(How to) Come Together

It’s not easy being us. The G free. Let’s face it, we are living in a G filled world. A friend of mine sent me this hilarious (only to us!) photo of a list of ingredients for hot dog buns. Okay, I know, 99.99999 % of hot dog buns are gluten, but look how many gluten ingredients are in here. (Sorry you’ll have to squint a bit, it was a quick phone photo.)

gluten tastic edited

Count them. Nine. NINE! It’s funny, it really is, especially when you are losing your mind like my friend and I often are. We are moms to kids who HAVE to be gluten free. Because they have celiac disease and gluten makes them sick and destroys the insides of their little bodies.

I have talked, and I will talk more (possibly ad nauseum), about how hard this can be. Birthday parties, anybody? Family outings? But today I want to acknowledge something else. Someone else.

The G eaters. The people who hang out with us. Who host us. Who love us. Who invite us on play dates. People who want to be sensitive to our (many) needs, but perhaps aren’t sure how.

But first a side bar. (You know I can’t help myself.)

The other night we were having a very sweet picnic in the park, and my husband and I watched as people gathered with several sets of friends and children, sharing food on blankets, playing ball, laughing. We were doing all those things, too, just without the friends part. It was fine, don’t get me wrong. We had a blast. Leo dug in the dirt, Emma picked flowers from trees, but there was a moment where I felt a sense of loss… I looked at my husband and said, out of earshot of my kids, who could we invite? [Full disclosure: our friends pool has shrunk since we’ve had kids, but still. Gluten is a factor.]

When we asked Bunky how she’d feel about inviting friends the next time, she got a very serious look on her face and immediately said, “But what if they bring gluten food?” It always comes back to THAT. To gluten. Freaking A. My husband handled it well, explaining that we’d just keep our GF food on our blanket and they’d eat the G on theirs. This seemed to satisfy her and we moved on.

But. But. This awful little rhyme popped into my head:

Separate blankets keep crumbs at bay, separate blankets keep friends away. 

Now I know that isn’t true. Obvs it takes more than one picnic blanket to have a party. But the crumb thing IS an issue.

Bunky chose to sit apart at a birthday party because she was afraid of gluten crumbs.

Bunky chose to sit apart at a birthday party because she was afraid of gluten crumbs.

And frankly, it’s a little SAD not to be able to share food. To watch friends eat things we cannot enjoy, and vice versa. Separate is not necessarily equal, as my friend whose son has celiac often says.

So, in order to help bridge the gap that is sometimes US versus the G eaters, i.e. almost everyone in our life, I wanted to compile a short list of helpful tips that I HOPE puts people at ease. The last thing we want to do is alienate the people who love us, who want to help us, but perhaps are afraid or unsure how to do so. It doesn’t have to be intimidating. It doesn’t have to be sad (well, not always). We can overcome! Let’s share a blanket, maybe.

Some Helpful (I Hope) Tips to Pass Along to the G eaters You Know and Love

1. G Free food can be good, no, GREAT – seriously!

Want to have a picnic with us, but you’re secretly worried about the taste factor of our GF stash? Or maybe you know how much our tiny slices of bread cost and you don’t want to make us go broke. Well, worry no longer! First of all, forget the freaking bread. I barely share that with my dad, let alone anyone else. Besides, you’d still be hungry cause the slices are so small. No sandwiches. BUT we can still eat together.

How’s this for a spread: platters of yummy cheese and salty meat (lots of fancy fatty meat is gluten free, yay!), GF crackers, briny olives and miniature pickles (for Bunky), hummus and veggies, guacamole and corn tortilla chips. Not feeling the finger food thing? No prob. I can whip up a G free pasta salad with fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, and basil. Yum. And for dessert, we could go healthy and eat delicious, sweet, drippy red watermelon (or any other fruit). But don’t forget to partake in the home baked goodies I will surely bring.

2. But if eating the same stuff doesn’t work out, it IS okay to eat G in front of us. 

It’s cool. Really. I mean, Bunky does it EVERY DAY at school. We do it when we go out to eat (on the rare occasion) with relatives. Sometimes my dad asks if he should order a G free pizza, and well, he can if he wants, and sometimes he does, but he doesn’t have to. We know how to be careful with crumbs and cross contamination. It’s, like, our job.

One caveat – please PLEASE do not indulge in a gorgeous looking G treat in front of a kid who can’t have any. That’s just cruel. I mean, duh.

