Tag Archives: kids

20 Ways a Gluten-Free Diet Prepares You to Be the Best Mom or Dad Ever

It occurred to me as I was dutifully packing my own lunch the other day that I’m getting pretty good at this. Maybe not Pinterest good, but I could definitely do a bento box. I’m totally ready to be someone’s mom!, I thought.

I started wondering what other overlap my GF lifestyle has with parenting, and I came up with quite a list. Can you relate?

  1. You pack lunches every day (“love you” notes to yourself probably not included, but I bet you’d rock it).
  2. You’ve lost all discomfort discussing and dealing with poop. Accidents (and maybe vomit) included.
  3. You plan ahead—obsessively—in often vain attempts to prepare for all eventualities.
  4. You spend a significantly larger portion of each day feeling stressed than relaxed.
  5. Looking and feeling pregnant are not foreign to you. (However, if reports are true, no celiac-induced pain you’ve experienced rivals childbirth. Comforting?)
  6. You cook three meals a day, not (necessarily) because you like to, but because someone has to.
  7. You grapple with preparing single meals that satisfy a group of people with completely different wants and needs (allergies, vegetarian/veganism, low-carb, paleo, lactose intolerance, likes and dislikes, and of course gluten-freedom).
  8. You document everything, even the most insignificant milestones: First gluten-free homemade flour blend! First from-scratch cookies! First time eating out! First holiday!
  9. You carry snacks in your bag (and sometimes baby wipes—nothing gets gluten off like ’em).
  10. You’re always tired.
  11. You just know when someone is lying to you (though sometimes after the fact).
  12. You shamelessly ask people to wash their hands before eating. (Only if you’ll be sharing finger food after they just ate, say, fried chicken in front of you. And, okay, there’s a bit of shame.)
  13. You’ve also been known to ask suspiciously, when someone last brushed his/her teeth.
  14. You take grocery shopping very seriously . . .
  15. and keep an eagle eye out for deals. GF food’s not cheap!
  16. You understand the importance of a good burp.
  17. You’re used to not having much of a social life outside of your home.
  18. You’re extremely familiar with saying “no.”
  19. The first thing you look for in any new place is the bathroom.
  20. Sometimes, you can’t remember what life was like before all this. And if a cure is discovered within your lifetime, you’re not totally sure you’ll know what to do with yourself.

See? Child-rearing and chronic disease, two of life’s enduring mysteries, are essentially the same. Both look just . . . like . . . this (with Snyder’s of Hanover GF pretzels, of course):

Yes, I focused on one particular set of symptoms (that is, mine), which many people with gluten-related disorders may not have; there’s a laundry list of other possible symptoms, including infertility (which makes becoming a parent a bit tougher, though certainly not impossible).

And, yes, there are some ways in which they differ. For example:

  1. GF bread prices and loaf sizes being what they are, you do not cut off the crusts.
  2. Celiac disease doesn’t demand bedtime stories—though I’ve got you covered if it ever comes up.
  3. Strollers and playgrounds are also optional.

There’s one more, utterly crucial distinction: When you yourself are gluten-free, all that extra energy you expend and stressing you do are about YOU. Taking responsibility for your own well-being is admirable (and, for many of us, critical), but as a parent you must take that endless worry, attention to detail, and physical and emotional care and turn them outward.

If it’s your child who eats gluten-free, you already understand that. For those of us who aren’t yet but may become parents, assuming a cure doesn’t come, we’ll continue to manage our own diet while caring for the tiny human beings in our charge. We’ll be taking the “tired” we feel and doubling it, at least.

That, more than anything on the list above, makes parenting sound pretty intimidating. From what I hear, though, it’s pretty fulfilling work—so if anything is stopping you from having kids, I hope celiac disease isn’t it. Some (far-off) day, I won’t let it stop me!

Am I missing anything on my lists of similarities and differences? Parents, did I get any of this right?

