Tag Archives: School

Not Now

If you couldn’t tell by everyone’s Facebook pages in the past week, school has started for many kids around the country. It seems that posting the first day of school picture has become an obligatory step in being a part of the social media world. And I won’t lie. I do it with my kids and I think that they are fun to look at. From afar, you get to watch your friend’s kids grow up year after year. You find yourself nodding your head as you look at the pictures and you recognize that the smiles on the parents’ faces are a little wider than that of the kids on that first day. But behind that large smile for the cameras, the parents (if they are like me) are wondering where the time is going and saying to themselves, “I can’t believe I have a (fill the blank) grader”. It’s a bitter-sweet day.

We treat the first day of school in our house as a big day. The kids recognize that, much like my full time position and my wife’s employment, school is their “job”. We tell them that we expect them to take school seriously and that they need to put forth their best effort on a daily basis. In order to achieve this, they know that they need to be rested, well-nourished and prepared. So, last week, before the first day of school, we took our kids to one of their favorite restaurants for an “end of summer” dinner. It was our way of celebrating the start of another year and letting them know how proud of them we are. We were going to nourish them and then they would get a good night’s rest before their “big” day.

We went to dinner at our local wing place, a restaurant where we know the servers and have spoken with management about Cam’s dietary needs. He had been there multiple times this summer and never with any negative consequences. It is a restaurant that we consider a “safe” place. Cam got his typical order, traditional wings that do not have breading and are prepared in their own separate fryer. He was six or seven wings into his meal when he suddenly stopped and said “Uh oh”. I looked across the table at him and there was a genuine look of worry on this face. We asked him what was wrong and he reached into his mouth and pulled out what looked to be a crumb. “I think I just ate a piece of breading”, he said, looking at the crumb he held in his fingers. When I asked him if we was sure that it was a breading, he said, “It tasted different than the rest and it had more flavor, like I haven’t had in a while”. It was my turn to say “uh, oh”.

I never want to show panic when I think that Cam has been cross-contaminated. I feel that I need to be the confident figure, someone who he can look at and know that “if Dad thinks it’s ok, I’m going to be ok”. I put up the same front that evening, letting him know that we weren’t sure what it was that he ate but if he pulled most of it out of his mouth, he was going to be just fine. Inside my head, I wasn’t so sure and my own inner-confidence was showing some cracks. Not now, I thought. If he starts having a “bout” in four hours, which is similar to what has happened to him with prior cross-contamination issues, it will start at almost midnight. When finished, his body would be wiped out from both physical and mental exhaustion. That’s no way to go into your first day at a new “job”. Thinking about that first day with new teachers and new schedules can already be stressful enough. I didn’t want him to feel even more pressure in the last few hours of his summer break in thinking of whether or not he would be getting sick later. Not now. So, with a nod of my head, I let him know it would be ok and not something that he needed to worry about. Did he believe me? Maybe. Did the anticipation of possible stomach issues stay in his head until he went to sleep? Probably. But did we let it consume the rest of our evening. No. And that’s a mind-set that we have adopted as a family. We will not let this disease consume any of us in what we do. We have and we will continue to adapt. It’s how we “win”.

It turned out that Cam did not have any issues that evening. He had a good night’s rest, woke up replenished and smiled for the obligatory picture. My smile was bigger than his in our picture, but not for the reasons that usually are associated with a first day. I felt relief. Our “no panic” response to what happened the night before paid off this time. We succeeded by not allowing the situation to dictate our actions. It’s something that I want to make sure never happens; not now, not ever.

 

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It’s Working!

At times, it can be frustrating. You feel that spreading the word about a disease or a condition is going to make a difference and you try to educate at every opportunity. You pour your time and efforts into advocacy, hoping to see changes that will benefit those who you are fighting for. You have a passion and a belief that affects you directly and you use every means possible to put your soul out there for the world to see. And then, after a three minute segment from a TV personality that has now been seen on YouTube by over 2 million people, you feel beaten. Your confidence is tattered. Every step that you have taken moving forward seems worthless because the distance you need to go just got longer.

I just described what many in the gluten free community have experienced in the past couple of weeks. From late night TV to “unfounded” scientific reports diminishing the idea of sensitivities and intolerance, gluten free has taken a beating this month. And what doesn’t seem right about it is that it’s Celiac Awareness Month. During a time that we should be spreading the word and pressing for changes, we are busy picking up the pieces and doing damage control. Well, I’m happy to say that I’m here to change the momentum. Something happened recently with Cam that is as bright as any silver lining that you have ever seen. It shows us that what we do is not falling on deaf ears. It shows that what we do is being heard loud and clear.

This past Monday, Cam came home from school and, when asked how his day was, said that “something really cool” had happened. As I’ve mentioned in the past, this is surprising because usually I only get a one word response summarizing his eight hours away from home. He went on to describe an event that happened in his math class that day. From my understanding, his teacher’s birthday was the prior weekend and a couple of the girls in the class decided to bake the teacher cookies. Personally, this makes me feel bad as I have had some really great teachers in the past (especially in the 7th grade) and at the time the thought never crossed my mind to provide them with baked goods. The girls brought the cookies into the class for everyone to share. Cam has learned from school lunches, breakfasts and other functions to politely decline the food being offered to him to reduce his risk of being glutened. This time, he didn’t have to. The girls gave him two, individually-wrapped, gluten free cookies that they had purchased from Whole Foods and brought in just for him. They had made an effort to include him. I’m not sure if the teacher had any involvement in this or not and, frankly, it doesn’t matter either way. If she did, kudos to the teacher for listening to our concerns and looking out for our son. If not, good for those girls for thinking forward and showing compassion for Cam. It gives my wife and I hope that the dating years aren’t going to be as difficult as we think that they are. The cherry on top of this story is that due to the baked cookies being slightly overcooked, Cam ended up sharing his gluten free cookies with some of the class and it was determined that they tasted better than the ones with gluten.

