Food Allergies: Every Party Has a Pooper, That’s Why We Invited You

I have always loved parties.  I didn’t even realize there are people out there who don’t enjoy parties until I met my husband.  We are proof positive that opposites attract.  I would party for pretty much any reason at all.  Don’t believe me?  I once threw a surprise birthday party for my Mom’s artificial hip.  The signs proclaimed ‘Hip’py Birthday and I posted before/after photos everywhere like the ones below!!!!  Truth!

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Before

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After

Parties have changed dramatically for me since Elena’s diagnosis.  I no longer get excited about going to parties.  Parties are a great source of anxiety.  I want my kids to have a love and excitement for parties that I used to have and I want to shield them from the anxiety.  I do get excited for them and for the possibility of the fun they will have, but the fear overrides the excitement for me.

We always bring Elena’s food to parties and I try to get it as close to what the others will be having as possible.  So far, we have gotten away with packing Olivia’s food as well so it will be like Elena’s.  I think this is good for Elena because she has a buddy, but eventually Olivia might decide she doesn’t want to follow Elena’s restrictions at parties.  We will just have to cross that bridge when we come to it.

I’m usually worried that I have missed something when we are heading to a party.  Even though I always ask about the food, changes happen and the host cannot always be expected to contact me about last minute adjustments.  I can bring Elena a safe cupcake or safe ice cream, but only if I know the cupcakes and ice cream will be served.  It’s heartbreaking to watch her sit and look around at the others enjoying treats while she has nothing.

Even more scary than her feeling excluded is the possibility of a reaction.  Kids, and sometimes parents, just don’t understand how easily it can happen.  If another child touches her plate or cup with icing on their hands, she could have a very serious reaction.  I try to monitor her every move while she is eating without her really knowing I’m doing it.  I don’t want her to be afraid to go to parties or to eat her food because of what is around her, but I want her to be safe.

Elena the day after a reaction to what we suspect was cross contamination contact with an allergen.

Elena the day after a reaction to what we suspect was cross contamination contact with an allergen.

We went to a party recently and the birthday girl’s mother had communicated very well with me about the food that would be served.  Elena had comparable food for the meal and a cupcake for dessert.  I was not prepared for ice cream to come out, but it did.  I just watched Elena quietly as a grown up offered her ice cream.  She said no thank you and that was that.  It couldn’t have gone better.  She was sitting at the table eating her safe cupcake, when the ice cream started being passed around.  A gentleman literally carried the ice cream over, set his bowl beside Elena, then started scooping the ice cream into his bowl.  I scooted her chair towards me as discretely as I could, but a drop of ice cream fell right on her hand.  I quickly wiped it off and he gave us both a disgusted look, patted her on the arm and said, “Oh, don’t worry, it’s not going to hurt you”.  I just scooped her up and grabbed her cupcake, making our way into the next room.  There was nowhere for us to go.  Allergens were everywhere and I just couldn’t see past them.  I found my husband, who was chatting with another dad and shoved Elena and her cupcake at him.  He could tell I was about to lose it and I had to get out quick.  I made it out the front door and around the side of the house where I completely broke down into sobs.  I couldn’t believe a simple birthday party could go so wrong so fast and I was so disappointed in myself.  How could I lose control like that and what if Justin hadn’t been there to take Elena before she saw me crumble.  I just kept thinking that it shouldn’t be this hard to take my daughter to a birthday party.  She shouldn’t have to be faced with people splashing around her allergens and telling her they can’t hurt her.  What if that had landed on her cupcake instead of her hand and what if it had been in a moment when I wasn’t watching her like a hawk?  No matter what I do, I cannot guarantee her safety and parties are very high risk for her.

Luckily, Elena never knew what had happened.  She just thought we were wandering around for a few minutes and then she went with Daddy and started playing with friends.  Since he wasn’t sure what had happened, Justin didn’t give her the rest of her cupcake, but she didn’t seem to mind.  As far as she was concerned, the party went very well and she had a blast.

People tell me I go overboard with birthday parties for my own kids.  We celebrate in a big way, even when we keep it small.  It’s never outlandish or overly expensive, but I do a lot of work to make sure the activities, food, and cakes are special and safe.  Part of the reason I do this is because it’s the only time I know Elena can just have fun and let loose at a party.  She can enjoy herself completely and not even think about what she is eating or what others around her are eating.  I can let her run off and play with her friends without having to wonder if any of them brought a handful of their food with them.  Even if they did, I know it’s all “Elena safe”.  She can sit at the table and eat a piece of the big cake, just like everyone else.  I do it because I want her to have as many opportunities as she can to have anxiety free fun at a party with friends.  She can be part of the celebration, rather than having to lurk on the fringes with her food substitutions.  I want her to enjoy herself in the same way your nonallergic child does every time he attends a birthday party, school celebration, family gathering, or church potluck.  If that means I have to throw the party, well then there are at least three opportunities a year for me to make it happen (four if you count her Grammie’s hip).

This past weekend we celebrated Olivia turning two.  We had snacks and cake and bubbles galore.  To everyone else, it was just a party, but to us, it was a “safe” party.  The day was all about Olivia, but for me, it’s always a little bit about Elena too.  Throwing safe parties makes me remember why I used to love celebrating anything and everything with a blow out.

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Bubble party themed cakes. Egg, dairy, peanut, tree nut free, of course.

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Hamming it up for the camera on her 2nd birthday.

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Elena is sitting right at the cake table with the others. Usually she has to hang back when the cakes are being cut, but not today.

Playing and being silly without a care in the world, just as it should be.

Playing and being silly without a care in the world, just as it should be.

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Obviously, Olivia enjoys “Elena safe” cake very much.

