My six year-old son is allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, blueberries, watermelon, grapes, and red dye 40. He is also severely allergic to dogs (dander and saliva) and cats and has seasonal allergies too. In addition to his allergies, he also has asthma and eczema. I can handle the seasonal and pet allergies because they can be managed to a degree with allergy medicine. But the food allergies… those are another story. Food allergies are a struggle no matter how many you have. Having asthma on top of food allergies is also scary because children with both conditions are more likely to have a more severe reaction. For those who aren’t familiar with food allergies, let me tell you what it’s like being a mom to a child with food allergies.
- We worry. We worry every single time our child eats or drinks something new. Sometimes we even worry about things our children have eaten hundreds of times.
- We read labels. By reading labels I don’t mean looking for the big bold “contains” or “may contain” statements. I mean reading every ingredient, every bold warning, and every inch of the package to make sure we didn’t miss something. And we don’t just read that box in the grocery store, we read it before we put it in the pantry, and then again before we serve it. It isn’t only food that we check, it’s household products, bath and body products, medicines, and vitamins. (Did you know that many vitamins for children may contain allergens?)
- We research. We make phone calls and send emails to manufacturers to find out how products are made. Are the items made in a facility that contains our child’s allergen? Are there shared lines? Is there a dedicated line or facility? We pray that we will get the answers we need, but we don’t always because the manufacturers don’t have to disclose all of that information. They simply have to label for the top 8 allergens if the product actually contains it, but not if it “may contain.” Do you know how frustrating and scary this can be?
- We memorize ridiculous codes. Yes, ask me what 24000 means and I’ll tell you it is the number of the peanut free Hostess plant. I can also tell you that ELZ on a bag of Dove Chocolates means those were made in a peanut free facility. I can tell you the code above the UPC for the “safe” butter at Walmart. I could go on, but you get my point.
- We cringe every time we are invited to a party or a function where food will be served. We don’t want to exclude our children, but we know that more than likely our child is going to be around his/her allergen. We are going to have to tell them they can’t eat what everyone else is eating and we will whip out a bag of “safe” food for our child.
- We become bakers and chefs. That’s right, we are self-taught bakers and chefs. We do our very best to learn how to bake and decorate cakes and cookies so we know exactly what goes in them and that they are 100% safe. We learn how to cook dishes that contain only safe ingredients.
- We prepare for parties by using our baking skills. How else will our children be able to attend a party or event if we don’t make their own safe cupcake? Most moms keep a batch of safe treats in the freezer so when a party pops up we can grab a safe treat and go. Imagine the burden we take off the host by making sure our child has their own safe good.
- We carry an Emergency Kit. We are always armed with sanitizers that actually wipe away the proteins of our child’s allergen, epinephrine will be within reach, and we will watch our children for any signs of a reaction. You know, in case Susie didn’t wash her hands after eating that peanut butter cup or piece of pizza.
- We can tell you every other name for our child’s allergen. Did you know that arachis oil is another name for peanut oil? You do now!
- We try really hard every day. We try not to panic. We try to stay calm. We try to let our children live normal lives. We try not to allow them to be excluded. We do our best. We love our children with all our hearts and don’t want to lose them because of food.
So the next time you are asked to refrain from eating something in the presence of a child with food allergies, think how much worry you are taking off that child and his/her mother.
When there’s a party and your food-allergic guest brings their own food, be thankful. Think of the burden they just took from you. Now you don’t have to worry that the child will react to something you made. While we appreciate the efforts that others will make for us to say that they have made something “safe,” know that it is often hard for a food allergy mom to accept. We worry if there was any unintentional cross-contamination. We worry about the brands of ingredients that were used. For example: While flour is flour to most people, as a peanut-allergy mom I know that only King Arthur flour is safe for my child.
Remember this: Food allergy moms aren’t being crazy or rude. We are protecting our precious children. Be understanding and think what you would do if you were in their shoes.
Be on the lookout for another post later today with some non-food Valentine’s Day treat ideas! You can also subscribe so you don’t miss it!