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I’m a gluten-free American Girl, in a nut-allergic Barbie world

When I was a kid, I had an American Girl doll. Samantha, to be precise. (No Molly doll for this Molly.) I loved Samantha dearly.

My parents made clear that I was also to love her carefully: this doll would be the most expensive thing in my personal possession for a very long time, and there would be no trips to the “doll hospital.”

Because of the dolls’ exorbitant price point, my sister (who did, by a twist of fate, have the Molly doll) and I weren’t really supposed to play with them, per se, more like take them out occasionally to gaze upon. And we certainly didn’t have a closet full of accessories.

However, there is in fact a whole world of American Girl extras to discover—a customizable wardrobe to rival that of Barbie. For example, did you know that there’s an allergy-free lunch accessory? It’s true!

The set includes a customizable food allergy bracelet, an EpiPen, and a healthful lunch. It’s adorable and inclusive—a great idea, though pardon me while I make fun of a few things:

Photo © American Girl

Photo © American Girl

1. What is a “sandwich skewer,” and why was that their best idea for a food-allergy-free lunch? Those brown bits look like bread to me, and though it could be wheat-free, it’s unclear. If the lunch was going to include bread anyway, why not a sandwich? If I were a kid already self-conscious about food allergies, the last thing I’d want is a conspicuously different lunch.

2. Why the cloth lunch bag? I suppose it’s safe for those with latex allergies, but a bento box would be, too—not to mention way more stylish.

3. Where’s the dessert? Don’t even pretend to count the “berry smoothie.”

Photo © American Girl

Photo © American Girl

4. In general, it pales in comparison with the “normal” lunch, which boasts a brownie, more fruit than vegetables, a cute “stackable” design, a purple spork, a sandwich cut into the shape of a daisy, and a FOLD-OUT PLACEMAT. Moms and dads, take note. That’s how you say “I love you” with a lunch.

5. The price is crazy (though at least it costs the same as the regular lunch—unrealistically, since safe foods tend to be more expensive, and let’s not get started on the EpiPen, which in real life go for over $200 a two-pack). At $28 per lunch, I would probably tell my future little American girl to just use her imagination.

Then again, that feeling of being a Normal American Girl? Priceless.

Like I said, this idea is adorable and inclusive. However, I would like to state for the record that it’s not really inclusive of the little gluten-free American girls running around out there, most of whom will never lay hands on an EpiPen (and should consider themselves fortunate for it).

I propose that the next $28 add-on be a gluten-free kit, including:

  • packets of wheat-free soy sauce
  • a shrink-wrapped gluten-free cookie with a big honking CERTIFIED symbol on the front
  • a pair of reading glasses, prematurely acquired from squinting at food labels
  • a toaster bag and tongs for tiny gluten-free bread slices
  • & some GlutenTox gluten test kits for those “safe” classroom snacks.

Now doesn’t that sound nice?

What else would you add? How you feel about the idea of food-allergy/gluten-free dolls? Would you buy this toy for a child? What are other ways to help kids understand food restrictions?

By the way, while there is no food-allergy Barbie—that I know of—I did come across an older post on the now-inactive blog No Peanuts Please about a “homemade” peanut- and egg-allergic Barbie. Worth a read, whether you hate Barbie or love her.

Peanut-allergic Barbie is not a vegetarian. Photo © Bugeater | Flickr

Food-allergy Barbie is not a vegetarian.
Photo © Bugeater | Flickr

Of course, what I really loved, more than any accessory and perhaps even more than my doll, were the books…so next week, I plan to post my spin on a celiac American Girl series. In the meantime, I’m taking name suggestions in the comments.

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The bathroom IS an important part of the story.

