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GF Dad: Learning to Ask the Next Question

Do any of the guys out there remember the Cub Scout Pine Wood Derby from Cub Scouts?  Or are you currently “helping” your son with his Pine Wood Derby car?  I used our first year of car crafting as an excuse to buy the new Dremel Power Tool; I had an old one with a cord, but if I expect a seven year old to be able to use it, I can’t expect him to navigate the cumbersome cord as well, right?  See honey?…it’s for the kids, honest!

At any rate, our Cub Scout pack had their annual Pine Wood Derby race this last Sunday.  Since Heidi was pre-occupied trying to make gluten-free, dairy-free and egg-free pizza, cupcakes and ice cream for Luke to take to a birthday party on the same day, the Derby was a true father-son experience.  Sam donned his “class A’ uniform and off we went.  At 11:00 a.m.  You know, right around lunch time?

The email reminder I got for this event simply named a time and place, no other details provided.  No other details necessary, really.  For 99% of the world, time and place is all that is necessary.  We were going to go, win the race (who am I kidding, I was just praying for the wheels not to fall off the thing), and then go to our favorite gluten-free pizza joint one last time before we give up dairy.  So I’m thinking if the race starts at 11:00 then it must not take too long because everyone will want to head out for lunch, right?


Testing and car weigh-in are what starts at 11:00.  The race didn’t start until 1:00.  And of course in the meantime, pizza was served!  Way to go, Dad.

Sam was very composed and when I offered to run out to the grocery store to get us some food, he said no big deal and that he would just have a few orange wedges and we would still go for our pizza afterward.  Since the Cub Scout group is associated with his school, most of his friends knew that Sam wouldn’t eat the pizza and it was really just no big deal.  Then, from a distance I could see one of the kids stick his pizza in Sam’s face not once but twice.  Oh man, talk about Dad’s heart sinking!  Sam of course did great.  I was starting to steam at the parents of this obviously insensitive child when I saw the kid do it to someone else who WAS able to eat the pizza.  Okay, so the kid is not insensitive, he just has zero manners.  Anyway, the kids eat fast as it is and within five minutes were back up playing games.  Sam was great and appeared to have no emotional trauma.  We did talk about it afterward and he did say it bothered him a little bit, which is understandable.

The person I was really frustrated with was me.  I should have asked the next question, as in “Hey you know that’s right around the lunch hour…do I need to bring food for me and Sam?”  It turns out that a lot of people didn’t even show up until 12-12:15 anyway because they were either at church or (get this) didn’t want pizza for lunch.  How easy it would have been for us to go for our own pizza at 11:15, show up at the Derby at noon for weigh in and final tweaking, and off we go.  I could have averted the whole “pizza in the face” episode if I had simply been more thoughtful.

What this experience helped me realize is that as my boys get older and begin to naturally do more of these things with their dear old Dad, that I need to get into the gluten-free/allergen-free mindset well before the actual event.  I am laser beam focused at the time, but I need to get into the habit of asking the organizer of EVERY extra-curricular event if there will be food/snacks involved and if so, how elaborate will it be.  For instance, we were sweating bullets about an upcoming banquet for Sam that we knew would include a meal.  How awkward would that be?  Do-able for sure (we’ve managed it many times), but we weren’t looking forward to another full-blown “meal replacement in public” fiasco.  And then I asked the next question and found out that the banquet is traditionally a potluck.  Total score…everyone is supposed to bring their own food!

You know, before finding myself walking in this set of shoes, I never realized just how food-centric our culture is.  And it seems like there is not only more “food,” but more, well, crap disguised as food.  Is it any wonder why our kids are, on average, are the heaviest and unhealthiest in American history?

What will it take to get parents to wake up and realize what they are doing?  I know for us, it took a potentially life-threatening condition called celiac and our “bonus” food allergies to wake us up.  You always think it will never happen to you…until it does, then you find yourself regretting having ever given your child that “food” to begin with.



