3 Things I Want You to Know About Food Allergies

As you know from many of my previous posts, my little guy lives with life threatening food allergies. I’ve gone back and forth for months (long before this blog even launched) over whether or not I would share our story here. I cringe, cry, and grow nauseous reading some of the stories of families’ experiences with food allergies because I have lived those very moments. I have watched my child break out in hives and scratch his skin raw. I have ridden in the back of an ambulance clutching my terrified 15-month-old, praying for answers. I have knelt in front of my wailing, vomiting, wheezing 22-month-old, epipen in hand, tears in eyes, whispering words of comfort I’m not sure I even believed (was it really going to be ok?) before hitting him in the thigh with the life-saving drug. I have watched him cough or scratch an itch or make a sudden movement during meal time and I have panicked over and over and over again thinking it was an allergic reaction to…anything. And I am constantly, CONSTANTLY consumed with fear at the thought of losing my child with each and every interaction he has with food. That, more than anything, I want you to hear. If you ever perceive a parent of a child with food allergies to be acting irrationally, being overprotective, or just downright bossy, I beg of you, put yourself in her shoes and grant her some grace. If being “that mom” saves my child’s life, you better believe I’m gonna be the loudest version of “that mom” I can be. Because there was a time when I wasn’t ready to be “that mom.” There was a time I was afraid to be “that mom.” And I still, at times, struggle with being the best advocate for Buddy…but I’m getting better at it every day.

With the story of the Giorgi Family’s loss making national news, I knew the time was right to start the discussion here on Gaining Mommymentum. Without these stories being shared, we cannot expect awareness; let alone acceptance, or assistance. And we need all of these. We desperately need all of these.

I’m not going to share a personal story about the times we have faced severe reactions to food allergens. Not today at least. Our “stories” are still too fresh for them to really be “stories” yet…and my heart just isn’t ready.

So, my friends, let us begin with awareness. These are just three of the many things that I want you to know about day to day living with food allergies…there are so many more but I think these three will start off our discussion well as they all deal with interactions with food in places outside our own “safe havens.”

1. Public places are scary for our family. There is food everywhere and food is potentially public enemy #1 in our eyes. I know food is unavoidable and I know I cannot wipe down every surface Buddy could possibly touch before he touches it. I do not wipe down the playground, or the play area at the mall or Chick Fil A, though I have watched children being allowed to run around in these areas with peanut butter snack crackers and, yes, I have even witnessed a preschooler walking around a playground eating loose pistachios from her coat pocket. Unfortunately, both of these instances occured before I had enough courage to approach their parents/caretakers to discuss this. We left the mall play area when I spotted the peanut butter crackers. We moved to a different area of the playground when we saw the little girl with pistachios.

I understand that our kids need snacks. I understand the benefit of keeping our kids’ bellies from being empty. I do. Buddy still needs snacks too even though he has food allergies. But I know that even the snacks I choose that are safe for Buddy are not safe for all children. I ask you to join me in having your children sit with you away from play equipment to eat their snack. Whatever it may be. And I ask you to join me in wiping your child’s hands with hand wipes both before and AFTER they eat to help remove food proteins. (Side note: Antibacterial hand gels kill germs but they do not remove food proteins–and food proteins are what cause allergic reactions–scrubbing with soap and water or using hand wipes to thoroughly wipe their hands has been proven most effective.) Please join me in keeping food away from play areas.

2. It is stressful and difficult to take kids out to eat. It is even more stressful and difficult to take a child with food allergies out to eat. For us, it involves calling the restaurant ahead of time, hopefully during off-peak hours so we can (hopefully) have the full attention of the manager we are speaking to, discussing menu options, prep space, cross-contamination risks…are there even any options on the menu that are safe for our child? Some restaurants are willing to go above and beyond to help us find something that will work. Others have told us they cannot serve us or cannot guarantee a safe meal. I appreciate their honesty, but that answer always depresses me. We are slowly building a list of restaurants that we are comfortable with and that we know have safe options for Buddy to eat but it is still stressful. We deal with all kinds of stares and looks as we break out the wipes and scrub the high chair, scrub the table, scrub ourselves…then we bring out a stick down placemat (if I remembered to pack one…if I forgot, there’s another thing for me to stress about…) I’m not embarassed about it anymore. I’m just doing what I need to do for my kiddo. Eating out as a family has lost its appeal, but I am fighting to get it back. It’s one of those “normal” family activities that I desperately want for my child. It just carries an extra (scary) challenge with it.