This was meant to be a lighthearted “second-favorite book character with celiac disease” post, in the vein of my Moaning Myrtle review. I was going to point to a particular scene in a Beverly Cleary book and say, “See, Ramona knows.” But when I located and reread the Ramona the Pest scene, I remembered some details that got me all righteously worked up about education and sent this post off in a totally different direction. I hope you’ll pardon my soapboxing. If you came for lighthearted, please check out my archives, where you will find plenty of absurd musing on fairy tales and brain fog. No doubt I will be back tomorrow babbling about citrus (no, but seriously).

If you’re still there, let me paint the scene for you: Kindergarten teacher Miss Binney corrals her rowdy class into something approaching order and reads aloud the story Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, an inspiring tale about sticking to your guns and living up to your promises. In the face of great doubt, Mike proves the worth of his ancient steam shovel by digging the entire cellar of the new town hall in a single day, dawn to dusk. It’s a good story, and the kids, pesky Ramona included, are rapt. But they’re especially interested in one detail that the picture book skips past:

As Ramona listened a question came into her mind, a question that had often puzzled her about the books that were read to her. Somehow books always left out one of the most important things anyone would want to know. Now that Ramona was in school, and school was a place for learning, perhaps Miss Binney could answer the question. . . .

‘Miss Binney, I want to know—how did Mike Mulligan go to the bathroom when he was digging the basement of the town hall?

As I said, I was going to chop off the excerpt there and leave you with, “Anyone who places that much importance on being able to get to the bathroom probably has…” (…you see where I’m going with this.)

But when I kept reading, I found a part I’d forgotten: Miss Binney’s response.

Miss Binney’s smile seemed to last longer than smiles usually last. . . .

‘Boys and girls,’ she began, and spoke in her clear, distinct way. ‘The reason the book does not tell us how Mike Mulligan went to the bathroom is that it is not an important part of the story. The story is about digging the basement of the town hall, and that is what the book tells us.’

Miss Binney spoke as if this explanation ended the matter . . .

Miss Binney’s blunt summation, “not an important part of the story,” read from my present perspective, suddenly struck me as incomplete and misguided, as well as indicative of a larger problem in the way we’re socialized in school. Here Ramona and her classmates are thinking critically about a basic human function, and Miss B., the civilizing influence, the authoritative mouthpiece of society, is standing in front of them and explaining that it’s not important. As the story goes on to remind us, Miss B. showed her class the bathroom first thing, and she’ll surely lead them there in single file the requisite number of times a day, but other than that she doesn’t want to talk about it, doesn’t want to hear about it, and doesn’t want it popping up in her picture books.

Ramona—and good for her—learns from this that there are some lessons school won’t teach her. For now, at least, she “knew and the rest of the class knew that knowing how to go to the bathroom was important,” but for how long? How long until this understanding is beaten out of her by well-meaning teachers and other prudes? How long until she’s pretending her digestive system doesn’t exist and whispering the word bathroom like a shameful near-obscenity, if at all? And from there, how long until she’s bashfully tacking “Sorry, TMI” onto descriptions of stomach upset in a support group or a doctor’s office—or keeping quiet about it altogether?

Am I being melodramatic? Maybe a little. But whether or not I’m taking away what Bev wanted me to (and, judging from this article, I’m probably not), it’s what I’ve got. Sure, Miss Binney’s not precisely saying that using the bathroom in itself isn’t important; she means that it’s not related to the overall story, which is about the value of a good day’s work done right. But, even setting aside the implication that  access to a bathroom and the necessary breaks to use it are not important to a good day’s work (which is in itself a troubling idea about labor to be teaching to our little future workerbots in public schools, and one beyond my ability to properly dismantle in the parenthetical space I’ve granted it here), Miss B.’s message includes more than her spoken words. Her clear discomfort, her abrupt response, her effort to shut down the dialogue and move on—all of these things tell the tykes that the bathroom is not something one should talk about.

I understand that early education teachers must live in constant fear of the off topic, and I understand that this is not without reason. Still, I wish Miss B.’s response—and the response of the real teachers on whom she is no doubt based—had been different.

