My son decided, over the Christmas holidays, that he didn’t want to eat gluten free anymore.
I mean, can you blame him? He’d have to miss out on stuffing and grandma’s homemade buns. Sausage rolls and cookies galore and cinnamon buns and endless delights that were splayed out over countertops and tables during this season. He would have to watch as the rest of us ate more than our fill and commented on the deliciousness of it all and laughed and smiled while we did so.
The temptation was too great. His restraint, not enough.
“I’m done being gluten-free”, he proclaimed. And that was that.
But I’m his mama and I’m a tad bit older than he is and so I sort of had an idea of how this would go. I’ve always told him that eating this way had to be his decision. He’s too old for me to be spying over his shoulder every second of the day. Sure, I can be in charge of what he’s eating at home but what about when he’s off in the world? Let’s be honest, he’s out of my grasp at this stage of his life, more than he’s in it and I can’t be standing with him at the cafeteria line up reminding him to, “make good choices!” Nor will I.
I won’t follow him to every birthday party and remind him that the pizza and the cake and the hot dogs, they’ll make him sick. Because he’s almost a teen and he needs to learn a few things on his own. A few safe things.
Most of all, I want to teach him how to be a decision maker and a thinker and to navigate this world with the tools we’ve given him at home. I don’t want to control him or manipulate him or constantly be shaking my finger at him. I want him to use the mind he’s been given and make some choices, good and bad. I want him to know that either way, I’ll be the one at home who will both celebrate and cry with him, no matter the choice.
So, my boy started devouring everything he had been craving. Pizza with thick crust and garlic bread, oh, the garlic bread. Slice after slice of warm sourdough with melting butter and cereal that didn’t taste like cardboard by the bowlful. Waffles that were fluffy and didn’t have a weird aftertaste, cookies that didn’t crumble apart after the first bite and burgers. On a real bun. That isn’t dry and really just plain old gross.
The child glutted himself on everything he hasn’t eaten in over 2 years and he realized he was fine. 2 weeks in he was feeling just dandy and so? More bread. More wheat products. More of everything he’d ever wanted.
A month in he stated he was good. Fine. Totally awesome.
But I could tell. I could see that he was changing. He wasn’t good or fine or totally awesome. He was fading.
The boy was going to bed at around 6pm each night claiming he was just so tired. It must be from basketball practice. He was popping tums like there was no tomorrow because his tummy hurt a bit. It must be a bit of that virus that’s going around. He was emotional in ways we’d seen so many times before. Weepy at things that didn’t require weeping. “It’s the tired and the virus and I’m just not quite right,” he’d state emphatically.
He couldn’t see what we could though. Mostly because he didn’t want to see. Isn’t that just the way, though? We cover our eyes to the realities that we don’t want to deem true and we bury our heads deep to the injustices that we’re not sure what to do about and we rather like our lives of ignorant bliss even though it’s sucking us dry. Wearing us out. Making us sick.
He went a solid 2 months, my boy. One night he’d had it and I could see him delving into places we’ve been before. The not healthy spot of, I’m not just not feeling well but I can’t do this. I had resisted any comments thus far. I wanted this to be his. But he’s only 12 and pride is thick and I didn’t want him to fall any further. So in the gentlest way I asked him how he was. He straight up told me he felt horrible. “Hey bud,” I questioned, “do you think it might be the gluten?”
That’s all it took. A slight prompting and he crashed. He admitted he knew that it was and he just didn’t want it to be true. He said he’d been thinking that it was for a few weeks but he didn’t want to be wrong. He didn’t want to admit that he had to go back to the place that we were in before.
I get that. Don’t you?
We take a leap and make a stand and we live our life by those things and when we see that it’s not really working out for us we stay there just to avoid admitting the truth. Admitting we’re wrong. Admitting that there is a better way for us to live but our pride holds us fast and strong to the things that make us sick.
It was the first of many lessons with him, I’m sure. It was a slow ease into the place of allowing him some independence and offering him a safe place to fail. It was a foray into making his own choices and me standing back and watching, even when I could see it wasn’t going well.
It’s a hard place, as a parent. To watch your kids walk a path you know isn’t good for them. But it’s a position we need to take from time to time in various forms and in varying degrees depending on where they’re at in life.
I think we need to allow our kids to think. To disagree with us. To let them try and succeed as well as try and fail. Most of all I want my kids to know that whether the choice they’ve made is right or wrong, good or bad, healthy or not, I’m here. We’re here. And we’re here to help dance in joy or weep in pain or help pick up the pieces of the mess. To let them know that we’ve made unwise decisions too and that it’s not silly and it’s not to be taken lightly but it’s a learning to spread their wings and navigate this world one little step at a time.
I don’t want my kids to just do as I do. I want them to think.
I don’t want my kids to just follow what I say. I want them to feel convicted in their own lives as to the reasons why.
I do want my kids to feel equal parts of safe and love and brave.