Monthly Archives: December 2013

Lunch Lady Land

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When Cam was diagnosed, he was already four weeks into his 7th grade year. As you may remember, middle school lunches were the social hour. You were too old to have any recesses so you were “contained” to the building. You were constantly switching classes so the chances that you got to see all of your friends consisted of two minutes at the lockers or during the 20 minutes that you had to eat lunch. Not a long time at all but during that ⅓ of an hour the groups formed and, if you were lucky, you were included with your friends and could leave the stresses of an upcoming science test behind for just a few minutes.

I was introduced to the concept of allergy tables when my kids were in elementary school. Coming from the ‘70s, I initially found this concept to be shocking and almost borderline cruel. “No, Susie, you’re no different than any of the other girls. Now, go sit three tables away with kids you don’t know but who are like you.” In my day, that peanut butter cookie was put on every tray, next to every other item that you were supposed to eat. We all turned out o.k., right? Having a child with Celiac’s put a different spin on my thinking.

Now, in middle school, the kids are responsible enough to not have designated allergy tables where they have to sit. This doesn’t mean that Cam still doesn’t feel left out at times. He packs every day and that can be both cumbersome and wearing on all parties involved. From my wife making his lunch every morning to him not getting to through the line with his buddies to get that piece of pizza, changes have been made.

But what about changes to the lunch system in the school?. We have found it disturbing how undereducated the workers at our cafeteria were towards a Celiac student. Nuts and dairy are easy, gluten…uhh, what’s that? When Cam was first diagnosed, my wife went to his middle school to speak with a cafeteria worker about his condition and what alternative choices could be offered on a daily basis. When told about Cam being a Celiac, the worker replied to my wife, “Well tomorrow, we’re having spaghetti so he’ll be ok”. Wow. Needless to say, our confidence in any type of food being served to our son at the school reached a minimal level. The school system is required by law to have alternatives for “allergy” students but this includes choices such as salads that are prepackaged with croutons. Again, a big no-no. In their defense, the system does offer fruits along with the “safe” salads but what 12 year old boy is going to be full or nutritionally satisfied with a banana?

Times will change. New products will be introduced in the school systems in the years to come. While these products will be too late for my son to enjoy, education of cafeteria workers and lunch program coordinators is something that can be done for him and for others with his condition. Our schools are part of a leading, standard-bearing system in our state. It would be nice to see them take the lead in this educational process. We’ll help them as we can.

 

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What can a Dad do?

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Cam was diagnosed with Celiac’s this past September. The official date was somewhere in the middle of the month but for “anniversary” purposes, we like to say that Labor Day is when our lives changed. Our story is not really any different than anyone else’s. My son started having his stomach issues while we were on vacation in June. My wife and I came to the uneducated assumption that he had caught something from the beach house hot tub or, at worse, contracted some type of intestinal virus similar to what my mother-in-law had suffered from the previous two months. And, like good parents, we gave him plenty of fluids and had him eat toast to calm his belly (yes, give us the Parents of the Year award now). Celiac’s never crossed our mind.

Cam’s 12 years old and has always been in the top percentiles on the growth charts. Like any typical pre-teen boy, he kept fast food places on top of their chicken nugget inventory counts and could inhale half of a Papa John’s pizza in about five minutes. Gluten, we now know, was a main component in his diet. He wasn’t putting on any weight but he didn’t look unhealthy. The start of his symptoms were sudden, much more resembling a bug than an a dietary allergy. When things didn’t clear up, we started keeping a food journal but never removed wheat from the equation (thinking more that it could have been a dairy issue or a hormonal change causing a reaction to fried foods). Doctor’s visits and multiple samples initially did not turn up anything that raised a red flag. It wasn’t until after an ill-fated day of eating over the Labor Day weekend (biscuits, buns and rolls..oh my!) that I took things seriously. It was then, at four o’clock in the morning while in the bathroom of our hotel room that Cam, through tears and bouts of pain that doubled him over, looked at me and asked me to help him make the nightmare stop. It ripped my heart out. He’s 12, on the verge of huge life changes, but he’s still my baby boy and something was hurting him..badly. Within a couple of weeks, after elevated tags in his blood tests and an endoscope, that the official diagnosis came.

So, you may ask, why write a blog about it? There are already numerous Celiac’s and gluten free focused blogs that are all great. They range from offering advice to teens & moms to discussing new ways to make classic, gluten-free recipes. My wife, who is a great chef and who my son is blessed to have in the kitchen for him, has taken this change on full steam. She’s “re-teaching” herself to cook and the baking perfectionist in her assures me that she will succeed and be Cam’s greatest asset. Cam, himself, is a smart kid and watching him these past three months has amazed me and proves that he has the maturity beyond his years to get through this difficult first year. So where does that leave me? What can I bring to the gluten-free table in our family? I am writing this blog to learn my purpose. I am nowhere near my wife’s experience in the kitchen but I do have a degree in food microbiology. I thirst to learn about what is going on to help my son’s condition. I want to educate myself and others but do it from a Dad’s perspective. I’m third on the gluten-free totem pole in my family but that doesn’t mean that I can’t use our experiences and my words to help other Dads and parents of teens realize that we are still important to the fragile psyche of our children who are struggling to understand why they are going through this.

Is it also cathartic for me to write? Absolutely. But for my family, my wife and most importantly my son, it is how I can help and understand and make our lives a little easier.

 

Chris