So maybe there is more than just a silver lining here. Maybe this is a bright beacon of light shining on a community that needs it right now. Here’s an example of a younger generation understanding the needs of others and providing for it rather than making fun of it. Here’s an opportunity taken and a goal achieved in showing that gluten free food isn’t terrible and can be as good as, if not better, than your standard baked goods. It’s a “cool” story like this that helps us pick up our battered confidence, dust it off and continue to spread the word. For what we are doing is important and it’s working.

 

Giving and Receiving

I go through times, as I’m sure many bloggers do, when an idea on what I should write about just doesn’t materialize. More often than not, topics pop into my head at strange times, such as when I’m mowing the grass or at 1:00 in the morning during a bout with insomnia. I’ve started keeping a small notebook close by so when these thoughts do come about, I will record them and have the ideas at the ready for when I sit down again at my computer. Since my goal is to advocate Celiac for the purpose of providing an easier life for my son as he gets older, I often write, ad nauseam, about different foods, restaurants and the threats of cross-contamination. I try to stay away from rehashing these topics over and over even though they are the source of the majority of the issues that Cam faces. If I feel bored writing about it, I’m sure the readers of this blog are pretty tired of hearing about it too. So, I try to focus on other things. Things that stand out, such as a positive gluten free experience for Cam that I think deserves more recognition than I can provide by simply saying “thank you” (thinking of you Tina Griffith).

But this week, in terms of topic ideas, has been relatively quiet. Not much traveling. No celiac-related issues from eating out (for which we are very thankful).  Not many new things that I felt were “share-worthy”. A couple of days ago, when my internal clock was telling me that it was time to write another blog, I was getting desperate. I was ready to open my notebook to see what ideas I had in reserve since my mind was not producing anything at the creative level. It was then that, not one, but two things happened. Experiences that occurred within the span of a couple of hours that were totally unrelated to one another but both an example of our lives in the gluten free community. One was an instance where we were able to provide advice for the safety of a Celiac that we haven’t even met. The other, an instance where something was provided to a Celiac that we dearly love.

Since September, my family has been immersed in the world of gluten-free living. It is a 24/7 mentality that we must follow for Cam’s safety. An indirect effect of this is that we are now seen in our social circles as the Google of anything gluten free or Celiac related. By no means are we close to being experts in doing this (I came close to contaminating my son’s lunch the other day) but I guess it comes with the territory and we would rather share and answer questions than not be asked and risk the consequences. My wife and I were out for our anniversary dinner and afterwards, we found ourselves loitering at a WalMart (because doesn’t everyone do this after 16 years of marriage?). While there, we ran into a friend of the family. She was shopping for party favors for her daughter’s first birthday party that was being held the next day. Through the course of the conversation, she brought up that her daughter’s daycare “teacher” was going to be at the party and that this teacher was also a Celiac. Our friend had been using my blog to help her with the planning of the food that she would be serving at the party. She went over what they were having and mentioned that she had bought new jars of peanut butter and containers of cream cheese to help avoid cross-contamination for their Celiac guest. I casually mentioned that she should make the teacher’s meal first, before possibly contaminating the peanut butter and cream cheese when making the non-gluten free offerings. It was a step that she had not thought of. My wife also took the time during this conversation to provide a quick tutorial on what else our friend should look for on the food labels to assure that the other items were safe. We know what Cam goes through and try to provide helpful advice when we can since we do not wish these symptoms upon anyone else. I’m not sure how the party went (I’m sure it was fabulous) or if the Celiac teacher even had any food but it made my wife and I feel good that we could give our knowledge to provide a better experience for a complete stranger.

This same day, Cam came home from school with a smile on his face. I attributed this to the fact that it was a Friday and he was looking forward to a weekend without school work. As I always do, I asked him how his day went. His typical response to this question is a simple “good” and that’s about all the feedback that I receive. This day was different. When I asked about his day, he proceeded to tell me about what he described as “something really cool”. During his Language Arts class, he discovered that his teacher was having her birthday and she brought in a treat for the class to help her celebrate. Normally, classroom treats are a cause for raising the red flag and Cam having to give a polite “no, thank you”. This teacher, though, gave him a gift for her birthday. The treats that she brought in were individual cake mixes to which you just add water and heat up in the microwave. Before distributing these to the rest of the class, she provided Cam with his own treat; a gluten free mix just for him. Not only did she have the forward thinking to bring this in for him, she also had previously cleaned out the microwave and made sure that he got to go first to avoid any cross-contamination from the other treats. No wonder he thought this was “something really cool”. His teacher provided the environment for him to participate in a school activity that we thought was no longer possible. And the result was one smiling pre-teen.

Looking back, I don’t think that it’s coincidence that these events happened on the same day. Some would call it karma. Others may say it’s an example of what goes around, comes around. I just see it as an example of the community that I am proud to be a part of.  One that cares for each other and puts other’s interests before their own. One that understands that giving is better than receiving. In today’s society, communities such as these are less the norm and becoming few and far between. So, when examples of kindness within our community does come up, kindness that I want my own children to exemplify in every day life,  I find it worthy to write about.