This guest blog is written by Debby Gans as part of a series on her journey toward clean eating (Read Week 1 and Week 2)
Benji Flies Away
It has been an epic week! I wish I could say I was referring to my recently established clean eating lifestyle, but I am not. Given the emotional turmoil of the week, I am proud of how well I stayed the course. I promise I will get to the food aspect of this week, but first, patient readers, I feel the need to explain why this has been such a life changing week.
Benji, my firstborn, (who’s story was just featured in the news) the child who has been mentioned on this blog many times, just experienced a life changing event. For us all. Benji took the roots that my husband, myself, our parents and friends have so painstakingly tried to impart and had the courage to fly away to Israel. This is a big deal for any teen. To relate this to my journey to clean eating, a moment like this would normally have me running to cupcakes, gummy bears and ginger ale. For Benji, to fly away it was nothing short of a miracle and the same goes for me. Not one of those sugary items were consumed. A diagnosis of autism 10 years ago for Benji has left us both with new sets of wings and we no longer hear “keep your expectations low”.
Benji jumped a hurdle way back when he was five and began to study Hebrew at Meyer. Ever since then he has yearned to visit Israel. It was incredible that he could join his classmates and teachers on this trip to experience it, boy wonder breaking barriers – again. In kindergarten, when his teachers started to teach him Hebrew, I was so worried that this task would be too much for him. After all, he had only been speaking English for about 18 months. My worries were for nothing, he mastered the language – one of the first of endless lessons I learned from Benji – do not underestimate the possibilities. By the time the bus arrived to take Benji and his classmates to Israel, Benji had become fluent in Hebrew and had twice been mistaken for an Israeli.
Benji and his friend Ben Krieger
When he boarded the bus for the airport, he turned to me and said, “Mom, I’ve been looking forward to this trip for years. I am so excited. I will miss you though. I hope you will be okay without me.” I assured him I would be and told him to have the time of his life. The moment that bus drove away was the first time I cried about Benji in 11 years.
When Benji was diagnosed with autism, I realized that if I was going to survive, I would have to toughen up. This was the mountain I had been assigned and I was determined to use every ounce of instincts, intelligence and courage to try to move that mountain. Many days, that proved to be a Herculean task. In my darker moments, I wondered why I had been given such an arduous assignment. I turned to quotes to inspire me. Like this one: “Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass. It is about learning to dance in the rain.”
When Benji left for Israel, for a few hours, I felt bereft. However, as soon as the flight landed, the principal of Meyer, Maya Scwartz, also a chaperone on the trip, sent me a message that Benji had slept well on the plane, decided not to study the flight path endlessly and was in fact, doing great.
Surprise: I am Changing!
The next day I celebrated my birthday with several members of my tribe. We went to an organic, local plant-based restaurant called Christopher’s Kitchen, a place I thought I disliked in the past. Celebrating my birthday at a VEGAN restaurant – um. Not! BUT – The food was amazing, it mimics all your favorites but it’s clean and delicious. Sushi, pizza, noodle bowls – all plant-based, “whole” foods, all yummy. In the spirit of birthday fun, we started the meal with dessert – a solid call by one of my friends and here, progress in my quest to be clean, I am in love with this kind of vegan food. I have found a little version of this CK, where I indulge in a clean meal or snack several times a week. This is my go to now. This is progress. (FYI: Ivy’s Stacked Nachos with Dairy Free Lime Crema recipe was inspired by the one on Christopher’s Kitchen menu.)
By the time the weekend rolled around, I felt an odd new sense of peace. Benji was thriving in Israel and the texts he sent me were filled with love. My best friend, who I like to refer to as my sister from another mother turned 50 the week before. To celebrate, we took a brief trip, just the two of us to the Epcot Flower and Garden show.
We went to dinner at Shula’s in the Dolphin Hotel and a waiter took this photo of us…she doesn’t look 50, does she?
Instead of eating French fries, I ordered a steak with a side of mushrooms and a side of green beans.
It tasted delicious and I did not miss the French fries at all. The server was so sweet and brought us 2 HUGE candle lit desserts, that we appreciated but didn’t touch. A few bites of the dinner was all I need to feel satisfied – food was no longer soothing, it was just a piece of the experience. After dinner, we took a walk that led me face to face with a CUPCAKE. I asked to take a picture of it. In the spirit of Disney magic, the cast member packaged it up and said enjoy it. I gratefully accepted. I so wanted to take just one bite, but I put the cupcake down and left it alone at the hotel. Past Debby would have never let that happen. It’s these victories, small that they may be, compared to Benji’s, are mine. JUST MINE. My whole life as a parent has left my care neglected, so I take this victory – ME: 1 vs. CUPCAKE: 0 and know that caring for myself is a priority. One, that I am enjoying and looking forward to more of.
Just in case you are wondering, it is 6am on a Sunday. I have been awake since 4 something, anxiously awaiting Benji’s return. As I learned from him, one way to calm anxiety is to track the progress of various flights. So, I chose to track his flight:
In doing so, I also thought about the cosmic shift that has taken place over the last 12 days. I am ready to retire the mantra: You have been assigned this mountain to show others that it can be moved. I think until I can see what is in store for me next, I will go with: some storms don’t come to destroy … instead they come to clear a path for you.
As I entered the terminal to greet Benji, Ami (my dear friend, Benji’s teacher, chaperone extraordinaire) and the rest of the Meyer Academy travelers, I scanned the room to figure out where the group had gathered. My eyes were drawn to the those “Meyer in Israel” blue shirts. They were the same shirts they wore upon departure 12 days prior. He saw me and went running across the baggage claim yelling, “there’s my mom!” That moment was a magical one that I will never, ever, ever forget.
This trip and this school helped Benji become who he is. If our story inspires you, click here make a donation of whatever you can. I can’t think of a more deserving place to show our appreciation. Benji graduates from Meyer in three weeks! ???✈?
Wednesday 25th of April 2018
I cried and was so moved as I read about Benji’s new journey, his trip to Israel and how this trip opened up new avenues for you to explore and how you both have grown. Deb, I applaud how you handled and became aware of your old eating habits and made an effort to eat differently from during this stressful time. Benji’s trip will definitely open up new doors, experiences and growth for the both of you. I love your blog and can’t wait for the next chapter. Love, AC