I would like to add that we are lucky enough to have several friends and family members who are dedicated to making the events they plan completely or mostly “Elena safe” or keeping me informed of every detail regarding unsafe treats so I can prepare accordingly.  Every food allergy family should be so fortunate.

Decadent Dark Chocolate Banana Muffins

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Ingredients:

3 ripe bananas (mashed)

¼ cup unsweetened applesauce

⅓ cup vegetable oil

⅔ cup sugar

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 cup all purpose flour

½ cup dark chocolate cocoa powder

½ tsp. salt

1 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. baking powder

½ cup Enjoy Life mini chocolate chips

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375°

Combine mashed bananas, applesauce, oil, sugar, and vanilla extract in the bowl of a standing mixer and mix well.  In a separate bowl, combine flour, cocoa, salt, baking soda, and baking powder.  Add the dry mixture to the wet ingredients in the mixer and mix on low speed until all ingredients are incorporated.  Be sure to scrape the sides of the bowl a few times during mixing to make sure everything gets blended in.  The batter will be sticky.  Stir in chocolate chips.

Divide batter evenly among 12 lined muffin cups and bake for 18-20 minutes.  Use a toothpick or cake tester to check for doneness.

These muffins are very decadent and really taste more like a dessert than a breakfast treat.  They also require major willpower to avoid devouring the whole pan as soon as they’re cool enough to eat.

Reviews from the Critics:

Elena (4 years old):  “Yum Yum Yum”

Olivia (1 ½ years old):  “More cupcake peeeeeeeze”

Justin (32 years old):  “These are incredible.  They taste more like cake than a muffin.”

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Shame On Me

I have this big idea to have other people in our lives write some perspective blogs, telling about their experiences with food allergies, either through their interactions with us or with others.  When I was thinking about these perspectives, I kept hoping our guest bloggers will be edgy and raw.  I want them to tell what they really think and how they really feel.  I want them to put aside all of the right answers and supportive things to say, and just tell it like it is.  The more I thought about this, the more I realized I haven’t done that myself.

I have touched on some of our struggles and many of our accomplishments with living with food allergies, but I haven’t really written a dirty, honest blog about what it feels like to be on this side of it all.  Here goes…

There are a lot of things I HAVE to do because I have a daughter who could die if she is exposed to certain foods.  I HAVE to keep her safe and I HAVE to help her live a normal life.  These aren’t fun undertakings that I have taken upon myself because I am an exceptional mother.  These are requirements.  I’m not going above and beyond when I send her to a party with a safe cupcake.  I’m just trying to meet the requirements of being a food allergy mom.  Is it fun?  Hell no.  Is it going to make her the happiest kid on the block?  Let’s just say, it’s a good day when she doesn’t break down because her cupcake was too different from the others.  Luckily, this usually happens after the fact when she is reflecting on her day.  At four years old, she already knows not to draw too much attention to the differences in front of others.  Is this something I have done to her?

I find it interesting when people say things like, “you’re so good at this” or “you were made for this” or even “I don’t know if I could do it”.  Really?  Was I?  Was this somehow meant for me?  Was my child supposed to have this horrible life threatening allergy to something she can’t get away from because I have a knack for it?  If not, then it must be by chance.  Did we just get lucky that I happen to have a skill set that enables me to keep my daughter alive?  It’s strange to be told you are good at something that you don’t want to be doing and that you have no choice other than to succeed in.  If I don’t do it, she could die.  Trust me, you could do it and you would be good at it too.  It’s not a gift.  It’s just enduring a curse.

I’m not going to say too much about the “theorists”.  You wouldn’t believe the conversations in which people tell me her food allergies were probably caused by something I ate when I was pregnant or something I didn’t eat or being too clean when she was a baby or not clean enough.  The theories go on and on and usually place the blame on the mother.   All I can really say about this is…DON’T DO THAT!!!

Here comes the part where I shatter your theories about me being made for this.  I hope the people my daughter encounters in the world are nothing like me.  I had so many ideas about what a “food allergy kid” is like.  There was a time when the mention of food allergies would have evoked a very specific image for me.  Food allergy kids are nerdy and sickly.  They probably don’t have the best social skills and they’re afraid of everything.  They’re like the snot bubble kid from the movie Little Giants or [insert your own generational reference].  Don’t even get me started on the kids with Asthma.  What kind of word is that anyway?  Shouldn’t there be some vowels in the middle?

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Now that I have a child with anaphylactic food allergies to egg, dairy, peanuts, and tree nuts, as well as asthma, I no longer think this way…is what a better person than I would say.  I just can’t seem to get away from the social stigmas that I have attached to these things.  When we found out about her asthma, I was pretty terrified.  I had read so many stories about split second decisions where an allergic reaction was mistaken for an asthma attack and an inhaler was used rather than the Epipen.  The outcome is usually very bleak.  As bad as that was, I still held on to my social concerns.  Now she’s going to be carrying around an Epipen AND and inhaler.  We might as well just tattoo, “bully me” on her forehead.  This is really only a valid concern if she encounters people who think like……me.  Is this a good time to suggest the media is to blame?

I need to clarify that my daughter in no way fits the profile of a “food allergy kid” that I held for so long.  I have met many other children with food allergies since she was diagnosed, and they don’t seem to fit it either.  I’m ashamed that it took being her mother to make me see how ridiculous it was to assign all of these personality traits to this medical condition.  How closed minded of me.  This is where the “theorists” would say, “Maybe God knew you needed this experience to change your perspective.”  Seriously, don’t do it.

My fear is that others like me will never have a change of heart.  Most people will never have a child with severe food allergies.  If that’s what it took for me to break a stereotype I didn’t even know I had, what hope is there for her?  My hope is that she encounters people in her life who are better than I am.  So far, I think she has.

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 Elena,

You not only hold my heart, you have also changed it.    

Love, Mommy