I find that I am not quite comfortable handing down advice here. I can’t write a “How to Survive Christmas for the Chemically Sensitive” post. I only seem to be able to write about how I do it which, knowing the widely varied limitations of EI, may not apply to that many other cases. So even though I am happy if something I have learned the hard way can help some MCS patient do anything easier and even though it was one of the main reasons I started blogging, I cannot work up the kind of certainty that inspires a How To or a Rule Book. If anything, I have a pirate’s attitude, and feel that any “code is more what you’d call guidelines than actual rules.”
But I can, with confidence, write about what it is like for this Tilted Mom; what kind of effort it takes to pull off the basics of 21st century American living. And the holidays provide some of the biggest challenges in gifts, decorations, and parties. So here’s what I do, what I have to do, to pull off a normal seeming Xmas for my family.
1. I shop online. I do not go into sores, malls, outlets etc. It’s that simple. The rest of the year we accrue points on our Amazon Visa and then right after Thanksgiving we dump the kids with Grandma for the morning, and we set up dueling laptops, and we shop. It’s mostly done within two hours. We try hard to avoid toys made of the softer plastic since they take so much longer to outgas and are worse for the kids too, but that editing has gotten easier as the kids get older. Legos were great for those years though. Also, a huge bonus for me in terms of gift possibilities and shopping itself, is that I do not have EMF sensitivities. So I can shop online for hours and I can have electronics and computers in my home. A particularly huge bonus since my husband works in IT.
2. Once the gifts arrive, they are removed from the packages, either by my husband or by myself working outside and wearing my mask. Then the item is placed in the attic for a month where it will bake and outgas and hopefully become MCS friendly.
3. I wrap gifts using brown paper from old grocery bags or cloth bags made by my crafty and incredibly thoughtful mother.
4. We open our gifts Christmas morning with the house open and fans blowing and me sitting next to the open sliding glass door.
5. I still expect to feel at least a little awful.
1. I keep it small, which is what I might do even if I didn’t have chemical sensitivities. It’s just so effortful and then you have to put it all away in a few weeks. Though I do have a fondness for twinkly lights which I leave up all year.
2. The decorations I do use have meaning and tradition, which frequently translates to home-made and re-used. My sister explained it best a year ago in these posts on our ornaments and advent calendar.
1. I just don’t do my husband’s work parties. For social gatherings with acquaintances who are not familiar with my health issues, I opt for situations where I do not have to explain. Sometimes I can co-ordinate neutral territory with fresh air so that I don’t have to ask for accommodations. This year, for example, we are inviting his co-workers to tailgate with us at a Polo match one holiday weekend. Seriously, I love living in Florida.
2. Sometimes, I host a small dinner for family or close friends who really understand what it means to come to my home. No scented candle or foods I can’t eat. Sure, hostessing is work and I have to remind guests about a few things in advance (no scented body products!) but the effort has always been worth it to truly feel included.
3. Occasionally, I risk it and go to a party or family gathering and I ask for people to not wear scented products and I bring my own food and then…I still expect to feel awful for a week.
4. There are some fun, easy things we do every year that help us all feel a part of the community. Our local church (which I normally don’t risk for perfume reasons) does a Bethlehem walk with manger animals around the neighborhood (outside), singing carols as we go. There are lots of places I can’t go so the key to my life looking normal on the surface is living in a warm climate.
Well, that wasn’t as Merry and Bright as I had hoped for. But so far what I’ve written about is just the facts. The truth is all about the time spent with my kids who, at ages 9 and 11, are still really fun at the holidays. They love decorating the tree and remembering where each ornament comes from. We make gluten free snack mix together. We have an elf that my daughter still is excited to check on every morning and annual ornaments they like to hang every evening. I have a family that likes to give and this time of year we talk about what issues call to us most strongly then we choose our helping organizations accordingly. My point is that with kids, my holiday is mainly about the doing of things. We keep busy enough that I do not miss the things I can’t do, like shop in a mall or eat all the Xmas goodies when the in-laws are all together at Grandma’s. We do not have to make a conscious effort to fight consumerism in this house, my illness does that for us and we effortlessly pull off a Less is More holiday. Actually, maybe that is plenty Merry and Bright, it certainly feels like it here.