I'm learning, slowly, what a gluten exposure really looks like. Not the big shebang. That's obvious, and painful, and I get through it because I recognize it quickly for what it is. But the little, insidious glutening that occurs when you walk through a bakery and can almost taste the sweet poison. When you help a child decorate a gingerbread house, made with real gingerbread. When you sit down and play with the playdoh, too, and forget to remind the kids to scrub their hands afterwards.
At first, it's not much. I think "Oh, I hope I don't pay for that later!" hold my breath, and go about my day. Later, I may notice an upset stomach. But, I can deal with it. Maybe some itching. Again, I can handle it.
I find myself thinking, "Maybe I'm coming down with something." And maybe I am.
I'm tired. Not sleepy. But I don't relate it to gluten. I just feel lazy. The only connection I make is when I find myself craving gluten, and tell myself (and sometimes my husband) that I'm lucky. Mild stomach issues, and a bunch of cravings. I can handle this. I hope it passes soon.
I go to the grocery store. I feel overwhelmed. I don't feel like cooking, what can I get for the kids?
I buy gluten. The bread looks tempting. I can avoid it, easily. We'll watch for crumbs. Oh, and look at those scones. My youngest will love them. I'll get frozen dairy free pizza for oldest, she deserves a treat. I'll be careful with which pans I use. Crackers. Those look good. Oh, lets get a bunch. I'll just vacuum the living room carefully. They'll make a good snack.
And I go on. At the check out counter, I realize I have cashew butter, eggs and a bunch of food for the rest of my family. Huh. Well, no matter, I don't feel like cooking. I'll eat "something". Next time, yes, next time I'll be more organized.
Except that soon, there are crumbs on the counter that I don't feel like chasing down. I'm scatterbrained and cranky. I'm behind on the dishes. I make their dinner, and while they eat I carefully prepare mine on an ever shrinking "clean space" to avoid gluten or corn contamination. They can't help because the risk of gluten cross contamination rises, so they grumble. I think, again and again, that they are suffering because of me. The more gluten there is in the house, the harder it becomes to keep things clean. More than once, I toss the entire silverware drawer into the dishwasher because someone reaches in with a contaminated hand.
I start to feel like this is my job, to let them be "normal" and just work harder. I can manage with just a little extra work. I can avoid crumbs. I can live with an occasional, mild reaction. I'm better now, so much better than I was. And it's true. I am.
Slowly, I feel more overwhelmed with less stimuli. I lose my ability to step back, smile and say "Wait a minute, one at a time." We run out of bread and I panic. What will the kids eat? I have a bad day, a stay at home kind of day, and chalk it up to IBS. And stress. Because, of course, it really all boils down to stress. Didn't the doctors spend years telling me it was stress? I guess they were right. Look at the superhuman measures I've been taking to avoid eating the wrong food. To avoid cross contamination. It can't be gluten. It can't be corn. And yet, here I am, with this knot in my stomach, and the swishing crampy nausea. It's stress, probably from trying so hard to avoid the wrong foods. Yes, that's it. I need to adjust. Whats wrong with me? Why aren't I used to this by now?
And then, I get a hive or two. At first, I say something bit me. Then I call it a rash, or a pimple (pimples probably aren't supposed to itch and ache like crazy, or go away when you take Claritin D12, but I ignore that fact for now.) And then, I wonder why life got so stressful.
The kitchen comes into clearer focus. My daughter hugs me with gritty, gluten-crumb hands. Hands that hit right where the rash or pimples are cropping up.
And truth slaps me in the face. It's the gluten, you idiot. It's everywhere, there are crumbs on the sofa, on the kitchen table. What have the kids eaten recently that you weren't allergic to?
A sense of de ja vu strikes. I know this feeling, this moment of realization. It happens 2 or 3 weeks after a mild glutening, when the symptoms are mild but persistent, when I think I'm fighting off an infection. When slowly I let the danger foods creep into my kids diet, and I tell myself that I have to. I have to let them eat that stuff. I can't afford to feed them my safe foods. They won't like my foods as much, and its so much effort. I stop coking much for myself, because I'm busy keeping them fed with convenience foods. (Ironic that they seem to take up so much more of my time than cooking whole foods)
It's not that much effort, by the way. And they love a variety of foods that I make safely for everyone. But once in awhile, when the gluten gets me down, I let the doubts creep in. A mild depression settles in, accompanied by brain fog. And I become the martyr.
It's time to scrub the counters, clean out the cupboards, and regain control of my life. Because I'm not a martyr. I'm a mom. I can't be a good mom if I'm only 60%. And part of parenting involves teaching the kids family cooperation, how to participate in planning and preparing meals, and budgeting skills. A minimal gluten house won't hurt them.
But a glutened house certainly hurts us all.