In December, the following happened:
Adrian and Martin and I were at the reception following the church children’s pageant (in which Martin sang!). By now Martin and I have attended our new suburban church for 18 months. He goes to Sunday school and, with the help of a facilitator, participates in a 90-minute “Kids’ Klub” each Tuesday. He is reasonably well known, to both adult and youth parishioners.
At the reception Adrian and I socialized while Martin wandered, playing mostly alone and munching the snacks I’d brought for him. I looked for Martin often, because these days he thinks it is funny to try to sneak non-GAPS-compliant food. (When he finds me milling around the Sunday refreshments, keeping watch, he says, “Mommy, just go talk to your grown-up friends. I’m fine.”) In one such glance I saw Aiden, a seven-year-old, approach Martin with a big, soft, definitely gluten-and-sugar-and-dairy-laden cookie. Aiden broke off a cookie chunk and said, “Hi, Martin. Have some of my cookie!” Martin seemed interested, but he hesitated and looked around for my assurance.
So what did I do?
Here are the relevant factors:
- I was thrilled that Aiden had approached Martin, spoken to Martin like he would speak to any kid, and kindly offered to share his cookie. Thrilled.
- I wanted, so badly, for Martin to take that cookie. I wanted him to have a typical-kid moment, and a meaningful interaction with Aiden. Maybe they could be friends.
- I wasn’t that worried about the cookie. It would be an infraction, to be sure. It would set back our efforts to heal Martin’s gut, and it might cause some crazy behavior. But we would get past it. (See infra.)
- What worried me more was that Martin would get the impression that, on a special occasion, it is okay to take a cookie chunk, or whatever else is offered. Martin already has declared that he is allowed to drink apple juice from a box at birthday parties (effin’ birthday parties!), because once, in the throes of his disappointment, I relented and allowed a juice box. Give him an inch…!
So what did I do? What did I do?
I said, “Martin has food allergies! He can’t have the cookie. But thank you, Aiden! Thank you so much for sharing. What a great choice!” Aiden looked surprised. Then he left Martin alone. In a lame attempt to salvage the moment, I told Martin, “I’m so happy that you checked with me. Would you like an orange? I can peel you one.”
Inside, I felt icky. I felt like I made a mistake.
Did I? I think I probably did. I should have let Martin and Aiden share. I could have talked later with Martin about this “exception” and about how to respond when offered food in the future. I could have asked him to track how his tummy and mind felt. I could have created a hands-on lesson or done role-play. I could have ignored, i.e., pretended that I didn’t see Martin looking for my assurance, and allowed him to do what he wanted, and only later “noticed” what had happened, so that at least the cookie-share wasn’t officially mommy-sanctioned.
I could have, should have, blah, blah, blah. Whatever I could or could not have done, what I did do in the moment was deprive Martin of a typical-kid interaction and of maybe (dare I hope?) the path to a new friendship.
The teachable moment, it seems, was mine alone.
P.S. As long as I’m confessing mistakes, and along the theme of “we would have got past it,” I think I’ll subjoin this little divulgence: We have been taking Martin to children’s (“family”) movies. A lot of the time, Adrian takes Martin, and I get a pass, because try as I might, I just don’t enjoy feature-length animation. (Leave me alone. My oldest brother, Rudy, is an animator. He’s asked me all the pertinent questions. No, I didn’t like Aladdin. Nor Toy Story. Nor Cars. Nor even Fantasia, too much, at least not when sober.)
One recent movie I did attend, because it was live-action, was Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Day. In the theater I purchased a Diet Coke®. I know I should be healthier, and I have done really well curbing my Diet Coke habit, but occasionally, for whatever reason, I still drink a Diet Coke. Attending a matinee showing of Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Day, on a rainy afternoon, when every kid in our suburb seems to be at the movies, qualifies as such a reason. Halfway through the movie, I went to the restroom. I returned to find Adrian, with an are-you-kidding-me? look on his face, restraining Martin on his lap. Apparently, when I left, Martin picked up my Diet Coke and drank most of it. That’s right. My GAPS-diet son, who has consumed neither processed foods nor refined sugar in four years, went to town on motor oil and aspartame. Just one more endorsement on my application for autism-recovery mother of the year.