Explaining "Special" Diets and Food Intolerance to Children
In September my new book will finally launch. I say finally, because it was 8 years in the making - beginning as an idea in my friend Alessandra's living room in Rome in 2006. As I drove through the mountains looking at the sheep on the hills I figured that sheep, who do little more than graze all day might make good creatures through which to tell a story about food intolerance and living among the herd.
I had lots of ideas. Most were fairly lame. When I returned home to Toronto a year later, my dear friend Robin would bring up the story and we'd talk about where it was going. For a long time, it was going nowhere. I knew that Woolfred, the main character was struggling with his intolerance, and that there were elements of isolation. I knew that Woolfred would have to "overcome" his challenge. Truth is - I had no idea what the message was supposed to be. It's not so bad? Get over it? I played with lots of complicated scenarios where Woolfred could end up being a hero. Nothing really worked. Nothing was credible. There was no happily ever after ending.
Interestingly, it was through writing this book - more than 40 years into having celiac disease that I came to understand how I really feel about having grown up with a food intolerance.
When I think about my personal childhood experience, I've got some very vivid memories. No one wanted to have me over, or pray, have to feed me. I remember a friend's mother being put in the situation of having to make me dinner one evening when my mother was held up. The rest of the kids were served fish sticks and fries (it was the 70's). For me, she unwrapped an entire brick of cheddar cheese and served it on a plate with a knife and fork, explaining - that at least she knew this wouldn't kill me.
Or, there was the time in 3rd grade where I stole a box of the Girl Guide cookies from the case I was supposed to sell. (That's quite a test for a celiac child - here's a carton filled with boxes of cookies!!) I snuck a box into the washroom, locked myself in a stall and ate both the vanilla and chocolate rows as fast as I could. An hour later, I was outed, when I threw them up in the school lobby and everyone had to walk around the mess on the way out the door.
My food was always referred to as "special" - don't touch that, it's Claudine's "special" hot dog bun, or cupcake. The term was meant to make me feel better - but it didn't. It made me feel like I was inadequate in some way... and needed "special handling". Today the "special" stuff looks just like regular, and there is often more than one kid in the class with an intolerance. I'm sure that this makes it easier - but the feelings associated with being called out are about human interaction and less about the food itself. We want to be known for what we can do - not for what we can't.
In the end, the story I wrote is Woolfred Cannot Eat Dandelions. He is no super hero - just a sheep with a food intolerance. What this means for him, will be revealed in short order.
You can read more on the publisher's website HERE.