put our ham out and maybe have a salad. KISS it. Remember, ‘Keep it Simple Stupid.'”
It took me several days to mull this over. I know, most wives are probably thinking I’m nuts, but I’ve tried to make up for this gluten-free life for so long that I’ve lost focus. We need to eat to live, not live to eat. After baking so much that week, it suddenly hit me that I had missed out on Thanksgiving b/c I was too focused on Thanksgiving meal and trying to keep up with the glutenous eaters. (Gotta love that gluten becomes glutenous!) I never had the chance to give thanks and I was missing out on the magic of Christmas for the same reason.
However, there is something wrong with that KISS formula. It has taken me so long in my life to not feel stupid, that I’ve always ignored that advice. The word Stupid hurts. When my husband mentioned KISSing Christmas a few days later, it hit me what was going on. So I said, “Ok, let’s have a simple Christmas, but let’s change KISS to Keep it Simple Sweetie.” He brightened up and smiled: “We can do that!”
So, 2010 Christmas dinner consisted of a Honey Baked Ham, roasted potatoes that took me five minutes to prep and then pop in the oven, Chebe gluten-free rolls, and a cheese and cracker platter to snack on. Our Christmas day consisted of lots of play time with our two and one-half year-old and almost five year-old, hugs, snuggles, tickles, simple romance, and a last-minute decision to go see Tangled.
My Christmas KISS helped us build beautiful memories that we’ll be able to hold dear and it gave me the key to my New Year goals. Now that I’ve redefined KISS as Keep It Simple SWEETIE, my main goal is to get back to the basics and simplify our lives. I’m struggling a bit, but it’s becoming more clear: I need to KISS the budget, KISS my home, KISS my meal planning, and KISS my routine. I even need to remember to keep gluten-free simple. The best food for our bodies are whole, real foods and minimally processed foods. Those are what will feed, nourish and heal our bodies and the damage gluten has done to them. Moreover, I don’t need 10 flours in my cupboard! My life has been unsustainable for a long time and it’s led to decline in my health, relationships everything. The difference between Thanksgiving, where we didn’t even get the chance to bask giving thanks and counting our blessings, and Christmas which held the meanings, depth, healing, and romanticism that the Christmas movies portray, gave me this understanding.
The Christmas KISS my husband gave me of a day off, is a gift to our family that will hopefully be long-lasting as I learn to gift my family and myself with the same KISS.