I wish she’d said, “Good question, Ramona.” I wish she’d said, “Sometimes writers leave stuff out, even really important details like this, because they’re focusing on other things.” I’d love it if she’d said, “You know what, Ramona? That’s a plot hole that has never occurred to me in all my years as an educator. You just might make a fine editor one day.”

In sum, I wish she’d taken the question seriously and faced without discomfort a subject no one ought to disown, least of all a teacher of kindergarteners (a poop-obsessed clan if ever there was one). Because if we were all taught from kindergarten age to speak up about things that struck us as strange or unfair, and to discuss those things that strike us as compelling or important, we might have a better educated, more self-assured, and perhaps more just population.

More specifically, if we were taught from a young age that the bathroom, and what happens there, is important (which it is—digestion affects virtually every system in our bodies, and what comes out at the end of the process is just as worthy of attention as what goes in at the start) and that it’s okay and important to talk about it, more of us might talk to our doctors about the strange things we’ve noticed in our own bathroom habits, and digestive disorders from Crohn’s to colitis to celiac to food intolerances to IBS, that chimerical beast—might be discovered and dealt with earlier.

Moreover, if it were taught that it’s important and okay to talk about the bathroom, more kids might grow up to be gastroenterologists or digestive science researchers, because those fields might be recognized as the incredibly intricate and fascinating areas of study they are, rather than being widely considered the least glamorous and least compelling arenas of medicine. If it were important and okay to talk about the bathroom, we might have found a cure for ulcerative colitis by now; we might have a working celiac vaccine by now; we might have banished the diagnose of IBS and replaced it with true knowledge and solutions by now. If it were important and okay to talk about the bathroom, we might even be a bit closer to making that talk truly less important by eradicating digestive dysfunctions.

Finally, if it were important and okay to talk about the bathroom, we might be able to stop losing people (including many who are, in the grand scheme of things, not much older than those kindergarteners) to suicides precipitated by the depression that attends many digestive disorders, because they might feel comfortable speaking up about it and getting help, instead of becoming more and more hopeless and more and more humiliated by their unimportant condition until life itself starts seeming unimportant, too. (And, again, because we might have more researchers turning up results that could tangibly ease their symptoms.)

In short, although I know teachers have lesson plans to stick to and criteria to meet, I can’t help but feel that an important part of any teacher’s hard day’s work done right should be to encourage students to speak up about the things that trouble or confuse them, especially those things that concern the very most basic stuff of human functioning. And yes, that includes the bathroom.

Asking these questions shouldn’t make you a pest. It’s the refusal to listen to them that’s really annoying.

Photo © daveparker | Flickr

Photo © daveparker | Flickr

All excerpts from Ramona the Pest, © Beverly Cleary 1968.

Please share your thoughts! If you have kids, do you encourage them to speak up about “uncomfortable” topics? Do you speak up about digestive issues, if you have them? Are you (or your kids) shushed for talking about the toilet? How might we go about increasing our comfort level with this topic on a societal level? And do you think we should?

P.S. I know celiac disease isn’t all digestive trouble—trust me, I know—but this isn’t really a post about celiac disease. It’s a post about the BATHROOM. Which is, to me, very important.

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Celiac disease is not a game. But it should be!

I’ve always wanted to invent my own board game. As a kid, I was the mastermind behind several new games, including Cops and Robbers II—an elaborate affair involving a three-strikes-you’re-out-via-electric-chair rule (the strikes cleverly tracked by attaching clothespins to the unlucky robbers’ T-shirts)—and Orphans, which was exactly what it sounds like and always starred a resourceful eldest orphan child who thrived in her new pseudo-maternal role (played by me, every time). These games were a hit in my neighborhood (or at least in my own head), but a decent board game was always beyond my reach. Turns out, it’s hard to invent a board game. You need a head for logistics, design skills, and, above all, I felt, an imaginative concept.

