I never doubted that the hardest part of having kids for me was going to be letting go. As they grow older and want to do more on their own, I simultaneously rejoice and internally weep. What I didn’t realize was how Celiac was going to cause hiccups in the growth process, not because we don’t want to let them have some autonomy or because they don’t want it, but because in certain situations it’s almost impossible.
When Wren was two and suspicions of Celiac were lurking, we put her on a gluten-free diet while waiting for the test results to come back. At the HOA pool on a summer day, Wren’s gluten-free snacks were prepared for when she became hungry. She walked around the pool with her friend while I held Sammy and chatted with her friend’s mom. Then it happened: both of us saw the girls squatting to the ground, and before I could stop her, Wren put Goldfish crackers in her mouth. I sprinted to her and attempted to fish the crackers out of her mouth, but it was too late. Her stomach was distended within minutes, and she fought stomach aches for the next several days. Celiac was confirmed for me that day, as well as the fact that this was our new reality. Until she understood, she would live in arms distance of someone who did. I attached myself to Wren so hard after that I was fairly convinced even when the time came I’d never be able to let go.
But on Wednesday I had a chance to prove myself wrong. We were at the park with the usual neighborhood crew when Sammy decided he wanted to swing. Wren didn’t. Wren knows not to eat food off the ground now for many reasons, but I am still a little weird about being too far away from her. What if someone offers her food? What if she thinks something is gluten-free that isn’t? However, I left her playing in the sand with her friend and told her I would be a little ways away swinging Sammy. I reminded her not to eat anything and she said, “I won’t, mom.” It was a polite response, but I can tell by the time she turns five she’s going to be sick of hearing the reminder.
When a butterfly net was added to the equation, the situation took a turn. A small garden area with tons of butterflies is attached to the park. The kids started venturing that way with the other little girl’s mom accompanying them. This is the park rhythm. It’s a village mentality with everyone looking out for each other’s children. It’s nice, except I’m usually the one looking out for my kids and someone else’s by my own choice. I held back and waited. I took a breath and slowly released it. Wren wondered into the garden armed with a miniature net ready to look at butterflies way more than catch them.
As I stood making idle conversation with the mom of the child swinging next to Sammy, I came to the realization that my instincts were almost never wrong with my kids, and in that moment, my instinct was not to run to the garden with Sammy screaming after being forced to leave the swing to watch Wren do something I could catch glimpses of her doing from where I stood. True, if she had picked something up off the ground to eat, there’s no way I would have been able to dash over there and swat it out of her hand in time. But with all the squirrels and birds in the garden, stray food doesn’t make it long. And though the mom supervising speaks Russian with English as her emerging language, I’ve known her for over a year. We’ve pieced together enough words for her to know not to feed Wren. More than anything giving me comfort though was my trust in Wren. She knows. She’s had to learn young and she will always have to be aware. And she understands.
I watched wisps of purple float past the black gates of the garden as she ran after butterflies. Her laughter was recognizable from a football field length way. When it was time to leave the park, I went to retrieve her, and she was covered in glee from head to toe. She was hunting butterflies so she could talk to them with her friend, and no one was pestering her about anything. She was the happiest kid ever.
This doesn’t solve our issues with cross-contamination. It doesn’t fix everything. But for a Wednesday, it was pretty good.