3. No need to apologize about NOT having food for us.

Say we’re on a play date or just hanging out and you suddenly realize all your snacks are full of G? It’s okay, really. We ALWAYS know to BOOF (Bring Our Own Food).

I don’t know any mom of a celiac or allergy kid who doesn’t carry an arsenal of safe snacks in their bag. Everywhere. We don’t expect other people to feed us. It’s our responsibility to keep our kid’s stomachs safe and full, not yours.

Yet, check out this safe spread at a birthday party. The mom knew to put some aside for Bunky to avoid cross contamination. I nearly cried and totally hugged her.

Yet, check out this “Gluten Free Goodies” tray at a birthday party. The mom did this to avoid cross contamination. I totally teared up and hugged her.

If you chat with us ahead of time we can fill you in on what to offer, but that is never expected. No need to apologize either, especially since drawing attention to what a kid CAN’T eat usually makes them feel more uncomfortable. Speaking of which…

4. Please don’t make a fuss about any “special snacks” we bring along.

Our snacks aren’t special, just different. And the only difference is they don’t have G. There’s no need to draw extra attention (see above) to the food we bring, unless of course I baked you something AWESOME. Then compliment away, don’t be shy!

Seriously though, I only mention this because I can’t tell you the amount of times people have ooh-ed and ahh-ed over our mundane snacks. It’s totally a benign overcompensation thing, and I know it’s coming from a good place, but kids are super perceptive to difference, so the more you can NOT point it out, the better.

5. Cooking for us – it IS possible!

It is, it really is. But we will need to have a rather big chat first. And after our big chat, where I go on and on about truly fascinating topics such as cutting board etiquette, cross contamination, and BYO-ing our colander, you may decide it’s too much of a challenge. And that is OK. We know it can seem like a lot, cause frankly, it is. Especially if your kitchen isn’t G free like ours. But either way we don’t judge. Seriously. We’d much rather you opt out gracefully instead of plunging forward and making an unintentional mistake.

That said, right of refusal must go both ways… we also reserve the right to politely, and with the upmost sensitivity, turn down your offer to cook for us if we feel like it may not be safe enough. Ultimately, it’s our daughter’s health that is most important. No hard feelings, please.

If you do end up cooking for our girl, here’s a preemptive thank you. Most likely after heeding all our advice, all will come out just fine. And, if worse comes to worse, and G crashes our party somehow, it will be okay. Bunky will recover, and so will we. We’ve had practice, as unfortunate as that sounds, and know the deal. I’ve even done it. Yup. True horrific story. Maybe I’ll share it here sometime.

……………………………………………………..

Bottom line, there’s no need to be anxious about hanging out with us, G free folk. We’re just like you, minus the G. Chances are everything will go just fine. And if not, you can read about it later on my blog.

Ha, just kidding!!

Seriously. I’m kidding. Read this post if you’re concerned.

I’d love to hear from all you celiacs, parents of celiacs, and allergy people out there: Do you get an anxious vibe from friends and family because of your dietary restrictions? Does it ever hamper your social life? 

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14 thoughts on “(How to) Come Together

  1. Wonderful write up! I could compose an entire ranting and rambling 29 volume encyclopedia set on how much it has impacted our social life and even family gatherings. (I actually did write the first two paragraphs of volume 1, right here in this comment box, and was still going strong, then restrained myself & did a lot of backspacing.) I will just say, that the mom that made that gluten free goodies tray is an angel. I would have teared up and hugged her too.

    • Thank you so much Jan! And next time, don’t backspace your comment cause I’d love to read some of your 29 volume set 🙂 Sometimes you end up feeling so alone on this GF road, in the intense way it can impact social situations, that reading about other people’s experiences helps.

      By the way, I didn’t realize your son was gluten free. It sounds like things were quite difficult during his early years, but he is clearly thriving now! Oh, and your naturally sweet treats e-Book looks awesome! I definitely want to order a copy.

      Yes, that mom was awesome. I didn’t want to weird her out or anything, but I was like, “Um, I really need to hug you now” and then did. It was just so unexpected and lovely.

  2. Yeah, it does impact life – thankfully I seem to have plenty of special-need friends so we all share our misery together….lol! I carried my own food for so many years, that when the baby got diagnosed with severe allergies it wasn’t terribly hard to adapt. I keep my van and purse with food all the time, just in case!
    The only thing I fear is my in-laws next month, who I am not sure if they quite understand JUST how serious it is! Thankfully I am OCD and do all the cooking/feeding so I just need to make sure they are not chugging PB in their hotel or car and then touching him.