  1. Momof3Blessings says

    We have learned the hard way, too, to make sure to find out if food will be served. I usually bring a small snack (larabar) just in case. Our son is in 6th grade and his class is so good about thinking of his food allergies. All the kids have been turned on to Italian Ice and this is a favorite treat that they bring in now for bday parties instead of cupcakes so that everyone can enjoy them!

    Hope you had fun at the pinewood derby anyway. Our son took first place in all the races he won last year as a 2nd year Weblos. It was a great way to end his cub scout days! Funny thing is that I prepared him for the possibility of not doing well in the races since he actually did the work for his car unlike the younger cubs who get lots of "help" from their dads. Guess his hard work paid off because his car did great!!! Fun times!

    Hang in there! Your kids are lucky to have a great dad!

    • Sam took 22nd out of 39…not too bad for "our" first year! And while I agree with your sentiment that everyone is his age group understands his food issues, my biggest concern is what happens when he moves to a "bigger" school and only maybe 1/3 or 1/4 of the kids understand?

      So many issues to consider.

  2. Kudos to Sam for keeping his composure, especially during the pizza in the face incident. I'm not so sure I could handle that as an adult if another adult did that to me. Thankfully, I'm around other adults with more manners and understanding that "it will make me sick" means it really will make me sick.

    Thanks for sharing, Mike. It's great that you can share what you weren't thinking about because we can all learn from each others' mistakes. You get brownie points for that!

  3. Alas, even my attempts to "ask the next question" don't always work out. I was invited to a dinner party last weekend. The invite said they were having chili. Typically, chili should be gluten free. However, the host also asked about food allergies. Yeah! I thought. So I explained I'm allergic to gluten (the protein in wheat, rye and barley) as well as soy. The night of the party I watched with a sinking feeling as the hostess, dished up plates of chicken with mushroom and pasta (not gluten free), and placed a fancy roll on each plate. Ugh! So, I ate the side of peas and, realizing I was playing with fire here, tried a couple of pieces of chicken. I left most of the dish on my plate. I had brought a bunch of gluten free carrot cake cupcakes to the party so I was also able to have some dessert (which the other non-gluten sensitive people also loved).

    We did get into a discussion after dinner about my food allergy (where I surreptitiously mentioned that I have to have special gluten free pasta). As part of the discussion, I gave my usual spiel about how and why gluten is dangerous for me to eat and how I've had to find gluten free versions of so many things you wouldn't necessarily think of as containing gluten (like sauces and dressings, hair products, etc.) in addition to find or make my own breads and pastas that don't use wheat flour.

    I guess next time, I'll have to specifically state that I can't have things like bread, pasta, or anything that contains flour. Maybe that would avoid the problem of finding myself in the midst of a food mine field.

    • I know how you feel, Janet. It's almost like you want to just volunteer to go over early and make the meal yourself, just so you know it will be safe.

  4. BTW is Heidi sharing some of that party food for the Super Bowl? It sounds spot on, er except for the lack of chicken wings, well and ribs. We are in Texas after all.

    • I'm stuck Laurel, really, really stuck in a glutadoodle mental block, LOL!

      Being on an elimination diet makes me so grateful for the many naturally gluten-free, allergen-free options we typically have at our disposal because what we are allowed to eat right now pretty much eliminates traditional "party foods." I could make wings, but without vinegar and lemon juice I don't know how to make a dipping sauce, we can't have beef, so steaks and burgers are off limits (we had ostrich burgers last night but again, without vinegar…there were no condiments to be had). No pork (or beef for all you Texans), so out went the ribs with BBQ sauce and for the life of me, I can't seem to think outside the box to come up with pizza toppings that don't contain beef, pork or dairy!

      What we're eating right now is fairly plain and uneventful (hence my lack of blog posts lately)…baked chicken or fish and a ton of steamed vegetables with green smoothies or water to wash it down.

