How to Poison Your Child

By accident, of course . . .   Geesh, what do you people think I am?

Let me start at the beginning.  Like many authors, I write about what I know, and one of the things I know a lot about is Celiac Disease because one of my kids has it.  For those who don’t know, CD is classified as an autoimmune disease: your gut essentially misidentifies gluten (a protein found in wheat, rye, barley and other related grains) as harmful and attacks it.  In doing so, it actually harms itself, leaving an undiagnosed Celiac with an intestine that can’t absorb nutrients and chronic stomach problems.  The wonderful thing about this disease is that it’s 100 percent curable by diet.  My son was diagnosed at the age of four because he had stopped growing and was anemic.  Within a few months of going on a gluten-free diet, he was back on his normal growth chart line.  (Which was, admittedly, still kind of puny, but that’s how we grow them around here.)

No wheat allowed. Except when it creeps in.

Okay, so that’s Celiac Disease 101.  I’ve spent a lot of years learning to cook gluten free and in all humble honesty–I’m really good at it.  The baking was tough at first.  No flour?  That’s the basis of almost everything good in the world, like cookies, bread, brownies, cakes . . .  you name it.  But I learned how to substitute for real flour and gradually reached a point where the extra challenge made baking more interesting for me.  When something comes out really well–especially something you wouldn’t expect, like a bread or pizza–I feel like I’ve accomplished something.

So in my soon-to-be-published novel IF YOU LIVED HERE, YOU’D BE HOME NOW, I gave the son of the main character Celiac Disease.  It’s “what I know,” right?   And at one point in the novel, Rickie, the mom, remembers she’s supposed to bake something but can’t find a gluten-free cake mix.  It’s late at night so she just goes ahead and uses a regular mix, figuring it doesn’t matter so long as she tells her son to stay away from the cupcakes. But she forgets to warn him, he eats a cupcake or two . . . and ends up vomiting.

One early reviewer was horrified by this.  She hadn’t liked Rickie’s character to begin with, and this was the final straw for her.  How could a mother give her child something that could harm him?  What kind of mother would do a thing like that?

I’d agree with her whole-heartedly . . . except of course I’ve DONE it.

I love my kids as much as the next mom (and probably more if we’re talking about that crazy Octomom or that Kate who makes eight but cares more about the hair on her pate) but not long ago I fed my son something that made him stay up all night vomiting and moaning.  Some brilliant tortilla manufacturer had decided that a little wheat gluten would give their corn tortillas more resilience.  Somehow I missed that information on the package (and, yes, normally I read ingredients but I’ve gotten sloppy about corn tortillas which usually just have corn, salt and “a trace of lime” in them).  They were delicious.  My son ate several . . .  And he got very sick.

I think he even had an important test at school the next day.

My point isn’t that I’m a horrible, neglectful mother.  No, I’ll leave that to social services to decide.  My point is that these things happen in real life.  You would do anything in the world to keep your kids happy and safe from harm–and then sometimes you slip up and bonk their baby heads against the side of a doorway as you walk through, or try to pull them away from the dog poop on the sidewalk and pull them right into it (my mom did that to my brother), or whirl them around and accidentally injure their shoulders . . . or feed them gluten when you didn’t mean to.

And in real life, or at least my life, you apologize to them profusely when these things happen.  And if your son is anything like mine, he wearily says in between bouts of vomit, “Don’t worry about it.  It wasn’t your fault.  These things happen.”  And you know that you can poison your son and he’ll still love you.



Filed under family, food

10 responses to “How to Poison Your Child

  1. Katherine

    Or your daughter finds a fish hook in the car (we don’t even fish) and tries to hand it to you right as you are pulling into the drop-off line at school. I try and grab it from her but jerk by accident and pull the fish hook so it stabs right into her finger. Her teacher opens the door to let her out and is greeted by a screaming 5 year old with a bloody fish hook hanging out of her finger. I got some looks that day.

    I like your books because the folks have real problems.

  2. Claire

    What a story, Katherine! I’m so glad I’m not the only one who has these moments!

  3. Claudia

    I loved your words about this post. One of my favorite songs is Tracy Chapman’s “Baby Can I Hold You.” I especially like these lines:

    Forgive me
    Is all that you can’t say
    Years gone by and still
    Words don’t come easily
    Like forgive me forgive me

    It is amazing to me that a reviewer would think that way and not see such a moment as a revelation of parenting at its most moving and honest. The one thing I know is that reviewer either isn’t a mother or she isn’t a mother who is truthful about the things that matter most: How we react when we hurt our child accidentally either physically or emotionally.

    A mom across the street from me in Mississippi who I didn’t know well yet (a mom who lost one of her two sons to cancer a month before my son was born) stopped by with a baby present and told me she thought the only really important tip she had about being a mom was “Tell them when you’re sorry because you’ll be sorry a lot. You’ll put their shoes on the wrong feet, forget to catch them coming down the slide, attach the seat belt wrong. But if you say you’re sorry, they won’t mind and they’ll always trust you.” I think back and believe that was about the best tip I got on parenting — forcing ourselves to confront our mistakes and how happy and free a child’s face looks the moment we say we feel awful.

  4. Claire

    It’s really true, Claudia. There are days when the apologies fly fast and furious around here. Those aren’t always our best days. But they’re not our worst, either.

  5. dawn davenport

    Apologizing is one of the most important things we can do with our kids I believe. Makes us human and honest. You are an amazing mom!

  6. annie

    Dick taught me to just admit my mistakes and tell the truth and that has made all the difference.

  7. My mom never poisoned me, but she did drop me on my head as a baby. Apparently, she cried more than I did. And I still love her!

  8. Laurie

    Oh, Claire, it was so good for me to find this post. My teenage daughter was diagnosed with celiac disease three weeks ago and I’m sometimes fearful I’ll make a mistake. Last night I threw some already-cooked Tinkyada noodles in a bowl and warmed them up for her–but I kept second-guessing myself and wondering if they were really the Tinkyada ones or not. I hadn’t labeled the container because the only regular noodles I have in the house are an entirely different shape! But I still worried. Restaurants are new for us and I’m nervous but have to remember that life is to be lived and she won’t go hungry (not often, anyway). I’ll definitely be reading your novel!!!

  9. Claire

    Laurie, if you have any questions at all, feel free to ask me. I’ve been doing this for 12 years and I have some pretty good recipes and tricks. Oh, and as far as restaurants go, when we go somewhere for the first time, we ask lots of questions but it gets so much easier when you go back to the same restaurants. Traveling’s a little more challenging but we made it through Italy–land of pasta and pizza–without too much trouble. Lots of risotto and grilled meat . . .

  10. You mean like the time when I had just adopted Madeleine (she was about 9 months old) and we were hanging out on the bed and she was from a Chinese orphanage so wasn’t moving as much as a child raised in the US but she suddenly learned how and did a swan dive off the bed onto the wooden floor THUD. And the next one did a triple half gainer (I was right there and she was sitting next to her Daddy and somehow she instantly used his shoulder to boost herself to the top of the sofa and THUD)…Ow.

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