Thursday, August 7, 2008

Mom Can't Always Make It Better

My daughter was invited to one of our new neighbor's homes last week for a girls only "tea party." The little girl who invited her has become one of my daughter's best friends. Being new in town, this has been wonderful to see.

From the start, my daughter tells everybody she meets about her nut allergy. Partly, this is so that they don't offer her allergenic foods and partly I think it's a way of telling people who she is. It's part of her.

Even though this new friend and her family have been so warm and welcoming to all of us, I could tell that my daughter felt apprehensive about "outing" herself as food-allergic to the other guests. (By the way, kids she has played with before). It may be because sometimes kids have teased her about it, or made her feel different, oftentimes unintentionally.

As I always do in a party situation, I talked to the mom beforehand and asked her if I could contribute food to the party to ensure that my daughter had treats to eat. She readily agreed and so I got to work. All the kids had told me they liked lemon cake (I'm so impressed--when I was a kid it had to be all chocolate all the time. Clearly this new generation has a more sophisticated palate than me.) I had the perfect thing in mind: a Nigella Lawson recipe for mini lemon Bundt cakes. They are delicious and pretty to look at--just the right thing for tea parties.

If I do say so myself (and the other mom told me so) these cakes turned out perfectly. Moist, fragrant with lemon and yummy. My daughters and the young hostess and guest were thrilled with them.

Now, this hosting mom went out of her way to offer a terrific spread of goodies. She even bought a special box of chocolate "tea biscuits" labeled as being made in a nut-free facility, bless her heart. And she also provided some beautiful treats from a local bakery which of course meant my daughter couldn't have them. Cross-contamination risk is too strong, something that's hard to explain to many people and especially hard for kids to understand.

And there's the rub: my daughter was crushed when she saw the pretty cookies and petit fours she could not eat. Even though I had contributed my deluxe lemon cakes (and thrown in a bag of Milanos for good measure) at first she could only focus on what was forbidden to her, a pretty normal response for a kid. But I gotta tell you: it hurt me. I was so convinced that my efforts would make it all better. Not so.

The mom hosting the party told me that my daughter had seemed blue at first but then she rallied. When I went to pick her up, I could tell by all the little faces (and empty plates) that they had a great time. I was relieved.

Still, at first, I felt a little let down that my diligent cake-baking efforts hadn't been enough to smooth over any left out feelings that my daughter may have had. But then when I saw all the offerings on the table, I understood.

It's just plain hard to be denied party treats. I finally got it: I can bake delicious cakes from here to eternity and sometimes I just can't make it better. I can't get rid of my daughter's sadness or occasional anger at her food allergy.

That's hard to accept but on the other hand, I have to believe that these experiences will make my daughter become more compassionate, more open to other's struggles and more tolerant. I've already seen evidence of it. And I know she appreciates what I do for her--I'm lucky enough that she tells me often.

We'll walk through these parties one at a time. No doubt my collection of baking pans will continue to grow! I can't fix my daughter's allergy, but I'll be there for her however I can - up to my elbows in batter and covered in frosting, whatever it takes. Sometimes good enough is pretty good after all.


Jennifer B said...

This was a very touching piece to me, and I envision encountering pretty much the same situation. (only not tea parties!) Somehow, I think, this extra challenge life has thrown to your daughter, my son, and so many other kids (and adults) will actually make them better, stronger people. It's hard to learn about limits and things we can't have, and food allergies force many people to learn this lesson at a young age. I am not saying it is a good thing to have, or that it is easy; but oddly enough, some good things can come from the lessons we learn as a result of it.

Sally Parrott Ashbrook said...

Jennifer is right--that was very touching. You're a good mom to be understanding with her instead of angry that she didn't appreciate your efforts.

Anonymous said...

First thing -- I think you should feel pretty proud of yourself for letting her go to the tea party by herself. Something I have not yet mustered the courage to do.

Second -- your lemon bundt cakes sound absolutely divine. I would love the recipe.

Third -- your daughter sounds a lot like mine. Her food allergy makes her very mature for her age. But an intellectual understanding of why she can't have something is no match for the occasional pang of resentment (and dare I say anger) at being denied a treat that someone else takes for granted. I too go out of my way to ease the hurt by baking special things. And from time to time, she still feels hurt. But I do feel good about the good chunk of the time where I'm able to make things better. That's why I try so hard. In the end, I guess that's what we've all got in common.