Ten Lessons Sans Carols: #6 Cool Coat and Cross-Contamination

Schools down here held their last day of classes before the Christmas break on Friday, December 19th. They didn’t reopen until Tuesday of this week. How awesome is that for a winter break? When I was in school, we went until the day before the night before Christmas and we returned on January 2nd, unless the day of the week on which those dates fell gave you a proximal weekend to boot. That made for double depression on New Year’s Day: the holidays are over and we have to go back to school tomorrow. Ugh. No wonder I cried in my closet. I am so glad kids have it better today.

Although school was closed, sports teams still held practice and team members who came to practice got extra credit. I played chauffeur for my nephew, who is a sophomore, on the Monday before Christmas so he could get to and from swim team practice. Sure, the weather outside was frightful, but the pool was so delightful. Okay, it was cold, too, but no one cared after the first twenty laps, my nephew said.

We decided to hit the stores after practice so my nephew could finish his Christmas shopping. We headed for an outdoor shopping mall that does Christmas right. There’s a beautiful, majestic Christmas tree in the middle traffic circle and secular holiday decorations dotting the verdant landscape. Christmas carols ring from the rocks nestled in well-manicured flower beds. On weekends, a horse drawn carriage offers free rides around the parking lot, which compounds the cheer of would-be shoppers still stuck in queue for the next open space. The atrium of the centrally-situated property management company’s office hosts Santa and Mrs. Claus, who, together, listen to children’s wish lists while sitting in Santa’s sleigh. I like that Mr. and Mrs. C appear as a team; it warms my feminist heart.

As we slogged through the cold December rain, the jingle bell rocks ironically warbled “White Christmas” and “Winter Wonderland.”  Spirits high despite the low temps, we dashed into Chipotle for a quick lunch. Chipotle fancies itself as a purveyor of fast food for gluten free folk and it pops up as such on popular GF restaurant search apps. Call me crazy, but the way they handle food horrifies me.

The line leader looked aghast when I asked him to strip naked, tie on a grass skirt and then hula dance all around the dining room. What I actually said was, “I’m gluten free and I need this to be gluten free. Can you change your gloves to start?”

After the offensive shock of my bold request wore off, he huffily changed his gloves. I politely declined the taco shell bowl and meat for my burrito salad, so he handed my paper bowl off to the next guy who just had handled soft flour tacos and one of those taco shell bowls with the same gloves he wore when grabbing my supposedly GF plate. I felt the panic rise in me and I started to protest, but my plate already had  moved to the next gluten-gloved person in line. It was super busy and the line behind us snaked all the way back to the door. I resigned myself to getting contaminated for the greater good of spending time with my nephew and getting out of Chipotle as quickly as possible.

That’s not a good attitude, I know. I read other bloggers’ posts and admire the way they say they grill the servers about ingredients and cross-contamination and then dog the food prep people to be sure everyone changes their gloves and uses a clean area to assemble their GF food. The food prep ideal is to use a separate, clean surface and separate ingredients for GF diners so there isn’t the risk of cross-contaminating the beans and rice by hitting the serving spoon on the wheat-infested burrito wrap and then dunking the spoon back into the beans and rice so bits of glutinous tortilla transfer to the next dish onto which they slop another spoon of beans and rice.

I’m too nice, too willing to suffer so I don’t “make a scene,” even though I  know there’s no honor in suffering. Why are my health and safety less important than the good humor of food service professionals? Why do I cave when I know the results will be painful and long-lasting? I really need to work on this. I only have one life and one body and I need to be more militant about the safety of what I put in my mouth. If you have suggestions for how you overcame chronic niceness in favor of personal safety, please pass them along!

On the plus side, I got to spend a few hours with my hilarious and brilliant nephew. I feel such profound happiness when I am with him. He has a wry witty way of looking at the world, a view that right-sizes the ridiculous ruminations that keep us awake at night.  We joke about what a great gift to the world he is, except I’m completely serious. He is a great gift to the world. I should pay attention more to the way he takes care of himself and apply some of that in my own life.

To wit: as we ran through the rain, he denounced  suffering for the sake of fashion as insanity. He said this was the year for getting a winter jacket for Christmas because he was sure he could look cooler when warm than he did when he was cold. He said this while shivering in a thin, but very trendy long sleeve Henley and jeans.

I heard the angels on high break into the Hallelujah Chorus and saw a rainbow with frolicking unicorns stretch wide across the sky. Hooray! My sister, his mother, will faint from shock and then cry tears of joy when she hears this, I thought. Her boy finally will be stylishly warm and dry! Praise Heaven!

Of course, I kept my actual response low key. “You know, blue lips and hands really aren’t all that attractive. I think you’ll rock a winter jacket and put all those ice pop kids to shame.”

“I know!” he said, and we both laughed. “Plus,” he said, “What’s the point of trying to look good when it just makes you miserable or sick?”

What’s the point, indeed. We then hit the books at Barnes and Noble. After fifteen minutes in the toasty store, my nephew’s lips weren’t quite so blue and his teeth weren’t chattering quite so loudly. We had a lovely time browsing the titles in the Mystery section where he picked three from the alphabet series his mom loves, plus one from a series featuring a feline. Mysteries involving cats seems to be big business these days.

We then “graduated” to the Paranormal Romance section where we found for his sister a hefty tome with a breathy title and dark cover art. The line to pay snaked into the stacks but moved rapidly, thanks to the fleet fingers of five register ringers. My nephew used the gift cards others had given him for his birthday to pay for the books he would give as gifts. He said it felt much better to give than get and books are great gifts because they keep on giving with each turned page.

Yup. I learn a lot from my nephew, a great gift from God who keeps on giving every day he’s in the world.

And, oh, yeah, he’s totally cool (and warm) in his new winter jacket.