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How a Stranger at Chipotle Welcomed My Family With Celiac Disease

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I am “that mom.” The one whose takeout order is so picky, so specific, that the line is out the door by the time I get to the register to pay.

There are only a few places I can take my kids to eat out. I cook the vast majority of our meals at home, from scratch, because my daughters and I have celiac disease. My middle child’s disease is so severe that she can react to even the tiniest gluten contamination. When we do eat outside of the house, it’s an exciting treat for the kids. But I dread it, because I can sense the waning patience of the hungry people in line behind us.

Chipotle is one of the few places we feel we can eat safely. They have very few menu items with gluten, and policies in place to reduce contamination. But the steps they take to keep us safe – changing gloves, getting fresh cheese from the fridge, and changing out the spoons – take time. Sometimes I hear put-out sighs behind us. Even grumbles.

I just hope my sweet girls can’t hear them.

The other day, something happened that made me feel a little better about our trips out.

I let several people go ahead of us, so they wouldn’t have to wait. When the restaurant was empty of people who needed to order, we stepped up to start our order. By the time we were halfway through, the line was 10 deep. I turned around and apologized, to polite nods from the folks in line.

One server was new, and her colleagues were walking her through the gluten-free procedures, so the process took even longer than usual. Forgotten steps had to be remedied. Soon, the line was almost out the door.

I could feel my neck getting hot from embarrassment. I just knew what the people behind me were thinking: That I’m just neurotic. Privileged. That we were probably eating gluten free because we’re into the latest “fad.” I couldn’t turn around and apologize again; I was too afraid of what someone might say.

Finally, we reached the cash register. As I started to open my purse, the young man behind us in line wordlessly reached past me and handed the cashier a card to pay for our food.

I stammered out a “thanks.” He just held up his hand as if to say, “Think nothing of it.”

Stunned, I sat down with my girls, and we started enjoying the meal this stranger had bought us. He gave us a shy wave on his way out the door.

I don’t know why he did it. Maybe someone had done him a good turn that morning, and he decided to pay it forward.

But I feel like he did it specifically to ease my anxiety over feeling like a burden on others. That it was his way of telling us he didn’t mind being delayed for a few minutes while the restaurant took the time to accommodate our disability.

He was telling my kids that they’re welcome out in public places, even though they’re different.

And that means a lot.

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Photo by Mike Mozart via Flickr

Originally published: April 14, 2017
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