When my oldest daughter’s friend came over to play yesterday she asked if I could make mac ‘n’ cheese for lunch, because mine was “the best she had ever tasted.”

She was surely thinking of the deluxe version of this dish I made two years ago for my daughter’s birthday party, which had the full amount of butter as instructed by the box plus an extra crispy layer of cheese baked on top. (Veggie sticks were also served at that party, just so you know).

But you see, now things are a little trickier because my youngest daughter Molly is on a gluten-free, dairy-free diet, and at two and a half, she’s starting to notice what the people around her are eating. I didn’t want her to have major mac ‘n’ cheese FOMO. Her diet is hard enough.

The Perfect Crime

Luckily, I remembered that last week I had discovered a box of dairy-free, gluten-free mac ‘n’ cheese in the supermarket. It was vegan, kosher, and made with brown rice pasta. It was the perfect crime. I prepared both mac ‘n’ cheeses and gave the the super unhealthy one to my oldest daughter and her friend, and the super healthy one to Molly.

They were big hits all round, and Molly was quite satisfied she was having what everyone else was having. I took a bite (ok, several bites, several times throughout the day) of the deluxe version. It was decadently delicious. And out of curiosity, I tried Molly’s version.

It was… well…

I guess the taste resembled the idea of what mac ‘n’ cheese was supposed to be…

…But minus the deliciousness and with the addition of some grossness. (I’m being really kind with my words here).

But Molly loved it. She ate two bowls.

Bittersweet Symphony

As I watched her, I felt a mixture of emotions.

True happiness and gratitude that I had found something else I could feed her that fit into her diet…

…But also quite a profound sadness as I realized that keeping her on this diet – which we believe is best for her health – means she won’t get to enjoy the experience of a super unhealthy dairy-filled, glutinous mac ‘n’ cheese, or all the other treats she’s not supposed to have.

She might grow up thinking that her version of mac ‘n’ cheese is just like any other. She’ll enjoy it just fine. She won’t know any different.

Maybe it’s for the best.

But still… …to not know how much better it could be…

There’s a sadness there.

Tisha B’Av

And so here we are in the Nine Days. Trying to connect with the pain of not having the Beit Hamikdash, not living in the closeness of HaShem’s presence…

But the truth is, in our reality – the only one we know – many of us generally, thankfully, for the most part, enjoy our lives. We love our Judaism, our Shabbos, our Torah, and even our spiritual connection and growth when we feel it.

We like it just fine. We don’t know any different.

Maybe it’s for the best.

But still…

…To not have even an inkling of the divine intimacy, the sweetness, the goodness, the wholeness, that we are now living without…