It is normal for teenagers to rebel or withdraw when faced with a problem, a hurdle or an unpleasant decision. And for the teenager who has been diagnosed with Coeliac Disease, the same holds true. They can dig their heels in and refuse to eat gluten free or make your life difficult by rejecting all efforts to nourish them. Or they can withdraw from their friends and into themselves as they realise that sleep overs can never be the same if they have to explain what they can and can’t eat. Most likely their reaction is a combination of both.
As a parent then our priorities get skewed, because just as we were letting go and giving some decision making powers and independence to our teenager, suddenly we instinctively want to protect them and cocoon them and keep them safe from gluten.
In this whole process my husband and I have had to learn to trust our teenager and take our cue from him. So when our son felt comfortable with the gluten free tag and wanted to get back into his social life with his friends we had to walk a tightrope. Do we hover and intervene? Do we trust him to have made arrangements with friends? Do we make a ruling that sleep overs can only happen at his home?
So begins the series of FIRSTS
The first sleep over at a friend’s house Rather than demanding that we speak with the friend’s parents, we talked with our son about how we were feeling in wanting to make sure all would be good. Luckily for us, my husband had a work connection with the family and our son was happy for us to ring them. Sleep over = Pizza night so problem solved. Mind you I still packed our son up with a bag of gluten free goodies for snacks during the night.
The first sleep over with a family we had never met (and who lives at Magnetic Island) This time we had to let our son make his arrangements. With a few questions and a few prompts about do’s and don’t’s we packed him off with a packet of corn tortillas and gluten free snacks and put him on the ferry. (Magnetic Island is a 20 minute ferry ride from Townsville)
The first three night weekend camping at a Folk Festival This one caused me a little bit of angst, but my bottom line was, there is mobile phone reception and if an accidental ingestion of gluten happened, then we were only a phone call away. Our son gave me a list of things to cook, prepare and pack into a esky. He had a plan and he assured me that he should be able to get a steak burger without the bread or that heaps of hippies went to the festival and he had been assured that there would be some alternative food albeit vegetarian or something. I had to trust him and trust that he had listened to all the “be careful” advice I had given him over the last 6 months. Most of the food in the esky came home, he fell in love with Cheese Kranskys and the only problem was the theft of his iPod from his tent. I had talked to him at length about how to keep safe from gluten, BUT I had forgotten to talk to him about keeping his property safe.
The first friends’ get together at McDonalds This was a milestone on a couple of levels. Not only did our son feel comfortable ordering and eating a Quarter Pounder without a bun, he felt comfortable doing so in front of his friends. His friends gave him a bit of cheek about his meal but he was okay with the world and gluten free.
The first restaurant meal for a friend’s birthday Feeling somewhat anxious after we checked the menu on-line to find no reference to gluten free, my husband rang the restaurant and was given some options which he then passed on to our son.
The first restaurant meal with friends without our intervention We knew that all would be good because the friend’s mother had checked with the establishment to find out what gluten free options were available. We now know that our son has a good network of friends and their families and that he knows that it is okay to let people know that he has to eat gluten free and that all it requires is for him to do a bit of research in advance.
I think I will continue to worry for my son every time there is a new type of social experience involving food. Intervention and interference is no longer up to us, his parents. Discussion between us and planning by him and his friends will continue to be part of his gluten free life experiences.
Fear and concern have to be balanced with “what is the worse thing that can happen?” and “help is only a phone call away”.
So at the moment, I am calm, cool and collected about my son’s social life. His next big obstacle is “Schoolies Week” as I am in no doubt that the red frogs handed out at Schoolies are most definitely not gluten free.
PS What is the worse thing that can happen? Two gluten cracker biscuits = two hours of vomiting and diarrhea