How to Poison Your Child

August 12th, 2010

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.