    • Ha, I think we need some special-need friends! We feel rather isolated around here. Maybe we need a van, too 🙂

      Spending time with extended family can be challenging, so I think it’s good to be OCD in these cases! Here’s hoping there’s no PB chugging.

  3. We have lovely friends who are very understanding. Some don’t cater for my Little Coeliac at all and are very happy for us to bring all of her food. That’s fine because we know exactly what she’s eating and that it’s safe. The main thing for us is that if it’s easy for them to have her, she will be invited back. So if that means we provide all of her food, we will happily do so.

    Some friends do cater for her and I am in heaven when they have packaging out and ready for me to read, or if they volunteer information on how the food has been prepared and/or cooked. There’s nothing worse than having to interrogate someone who doesn’t understand why you need to know all the little details about the food. It’s offensive to them and uncomfortable to us. Thankfully, this happens rarely. Most of the time, we have discussed things in advance, know the plan and stick to it. That makes for a happy everyone!

    • I totally get the whole “easier for them to have her” thing, and tend to stick with that. The last thing we want is to have people afraid to host us because of FOOD 😦

      Isn’t it so wonderfully lovely when people save the packaging so we can read ingredients? That’s what my friend at the birthday party did, along with that awesome snack tray. It really is so thoughtful. I hope I would’ve been that way, but who knows! There is nothing worse than interrogation and both parties feeling crappy, but sometimes it comes down to that out of necessity, sadly.

      • Saving the wrapper is perfect! I have one friend who buys new bags of Popchips and ostentatiously washes his hands in front of me before opening them to share, and another friend who actually came over to my apartment and cooked dinner for me there in my gluten-free kitchen! It’s awesome! Of course, these are friends who are reading my blog. 😛

        Also, BOOF is a great acronym. Love it and will use it ad nauseam.

  4. The bun thing is very funny and I can relate totally. Yesterday was our street’s annual party, where we shut the road and all bring food. This is my first year gf and I don’t know my neighbours well enough really to inflict my medical history on them. Obviously my plates were gf. At one point a friend asked if I’d like him to get me some food so I said sure, what was he thinking he’d bring over? Obviously I’d already scoped out the table of offerings. He had the following to choose from: pizzas, sausage rolls, pasta salads, tarts, pastries and cakes. He laughed and eventually found a cherry tomato (uncut) to bring me. I think that just about sums it up!!

    • Oh my gosh, street food festivals are all about gluten, aren’t they?! I couldn’t help but laugh in commiseration about that poor cherry tomato, but that’s the reality, sigh. I also love this line: “I don’t know my neighbours well enough to inflict my medical history on them” – hilarious!! And I totally get that.

  5. Unfortunately this “journey” is a never ending roller coaster. Some days and people are great and it makes you relax a little. Then the next day you have to take a deep breath and know that you are in for a never ending ride that seems so overwhelming at times. As I’ve told you before Dana, I feel like it’s often harder for me than it is for my daughter. In fact she has recently taken to using her CD as a negotiating tool….”Mom since I have CD can’t I have a teacup pig?”. True story at the dinner table tonight. Why she even wants a teacup pig is one thing, but what this has to do with CD is beyond me. Had to give her props though for the inventiveness of the request. Needless to say, we may have to “suffer” at times but a teacup pig won’t make our issues any easier. Now if she had asked for a full time maid for the house….hmmm….

    • It is SUCH a roller coaster! Some days certainly are smoother than others, and I agree that most times it is harder on me than Bunky. But I do see her shut down in some social situations where food becomes a focal point and that breaks my heart. However, this is her reality and all I can do is help prepare her to deal with it. I’m totally anxious about kindergarden next year because of the whole minimal supervision in the cafeteria (I’ve heard sharing food is rampant) and while B is great about avoiding G, I think the social component could be a real issue. Well, we will cross that bridge when we have to…

      Hilarious about the teacup pig!! Where does this stuff come from? I’d gladly buy every celiac a pig if it helped 🙂

  6. It’s so true – being g free has left me out of my social loop many times. As an adult. I can only imagine what your girl has to deal with! Glad she’s got the spunk to be able to handle it as well as she seems to!

    • Yes, I imagine the social implications of celiac run across the board from kid to adult. It’s HARD when so much is based on gathering around food.

      She is spunky, so true! I hope I can help her navigate it as best she can.

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