My heart has carried this deep desire to be part of a special club for kids suffering from food allergies ever since my oldest child was diagnosed in 2007 with a chronic multifocal tic disorder and eventually celiac disease. After a food allergy test revealed the need to eliminated 15 foods from his diet I became completely overwhelmed with our situation. At that time I knew very little about his condition or how to manage it. And I felt tremendously isolated and alone, despite having met many food allergy families online and even a few living in neighborhoods not far from ours. I tried joining some support groups with my son, but the distance we needed to travel made it difficult to commit to functions with regularity. We met some great folks, but it was hard to maintain regular contact with them. I eventually joined a local group, but it was designated for adults and not for kids. As time marched on and I was able to get a handle on how to cook and manage my son’s issues with food at home, school, and even on vacations, I started to see more clearly that his needs were not being met in the least bit. In his world he was still very different from all his friends. He felt isolated and alone. He resented being on a diet. He was too dependent on me to be fed properly (and so was everyone else in the family, to be quite honest). I knew I had to do something for him.
My oldest son had always been the only child in his homeroom with celiac disease and gluten intolerance. After he was diagnosed word spread fast in our small school. We soon became a very well known family due to the obtrusive nature of having to eliminate an ingredient that is in 100% of all school snacks and party foods. Over time I became creative about incorporating special recipes that mimicked what the other kids were eating. When my son was younger this was enough. But as he aged and matured it became apparent that he was struggling with a desire to be like everyone else.
What I long felt my son needed was support right here in his own neighborhood with kids from his own school who he probably already knew but had no idea that they also struggled with food issues. I needed to connect with other moms in our school who were struggling like me to manage a food allergy problem. We had the same anxieties about open house nights, special awards day events, class parties, and how to manage class birthday celebrations or our school’s semi annual snack-filled events. Although I had no problem packing special alternative snacks and meals for my son, he was starting to have a problem eating them in front of his friends. He even started cheating, which was very upsetting to us all. I started to hear from other parents at our school struggling with food allergy issues. None of them had the same allergies as my son, but the mothers I talked to were still struggling to cope with managing their child’s condition just like I was. I talked with the principal about starting a support group. She encouraged me to do it, and requested that I write a proposal.
This was about year before I began planning the Sous Club organization. I still had no idea what the club was going to be about or how it would work. I just had this feeling in my gut. It sat there and festered for quite a while. During those months I invested a lot of my time reading about food allergies and experimenting with recipes at home with the kids. Cooking soon became a favorite family activity and the boys were getting quite good at it.
Then we got an invitation to a birthday party.
At that time my son was taking notice of what others thought. He was worried about being different. His desire to fit in seemed to trump everything. After the party he had a complete and utter sobbing meltdown. I listened to him lament about being different, of needing and wanting to feel normal, of being tired of his diet (by now he was good and healthy), and he admitted having feelings of isolation. He shattered my heart into pieces. After he finally fell asleep I went to task. I searched the web for a book that could inspire him, give him hope, make him laugh, and challenge him to take a new attitude. I couldn't find it. In many ways I consider that child's birthday Cilie's birthday as well. It was nearly three o'clock in the morning when the character Cilie Yack was born. I kept tossing and turning without any sleep. He was just a name and a funny sketch of a cartoon character in my mind, but I couldn't shake him out. I got up and put him to paper. It took several months and very late nights to tell his story. After several more months I completed 60 pictures to make this tale a funny and engaging one for even the most reluctant readers. I wanted a character that was flawed, someone that kids could empathize with, someone that could rise up and somehow find a way to reinvent himself. I needed a kid that seemed real, one with real problems, one who is prone to breaking the rules, getting into trouble, losing his temper, feeling bad about himself, and one who isn't exactly the best at, well, anything. You see, if a reader can still find enough to like about a kid like that, then there's magic. Then funny things start to happen. You see, Cilie finds a way to reinvent himself, despite everything. That's what his story is all about.
And he reinvents himself in the kitchen by becoming a food allergy chef. Instead of being the odd, misfit kid on a special diet, he becomes a celebrity in his hometown. I wanted all this and more for the many kids that would become members of our club some day. Cilie is the inspiration for kids struggling with their ‘lot in life.’ It is through his invitation to a fictional club that readers will become acquainted with our organization. With the encouragement of Theresa Roman, a very special board member suffering from multiple food allergies and celiac disease, we have committed our club to using only recipes that are free from the top ten most common allergens or intolerances. We did this with the hope that it would allow the biggest enrollment options for needy kids. We just simply didn’t want to leave anyone out. It is my sincere hope that Cilie Yack’s Sous Club will serve as a continual outreach program for kids on special diets, especially ones with multiple allergies, as an empowering social support group offering self-help skills, cool recipes, confidence, and above all else, hope.
Caryn Talty has a bachelor of science in education with an emphasis in special education. She also has a Master of Arts in English from Northern Illinois University. Her areas of expertise are in technical writing and editing, rhetoric, and creative writing.