I am the mother of children with multiple food allergies. But, we do not have an anaphylactic nut allergy, so… I am grateful for that. Because of this fact, and my thankfulness for it, I am guilty of downplaying the allergies we deal with, much like I did in the first two sentences here. And I am not alone.
Moms like me genuinely feel thankful that we don’t have children with anaphylactic nut allergies, because that is scary as hell! We also don’t want parents, teachers and other kids to make a huge deal out of the food allergies and make our kids feel like freaks. They are normal kids who are pretty happy to eat the food that they CAN eat, 99% of the time. I don’t need people saying “Aaaw, poor little thing, she can’t have the cake?” Right in front of my 4 year old. She didn’t care until she heard that, thank you. She was very happy with the slice I brought for her until she heard that you thought she was missing out! But, I know they mean well. So, I say things like, “it’s really not a big deal. We are so used to it and the kids have plenty of treats. ” (This usually sinks in when the parents see that the cake/cookie/brownie looks delicious.)
The truth is, the allergies are a pain in the ass when you want to go out for dinner, and there are literally two people other than myself and my husband whom I can trust to feed my kids without making them sick, but it really isn’t that tough on a daily basis. We know what they can eat and we like to cook, so it’s not a big deal unless we are going out, and even then, we are used to it.
The problem is…. Unless you make a ridiculously huge deal about the allergies, people believe that it isn’t a big deal. And this is a problem. It is a problem at the park and play dates and soccer games and SCHOOL.
I have had this conversation three times in the last twenty four hours… All three times it was initiated by someone else, so I know I am far from alone here.
This evening, I received a text from one of my best girlfriends, frustrated and angry because her sweet little girl was given wheat pretzels at school even though her gluten allergy is clearly listed on the wall. That 5 year old girl is spending tonight (and the next WEEK, at least!) in pain, with her eye swollen and itchy, her tummy hurting, and her behavior beyond her control. If this had been a life threatening peanut allergy, she would be in the ER or worse. The person at fault would, at the very least, be left feeling tremendously guilty. But in this case, my guess is, it will be brushed off unless my friend completely loses her cool and threatens to pull her child from the school or take legal action if a better plan isn’t put into place. That’s an awful position to be in as a parent.
I try to make things easy and minimize the risks for my kids. My two youngest kids attend a school I love and trust, where they have implemented a rule to benefit my kids and others with allergies- every child must wash their hands when they get to school and after they eat snack and lunch. AND STILL, I do not allow my kids to eat anything that isn’t sent in from our home. Unless I read the ingredients and know how and where it was prepared, it does not pass their lips. You can think I’m crazy/paranoid/over-protective. You can say that my kids need to learn to take responsibility. My reply is this: when people start taking things seriously, I might feel like I can relax a little. The reason I can act calm and in control of this crap is because I AM in control of it, as much as humanly possible, because I have to be. My 8 1/2 year old weighs only 40 pounds- not for lack of eating tons of calories and fat! If he eats something he is allergic to, he will be sick for weeks. If he looses any weight, he could land in the hospital. My 4 year old gets rashes from touching even traces of allergens. Rashes so bad it looks like the skin has been burned off her arms and she needs to have her arms wrapped in gauze before school most days to avoid infection. This is beyond the GI issues and other symptoms.
So, when I smile and say the allergies aren’t a big deal…maybe I’m lying a little. They are a huge deal. They affect the health and lives of my children and require hours of time, effort and energy every day. And, though I am beyond thankful that none of the allergies currently carry the risk of anaphylaxis, I wish people could understand the complicated risks to my kids and so many others.