      I just keep telling myself it will all be worth it in the end…gotta heal our guts so we can truly enjoy the rest of our lives.

      I'll be back before you know it, hopefully with my taste buds in full swing (sinus surgery is right around the corner, yea!!) and lots of new allergen-friendly recipes to share (I'm getting lots of fun ideas that I can't wait to try!). 😀


      • Of course it'll be worth it! Think of the new person you'll be soon, especially after recuperating from the surgery. As to pizza topping you could probably grind up whatever meat (even ostrich) and pair it with very thinly sliced veg. I don't know what you can have but thinly sliced tomato (makes MY stomach hurt thinking about it), artichoke? garlic maybe, even greens that have been chiffonaded (sp?) Pizza with olive oil? Just finely chop whatever veg you can have into a medley and salt and pepper them with a drizzle of oil if you can have it. How about a fruit pizza? You are so creative; in fact you are probably THE most creative person I know. And, here's the clincher – most guys will eat anything, especially when watching a football game. Don't worry, they'll live and so will you – in fact I'm looking forward to sharing the gloating as you all thrive.

        Love and kisses, Laurel

  5. Similarly, one of the hardest things for me has been forgetting my childhood manner rule "You don't ask what is being served." That one was ingrained in me regarding invites to freinds houses for dinner etc. And now I have to grill hosts and event planners to keep my kid safe…

    • Survival is more important than rules. No matter how ingrained and how difficult or excruciating that is nobody else can or ever will watch out for your kids the way you do because love is more important.

    • Yeah, I agree. The other was "eat what's on your plate." Um, sorry I can't.

  6. Great job Mike. I think this series of blogs from a man’s point of view is helping to bridge the gap in understanding as men see things from such a different perspective. Like if I hear one more time ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ or ‘man up’ or ‘they’ll grow out of it,’ etc. I might have to be ill. More to the point your last question is the real kicker. Your kids are incredibly lucky to have two parents who were not only able but WILLING to put themselves aside and wake up to the hard reality of their childrens’ needs. Many parents can’t or won’t or maybe even worse chuck a frozen, inedible GF pizza at the poor kid while feeding the rest of the family drool worthy food never realizing what that child is seeing and feeling is that they are simply unworthy, second class human beings. It may not be putting that child out in the ice to die just a lot crueler.
    I think the only thing that will change public perception in this society would be to have a bunch of celebrities champion the cause in highly public venues. I mean look at how much coverage PETA gets. Not that I think anyone should be cruel to animals, I just think we should stop being cruel to humans first and that the rest would follow naturally. In the end people only believe what they see or whatever it is Glen Beck is currently telling them.

    • It does feel like a crusade sometimes, Laurel. In the end though, I realized that all I can do is put the information out there, be willing to engage in the one or two people at a party who are really interested, and just take care of my family. I think a better saying is "you can lead a horse to water…"

      • I suppose that's true, it's kind of a battle of attrition. Maybe we're all just like the poor tomato, terribly misunderstood for centuries and then loved by all.

  7. I feel like the food allergy world is a total learning curve. I have had those moments where we did not have food prepared for an event. The great thing is that our kids are WAY more resilient than we are. I have learned that if I do not make a big deal about it, then they usually barely notice. I have also learned to carry the biggest purse in the world (and Kurt always keeps a backpack in his car) filled with snacks that will tide us over until at an event that people might be eating at until we can get somewhere for a gf meal. I also keep my garage freezer filled with homemade gf cupcakes and pizzas for ALL of these birthday parties we have almost every weekend. I just let the kids frost them and decorate them right before we leave (and I have these really cool individual cupcake holders that my kids love) Makes it easy to get out the door without having to worry too much.

    Do not beat yourself up too much, Mike. We just have to look at each of these events as learning opportunities for the next time instead of looking at them as mistakes. You guys are doing SO awesome. Be proud of yourselves for learning how to navigate this crazy minefield of food allergies!