3. Birthday parties are SUPER stressful. So are holiday gatherings. Basically any gathering where there are lots of people & food. Bring on the cortisol. There is so much food and so many people walking around with food and so. many. kids. with food on their hands touching everything. And have you ever tried to tell a 2-year-old they can’t have a piece of cake? (Though I have learned to bring my own cupcake along with me for Buddy.) I feel terribly about all the birthday parties and gatherings we have backed out on in the past 9 months but most days I just can’t handle the stress of it. As buddy gets older and understands more about his allergies and we become more comfortable, we are trying more and more of these types of gatherings. If you do spot us at a birthday party or other large gathering where there is food, please don’t be alarmed if/when we make a mad dash for the door with quick goodbyes or show up late to avoid the meal or leave early to avoid the cake or just stop by to say hi and drop off a present. It’s a work in progress. Please DO know that we really, really want to celebrate with you. And please DO know that we will call or email you ahead of time with 101 questions about the food being served at the party. πŸ™‚ Just ask Mandy.

Friends with food allergies: What else do you want everyone to know?

Friends without food allergies: What else do you want to know?

Let’s keep this conversation going. It’s an important one.

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17 thoughts on “3 Things I Want You to Know About Food Allergies

  1. Lauren, your story has me in tears. I knew it was hard, but I didn’t know how hard. I applaud you for sharing in an effort to promote awareness. I hug you for all the extra hard work you do to make Buddy’s work safe; being a Mom is hard itself, I can’t imagine having to add all the extra precautions on a 24/7 basis. It makes me even happier that Buddy got to join us yesterday. Please keep sharing. Even though I am an “old” Mom, you are teaching me new things! Love you and all that you are.

    • Holly, thank you. I’m sorry I made you cry (not my intention but I’m right there with ya!) but I know the tears will all be worth it. You are so right, being a mom IS a hard job…I feel like I need another master’s degree some days! πŸ˜‰ Buddy had SO. MUCH. FUN. yesterday and I can’t thank Mandy and all of you enough for helping make that possible. Love to you too!

  2. I must admit I was in the “what’s all the fuss?” camp for a long time. Hearing and witnessing your family story has brought me to a better understanding of the real situation you live within each day. I never once stopped to think about all the details and hard work that go in to honestly, just protecting your child. Thank you for educating me and many others. Buddy is super blessed to have such an amazing, dedicated and well spoken mother!

    • Thank you Barbara! It is a lot of “details and hard work” but it is all worth it. And just when I begin to struggle with all those details I am absolutely overwhelmed by the support you all are giving me. Thank you is not enough. But thank you. πŸ™‚ And thank you, again, to you and your family for helping Buddy and I have such a wonderful and safe experience out this summer!

  3. This is a great convo to start. As a mom- scratch that- person who hasn’t had to experience this (so far), it is easy to overlook the seriousness of what appears to be simple public play areas. I have a lot of friends with young children who have severe food allergies. I have worked in schools where I had to read the labels and tell tearful kids they can’t have what their parents packed in their lunch because it violates the school’s food allergy policy. I personally try to have safe food for all my guests at gatherings or parties, but overlook the food protein thing. I have no idea about that fear you have, but I’m a mom so I can understand wanting to protect your child. And I pledge to buy/pack more hand wipes and eat our snacks not on equipment. That is easy and if it slightly reduces one mother’s fear even just for a minute, it is worth it. Parenthood is hard and we are all on the same team- loving, protecting, and trying to give our kids the world. Thanks for your courage and I hope you feel our support.

    • Thank you Meg! You said it so well–“we are all on the same team.” Thank you so much for your support. I am so overwhelmed by it today but it was just what I needed. πŸ™‚ You are right that it is an easy thing to overlook. I sure did until I was thrust into the world of food allergies. It’s all about awareness…and hopefully this post was a good starting point. Thank you again!

  4. Lauren, Thank you for sharing. When you guys were little as a mom I never gave allergies a thought. Now a grandmother again I never gave a thought much of food allergies. No need to think much even as a nurse in a pediatric hospital. Special diets were not unusual. We make sure each patient has what they need , part of my job. When Barbara told me your little guy had allergies my thought was ok. AGAIN I never gave it a thought . I read your post, and thought wow. Then you went out with us. I saw first hand how vigilant you had to be . We warned the g- kids not to share any food and to ask you first.
    Thanks to your courage you have made me a more aware as an individual. For that I thank you and apologize for being one of those mom who let the kids eat their pbj’s on the play ground and not at the table. NEVER again! I am now much more aware of asking about food allergies. Especially when I am not at work. Hang in there, keep sharing, and always be “one of those Moms” God Bless your family, Mrs.A

    • Oh my goodness, thank you so much for this. Your family is SO wonderful to us. I admit I was one of those moms too. Now I get it. And I wish I had “gotten it” sooner. That’s why I share. And your support just means the world. Thank you. –Lauren

  5. Wow, Lauren, what a powerful post. My kids did not suffer from food allergies but you have truly opened my eyes. Your Buddy is so fortunate to have you as his advocate.

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  7. I was T a 3 day conference recently. In the hotel restaurant a young lady was asking about food prep in regards to allergies she had. The chef came to her table and asked for specific dos and donts. He assured her he would personally prepare her food. She was overwhelmed with gratitude. She then made sure he would be working for the duration of her stay. Moral of the story…..don’t be afraid to ask. You may be pleasantly surprised!

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