Then again, if you pay attention to the board games market, you begin to see that innovative concepts are few and far between. I swear, every board or card game introduced in the past ten years has been a remake of an older game that required no special equipment, a mash-up of several previously published games, or yet another addition to the -Opoly family. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my extensive research, it’s this: forget innovation and just rip someone off.

With this rule in mind, I’ve come up with a new board game called Sorry!—The Celiac Edition.

Photo © schrierc | Flickr Creative Commons

Photo © schrierc | Flickr Creative Commons

For this game, you’ll need a board, pieces, and numbered cards from the game Sorry! (which is, by the way, itself a ripoff of Parcheesi).

Although it could be said that for 3 million Americans, this is already the Game of Life, the game is for 3 to 4 players. Every player except one represents a celiac patient and, unlike in the standard version, receives just one of the 16 pawns.

The remaining player represents Gluten. Assigned based on highest cruelty level as determined by popular vote, this player gets all the remaining pawns.

As in Sorry!, the object is to get your pawn from Start to Home, here known as Health. The players all have their own Start and Health spaces, because every road to health is unique.

Play proceeds clockwise, beginning with the sickliest player—again, determined by popular vote. Players draw one card per turn and move their pawns according to the numbers on the pawn. To move his/her pawn off of Start, a player must draw either a 1 or 2 (or, for added realism, 1 only). Gluten is not bound by this rule and may proceed from Start as soon as at least one other player has a pawn in play.

If Gluten moves one of his/her pawns onto a space already occupied by another player’s pawn, that pawn must be returned to Start and the player begins again. Sorry!

If a player draws a card directing him/her to move his/her pawn onto a space already occupied by one of Gluten’s pawns, the player’s pawn must still be returned to Start, because gluten is gluten, no matter how you come by it. Sorry!

Because Gluten has many more pawns in play than anyone else (it’s everywhere!), most players will likely return to Start many times over. Sorry!

If a player besides Gluten moves his/her pawn onto a space already occupied by another player’s pawn, a card is drawn. If even, the players advance each other’s knowledge of the gluten-free lifestyle and are both allowed to remain on the spot. If odd, they confuse each other with misinformation they learned on the internet and must both return to Start. Sorry!

When any player besides Gluten reaches the midway point on the board, Gluten must take one pawn out of play permanently. This signifies the players’ improved ability to manage a gluten-free lifestyle and increases the likelihood that they will eventually make it to Health.

As in the standard game, when a player’s pawn occupies one of his/her own “safe” spaces, he/she is safe from Gluten but may still draw a negative numbered card and be forced to leave the safe space of his/her own little gluten-free counter in his/her own little gluten-free kitchen.

Also as in the standard game, at various designated “slides,” players may skip their pawns forward a few extra spots toward Health. However, if a pawn encounters Gluten at any point along the slide, it must be returned to Start. Once again—sorry!

Photo © LifeSupercharger | Flickr Creative Commons

Photo © LifeSupercharger | Flickr Creative Commons

An accepted—and encouraged—variant calls for beginning the game with all players (except for Gluten) blindfolded. Players must keep their blindfolds on until they reach the midway point; until this time, Gluten reads their cards and implements their moves for them. Depending on personal preference, the player representing Gluten may choose to disclose information about other players’ progress toward Health and say “Sorry!” when sending their pawn back to Start, or leave the players completely in the dark until they have progressed far enough to take their blindfolds off. (I often feel this is the way I’m playing: unsure of how far I’ve come, what mistakes I’ve made, or whether I’ve even moved from Start.)

The first player to reach Health wins—unless that player is Gluten. When one of Gluten’s pawns arrives at Health, it is returned to Start and remains in play. Gluten will never go away, but provided the other players persevere, Gluten never wins.

Sorry!

Tell me about your favorite board game (with a gluten- or allergen-free twist, if you like) in the comments…as long as it’s not Monopoly, because seriously? No one really likes that game.

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