Gluten-free: A Fact of Life

Today we visited new friends at their home for the first time. Within five minutes of stepping through the door, Ella ate a cookie. With gluten in it. The second she found out it had gluten, she cried. She spit it out, hid her head, sobbed, pleaded with me to leave.

We didn’t leave. Partly because I felt bad to leave when we’d only just arrived. But also because I knew we had some time before a reaction occurred (and I didn’t really want the results in the van – I hoped it would happen outside).

I did, however, cuddle Ella, and talk to her about the gluten how she felt emotionally and physically. I also told her she didn’t need to play, we could find a quiet place for her to sit where she’d be free from other children. Though if she’d still insisted we leave, we would have.

She didn’t stay hidden for long, she joined everyone else picking berries, and racing through the yard.

She was upset, she’d asked if the cookie was gluten-free. She’d been told it was safe. Unfortunately she asked a three-year old. Ella sobbed, “I don’t want to throw-up. I don’t want to feel yucky.” She knew what was coming.

I could’ve prevented all this from happening. Part of me wishes to turn back the clock and erase all of my baby girl’s pain. But there’s another part of me that can see the lesson learned. Ella now knows to ask an adult, more importantly: Mommy or Daddy, to find out if something contains gluten. She is also more aware of how her body specifically reacts to the gluten. And so am I. We’ve discovered that it becomes painful a lot faster than we realized, but that she can prevent herself from throwing up long enough to find a safe space to do it (though apparently our van constitutes a safe space).

Also I want her to learn how to be safe at other people’s homes. I want her to know it is possible to visit others, and still be safe. I don’t want her friendships limited to the non-gluten eaters.

One book I read just after finding out about the celiac’s disease told parents to tell their children that gluten caused every little upset. If they fall and scrape their knee, it’s because they ate gluten. They catch a stomach bug and throw-up, gluten’s to blame. The point was to scare the child away from ever wanting to try gluten.

I have several problems with this. First it creates a very scary view of the world. Second, a parent should not lie to their child, third, the child will figure out what gluten does to their body, but they’ll figure it out faster with a parents guidance. Lying to the child will actually make the process take longer because the child will have to figure out which of the many upsets are really caused by gluten. Then have enough of them to realize what the results are.

Also the child will soon realize that mom and dad lied. They’ll no longer trust what mom and dad say about gluten. SO the child will be more likely to stray from a  gluten-free lifestyle.

At 4.5 Ella knows to avoid gluten. She knows to ask first, she knows exactly what it’ll do to her. We have never needed to scare her. Even at the stores when they have samples to taste she’ll sometimes ask for one. We can’t always tell how safe the item is. We let her know it MAY contain gluten or may have touched gluten. It MAY make her sick. We then let her decide what to do. Sometimes she tastes it, sometimes she doesn’t. If the item contains gluten, she says, “No thank you.”

By being truthful and open with her, she’s gained the knowledge and experience to begin to protect herself. As she gets older we’ll continue to assist her. We’ll show her what a gluten cookie looks like vs a gluten-free. The same with breads etc. Most of the time a single look is all it takes to tell the difference. If the look doesn’t give it away, then the smell will.

Yes at times the girls may taste something with gluten, and they may end up sick because of it. It won’t be fun. But the experiences provide new information. And that knowledge is what they need to protect themselves. One day they’ll be on their own no one will step between them and gluten.

We follow a special diet, but in no way should that limit our life in any other way. Gluten-free is a fact of life. But it does not define us or our life in any way.

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