Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Explaining food restrictions to toddlers (or, a post on trying not to break little hearts)

18 months old
At breakfast time she offers me a dripping spoonful of her Weetbix. milky and lightly sweet with a dusting of brown sugar.

"No, sweetheart, I can't," I say, regretfully. "It will make Mummy sick."

Her brow creases in concentration and puzzlement. "'Ick? Mama? No 'ick, 's yum!" She demonstrates, shoving the spoon into her mouth, smacking her lips to show me. "See, Mama. Good!"

I smile and wipe her dribbly chin, pushing my own bowl of cereal further away from the flight path of the gluten-carrying spoon.

Sharing food is the first sign of altruism humans display. I cannot receive her gift.

2 years old
"Mummy, let's 'ave a sammich fo' yunch," says the toddler firmly.

"I'll make you one, honey," I agree. "I'll have some soup."

A storm cloud begins to gather. "NO, Mummy. You 'ave sammich wi' me! We SHARE!"

I sigh. "Love, Mummy can't share your sandwich. Remember, it makes me sick? I'm sorry, honey."

She thinks on it. "Cos of gee-yuten," she announces finally, reproducing a word she's heard me, and her older sisters, say time and again when talking about food.

"Yes, because of gluten," I agree, hugging her. "Gluten is OK for you, but not for Mummy. It does bad things to my tummy."

She strokes my face gently. "Why?" she asks.

I don't know how to answer.

2 and a half years old
"Mummy, I fell over! Give me kiss!" Sniffing and dirty, she runs to me. Automatically, I reach down to wipe her face with a tissue. She turns her face away from my hand, angry.

"Kiss me now, Mummy! Clean me up later!"

I sigh. "Honey, you've been eating a bread roll ... let me just get the crumbs away, it'll only take a minute."

She submits to the wiping tissue.

Almost 3 years old
She runs to me, arms wide, giggling, and I scoop her up and cover her face with kisses. She giggles in delight, then stops, and pushes me suddenly away.

"No kissing near my mouf, Mummy," she admonishes seriously. "I was eating barbeque shapes before, an' I have gluten on my mouf." She waggles a finger at me. "You will get sick, Mummy!"

I hug her tight. She understands now. She doesn't try to share food with me, and she even thinks about her crumb-laden chin when we are playing.

I don't know whether to be glad or grieved.


  1. Bittersweet and beautifuk

  2. What a sad but lovely post. It's interesting for me to see what it's like from the other side (being the parent of a child with a food allergy). We didn't have this problem when my husband was diagnosed with Coeliacs because our kids were school age - but I can imagine how hard it must be with a little one.