Saturday, March 27, 2010

My Daughter Has Celiac and Now I’m a Food Freak

Let’s talk about allergy-moms. You know the ones – please don’t bring anything with eggs, wheat, citrus to school for shared snack because my child is allergic. Or the mom who managed to get milk snacks banned in our school, until a teacher grabbed a child's yogurt, sent him to the principal’s office, and his mom explained what she would do if her son didn’t get his yogurt back. That experiment ended.

These were food freaks, as far I was concerned. And as long as they kept their freakdom to themselves I was fine. (I never threw peanut-allergies in there – that is terrifying, and a totally different situation.)

But two months ago my daughter got diagnosed with the genetic condition, Celiac disease. We’re not talking ‘I’m not eating gluten because I hope I lose weight.’ Or ‘I can’t eat wheat while I’m nursing because my infant is allergic.’ Or even, ‘We’re hoping one day she outgrows it.’ I’m talking my kid can’t eat school lunch, can’t put her banana on a table if a sandwich sat there earlier, can’t go into any restaurant without knowing if they actually cleaned the counter, frying pan, plate properly. Ever. For the rest of her life ever.

I’m talking straight up food freak.

I’m talking I asked a friend last week not to eat her croissant in my house because I was afraid of the crumbs. I’m talking throwing out the toaster. I’m talking asking the babysitter to order her dinner from a gluten-free take-out menu. One fiber of gluten and her intestines start to develop lesions. And her body stops getting nutrients. And she feels pain. And she, basically, becomes malnourished. As she apparently has been for the past year.

After adjusting to the shock of finding out my child will never eat normally again, I made a snap decision that this would impact us in our home — but not others as much as we could. In other words, we were not going to wave the food freak flag around, too much.

At 7-years-old the Kid needs to feel normal. And normal means, don’t tell the moms they need gluten-free cupcakes when it's their kids class birthday. Within a week, I had lollipops stashed in the class (thanks to her teacher) and discovered that Whole Foods has the best gluten-free cupcakes on the planet. I made sure parents of her closest friends knew I’d be super happy to supply strawberries, cheese, even gluten-free cookies for play dates. They in turn started looking up on their own if the tortilla chips they had were gluten-free (they were) or which brand of ice cream was cool — or not. (I love these people so much – they’ll never know.)

I am sure I still am waving the flag around, without knowing. How can I not when a trip for “slices” after basketball class with a friend means the Kid can tag along, but only for milk. Or we have to walk past the other kids lining up for the Mr. Softee truck after school — and not join them for a soft-serve on a cone.

I don’t begrudge the other parents at all. I have to teach the Kid how to understand that her friends are going to eat things she never will again. Keeping her in an isolated bubble where class birthday celebrations have to cater to her needs, doesn’t protect her — I think it does much more harm. One day she’s going to have to navigate all of this alone. And sometimes, yep, life isn’t exactly fair. Luckily I’m walking the path with her. Luckily, I’m willing to teach myself how to bake gluten-free one disastrous cookie sheet after another. And I’m hoping to help her see just how lucky she is. After all, she’ll never have to eat mama’s pumpkin pie again.

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