It’s not until you find yourself in a situation where you need to avoid food that you realise just how much of our everyday lives and how many social occasions revolve around meals or other food-based activities. Just think about it: birthdays are celebrated with a mix of party food, cake, treats for your friends and – when you’re turning 9 – party bags filled with sweets; Easter inevitably includes the requisite chocolate egg plus Easter biscuits and Simnel cake; a catch-up with old friends often starts with coffee and cake and may well move on to drinks and dinner; and Christmas is, quite simply, the time when we all over-indulge and go mad, filling our cupboards and fridge with chocolates, biscuits, mince pies and brandy butter in a manner that suggests there’s a genuine risk that we might run out at any minute.
Our plans for this Christmas itself were relatively simple. My Mum had suggested that we served a buffet over the festive period, rather than having the traditional mid-afternoon sit-down feast that we’ve all become accustomed to, which seemed a great alternative and allowed us to cater for everyone’s needs. Much to my surprise, M was keen for the rest of us to sit at the table for supper on Christmas Eve, whilst he sat in the other room watching some Christmas TV and sipped his glass of full-sugar 7-up, one of the few treats he’s allowed alongside his elemental feed. By Christmas Day, he wanted to have company in front of the TV and Boxing Day saw us eating in shifts, whilst the others played board games or watched films with M. We quickly learned to let M decide where he was happiest being at meal-times and included him in as many traditions as we could – pulling Christmas crackers, sharing the jokes, wearing paper crowns and making the time as normal as possible without focussing all our attention, and his, on the food.
We thought we had covered all the bases this Christmas, or at least, all those we considered to be the biggies, but it was the little things that crept up and caught us unawares. Our Christmas stockings always include chocolate treats (dairy- and soya-free naturally), a box of tic-tacs, a handful of nuts and a satsuma pushed down to the toe, but none of those could find its way into M’s stocking this year. I had bought Moo-free chocolate advent calendars and selection boxes for both children before we knew he’d be going into hospital and whilst M had managed to have 4 advent chocolates before his admission and G enjoyed the rest whilst he was in, I had to work out how to give G the selection boxes without rocking M’s world too much. This was one of those small things that needed a lot of late night planning on Christmas Eve.
In stark contrast, Mike and I had considered beforehand the treats that usually adorn the coffee table at home and deliberately didn’t leave out the boxes of Turkish delight or the dates or the orange and lemon slices in their normal home. Instead, we stored them in a safe corner to be pulled out once both children were in bed as we didn’t want them to be a constant reminder of what M couldn’t eat and yet he objected more to us hiding these goodies away than leaving them on display. “It just isn’t Christmas, Mummy” was his feeling on the matter, without these seasonal delights out for all to share and enjoy.
I’m not sure I know that we didn’t get everything 100% right, but given that we were very much thrown in the deep end with little advice on how to survive the day, I think we did okay. The biggest lesson learnt was to be flexible on a daily basis and not to expect one day to be like the next, both at home and at school. Some days M sits and chats with G at the dinner table, enjoying a Foxes glacier mint (another small treat allowed) and a glass of 7-up whilst she eats her meal and yet the next will find him close to tears and hidden away in another room for the duration. There is no pressure for him to constantly be a part of every meal-time and as long as he spends some quality time with the rest of the family, I’m happy to give him the time-out he sometimes so desperately needs.