Thursday, February 11, 2010

Valentine's Day

I watched V this afternoon. She was sitting at the kitchen table, happily making cards and packing chocolate kisses into plastic baggies to give to her classmates for the Valentine's Day exchange. Her blond hair, which barely grew for the last three years, has shot past her shoulders in the few short weeks she's been off gluten. Her skin glows.

The nutrients her body could not absorb are finally feeding her. I don't want to speak too soon, but the symptoms which stole countless hours in hospital clinic waiting room have all but disappeared!

The transition from "regular kid" to a person with an immune disease who must eliminate gluten for the rest of her life, has not been easy. It is not about finding replacement foods. We are lucky to have so many gluten free options.

Even as I write this, my temptation is to downplay the difficulty. Oh there are so many options... Grocery stores carry gluten-free products...Starbucks has a new line of GF products piled so high you can barely see the counter. It's not [insert terrible disease name here] so buck up.

Well, I am, most of the time. And she is my hero, for the way she is handling it. But it is hard for her. As I watched her I thought about the challenges of celiac from a few angles. To a certain extent, they apply to sufferers of all severe food allergies:

  1. Food. There are foods you love that you can't have. Period.
  2. Time and Focus. Unless you stay cloistered in the house and eat the same thing day after day, you have to check the ingredients in everything you eat. If something is ambiguous (modified food starch, anyone? Natural flavor?), you must either not eat it, or verify the ingredients from the producer.
  3. Makes it kind of hard to "Oh it's no big deal" it when you're socializing. It's not impossible to be smooth, but let's face it, no matter what age you are, needing to know the exact contents of everything you consume is not going to draw people to you like a magnet.
  4. 1,2 and 3 make you different. Which in school is still called weird.
Which brings me back to the chocolate kisses.

I'm not much of a Valentine's Day person, still less having it be an obligatory holiday observed in elementary school. In past years, V made cards for her classmates, but I never sent in candy for the kids. Because nothing says I Love You more than crap that makes your teeth fall out, right? Oh that gaping black hole is so sexy. I couldn't justify it. But this year, I don't want my baby left out. She won't be able to eat the other kids' candy if it's unlabeled, so I gladly showered her with chocolate kisses to bring to school. It is the least I can do.

Whatever you're eating or not eating, Happy Valentine's Day.

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