Within weeks of my celiac disease diagnosis, I had my two sons tested. Both grew up with “sensitive stomachs” so I was surprised—yet relieved—when their blood tests came back negative for CD. I knew firsthand the difficulties of cutting gluten out of a diet (along with soy, dairy, corn and a host of other foods for me), and I was glad my kids could continue their youth grazing on bagels, pizza, chicken nuggets, and burgers. While my oldest is lactose intolerant, he simply takes a pill to help him digest dairy.
Unfortunately, there are no magic pills for those of us with celiac disease.
Fast forward five years. Sons are in college.
The youngest comes home for Thanksgiving break looking gaunt. He blames the cafeteria’s food, insisting they put laxatives in the food to keep kids from getting food poisoning (a popular urban myth, I learn through a quick investigation on the Web). My son’s had a bad cold most of the semester and no amount of sleep makes him feel rested. (This sounds all too familiar, I think.) When he says his diet consists of bagels, sandwiches and pizza, a red flag not only goes up but waves crazily in the air. I suggest he eliminate wheat from his diet and see if he feels better. But he shrugs me off; did I mention he’s nineteen?
By Christmas break, he’s even thinner, paler, more exhausted, says he feels achy and dizzy much of the time. Without any prompting from me, he decides to go a few days without wheat. Voila! Practically overnight, he feels new and improved. One mistake–oysters Rockefeller with a smattering of breadcrumbs on New Year’s day–sends him back five steps, and we are both positive he’s inherited my CD genes (I have the pleasure of having both the DQ8 and DQ2 genes).
Surprisingly, neither my son nor I pout or panic. Okay, he pouts a little when he realizes beer and pizza are officially off-limits (he’s a college student and a guy after all), and I feel some mother’s guilt for passing my defective genes onto my child, but we’re both optimistic that he’ll enjoy college much more when he says good riddance to grains.
GOODBYE GLUTEN, HELLO GLUTEN-FREE!!!
Since my son has been a part of my gluten-free lifestyle change from the start, he already knows all the rules, such as never put a wheat-contaminated fork into a shared serving dish and use a separate toaster for GF toast. He likes the staples of a celiac’s menu: quinoa, hummus, fresh vegetables and fruit, meat and fish, rice bowls, and stir-fry. He knows to check the ingredients on everything from cold medicines to gum and to stick to the golden rule: If it doesn’t say gluten-free on the package, don’t eat it. After years of watching me struggle in restaurants (I’m a much better advocate for my family than for myself), I am certain my son will articulate clearly with wait staff. Are the french fries cooked with breaded foods? Please don’t just remove the croutons on my Caesar salad; make me a new salad. Can you grill my burger on foil?
Still, I worry. Going gluten-free in college won’t be easy. Like many universities, his college food service is not allergy-friendly (past parent visiting days confirmed that), and there are few restaurants within walking distance. But my boy already has a plan: buy his own bread and get the GF-free meat and cheese from the school deli, make weekly trips to the grocery store, keep his room stocked with gluten-free snacks. I can’t help but feel proud. Without any objection, he takes the fastfood menus I’ve printed out and circled the GF foods. (Yes, we know the contamination risks at such places, but a guy’s got to eat!). Before he goes back to school in a few days, I’ll take him to our local healthfood store and show him myriad GF options that now line the shelves. And, of course, I’ll send monthly gluten-free care packages; I’ve already made a favorites list on my computer of GF mail order companies.
Celiac disease wasn’t a part of my son’s college plan–or my plan for him. But as he’s learning, life is full of bumps. I’m just glad he’s prepared to take this one head on.
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