  8. what I've learned from experiences like this is to be more involved in the planning stages. With our pinewood Derby last year I was not that involved and the location was way too small and there was too many tempting foods there & some which I had no sub for and my son really wanted a lighting mcqueen cupcake.

    Anyways this year I found a better location and since I planned the location I also got to pick the time, which we choose 10am because it is a non food time. Got lucky I brought Veggie chips and others brought fruit, chips and little smokies (which my allergy kid doesn't eat anyways). I was much happier.

    BTW my 2nd grader won 1st place in his den and 3rd place in the Pack so onto the district derby in April!

    And our Pack does the weigh in 1 evening a few days before the race. It might be something you can suggest to your pack it really helps cut down the time on the day of the race.

  9. Kudos, Mike. My husband has dealt with many of the same things – and learned through the same experiences. My son and I were diagnosed with celiac about three years ago (after major health issues that sent dr's on a wild goose chase for several months, trying to figure out what the heck was making us so sick), and it was a definite learning curve. He's been awesome through it all, but his experiences mirror your own – learning to ask the next question and be vigilant about his actions where our son's diet is concerned.

    Three years later, our 13 year old son is learning to do this for others. He's a patrol leader in his Scout troop, and a lot of the kids with food allergies are in his group. He's taken it upon himself to learn each of their allergies and come up with campout menus that accommodate each without making the boys feel like they're being left out of anything. He's also helping the boys without allergies and such see that looking out for others isn't such a bad thing after all 🙂 He was once the kid getting pizza waved in his face…now he's the kid who educates others.

    He's learned that inevitably, it's up to him to be observant about food situations and keep himself safe, but he's also learned that his dad will be one of the first to stand up for him when needed. Please know that what you're doing now will have results that will amaze you down the road. Great job, Dad!

  10. Pinewood Derby…we're getting ready for ours right now!!! I was laughing when I saw your post about using the "dremmel!" Come on, your son has to sand his own by hand….doesn't he???? Hmmm, maybe we should of thought of using that instead of my 8 yr old spending hours sanding by hand!!! Have fun with your kids!!

  11. Mike, we've all been in those kinds of situations early on in dealing with our food intolerances. The first time or two seem to be the toughest and then we learn to better handle them. Not only will you learn to ask the questions, but so will your sons. It's important for them to get used to taking on that responsibility and being aware to keep themselves safe. And, like everyone said, they'll learn to take these situations in stride, following your example. Incidentally, it seems that even when one does not have food intolerances, these types of events are not well planned with food served way too late, etc. Asking the questions and being prepared will come more naturally as time goes on, but undesirable situations will still occur from time to time. We learn to develop "Plan B's" for when things don't work out … knowing where vending machines are located (potato chips are not ideal food, but can be lifesavers for someone who is hungry), what's sold at the convenience store 5 minutes away (bananas, apples, etc. … yes, you can leave and return if needed), and so forth. The more you deal with these situations, the more handling them will seem like breathing. You just do it and life goes on. You're doing a great job … don't fet over this one. We can't learn without the benefit of such experiences.


  12. I always have a gluten free snack bar in my purse in case I get hungry when I am out, or maybe some fruit. Might be a good idea to always have some gf food with you, and of course, if an event is around any mealtime, ask if something will be served and what it is.

    My son was in cub scouts. He always liked the pinewood derby. He got a least one trophy. One year, one of his friends, just put a can of spam on top of his piece of wood. The kid loves spam. Everyone laughed, but the car did really well.

  13. Kids are so wonderful when it comes to managing these situations. Certainly, as parents, we wish to do all we can to help avoid uncomfortable situations for them, but as Sam showed, more often than not, our kids set the standard for how we need to compose ourselves in these times.

    I learned early on that having a yummy protein bar on hand (gluten free/dairy free…vegan…etc) can help cushion the trauma/hunger caused when we fail to plan appropriately.

    You are an inspiration, Mike! Thank you for sharing your story.


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