Bravely Seeking Safety

I love this post from Momastery, “This is What Brave Means”, so much and, of course, it feels so familiar.  Take a minute to read it if you haven’t seen it yet.  It’s time to redefine “bravery” for your children and for ourselves and to realize that physical danger is not the defining characteristic of a brave action.

For people with food allergies, who get pressured all the time to take risks, bravery is not eating something you’re unsure of or taking risks with your precautions.  Bravery is standing up for yourself, asking for precautions, and risking being different because you aren’t eating the food at a party or other social event.

Children are often expected to take management of their allergies into their own hands, which sometimes means defying adults who don’t fully understand their allergens. THAT is brave.  Bravery is the second grader I heard about recently who gave herself an Epipen after her teachers told her she had to wait for the ambulance to arrive, because she knew she needed it.  Can you even imagine?  A child was told by grown ups that she could not have the medicine she knew could save her life until an ambulance arrived, which could easily be too late.  A second grader, grabbed her own Epipen and injected herself in the leg, defying the adults around her , and possibly saving her own life.

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My own 5 year old daughter also exemplifies bravery to me, although to others, she might seem fearful and overly cautious.  Bravery is when she decided on her own to skip Sunday school because she found out they were passing out donuts and goldfish.  Bravery is when she walked calmly to sit in a chair so I could inject her with an Epipen because she realized she had eaten something she shouldn’t have.  Bravery is standing up for herself and suggesting to her brand new kindergarten teacher that she should wear gloves and collect chicken eggs with her class, despite her allergy.  Bravery is marching into almost every party she has ever attended with her own cupcake or meal and her bag of epinephrine auto injectors, because she knows that when it’s time to eat she will be surrounded by allergens and will need to act differently from everyone else to keep herself safe.  Bravery is when we eat out and she takes it upon herself to tell her server all about her allergies and what all she is allergic to.  Bravery is when she has to go to the Dr’s office for a food challenge and spend 4 hours taking bites of food she knows could make her sick, could require her to need Epinephrine, and that she has spent her entire life trying to avoid at all costs.

My child may be cautious, but she and all of the others like her are the most BRAVE little beings I know.

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Elena and her friend, Blake, share allergies to the same four foods.

Baba Gha-Hummus: A Recipe and So Much More

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No matter how many times I was told that it’s easy to make my own hummus, I never really wanted to do it.  As soon as they said “food processor”, I was out.  I used to use a big food processor that was loud and had enough parts to almost fill the top rack of my dishwasher every time I used it.  It was a pain to get in and out of the cabinet with all of it’s parts, so it just stayed put.  It seems way easier to just buy our hummus than to take it out and wash it.

That all changed with one bite of this delicious hummus.  I will warn you.  It ruined me on store-bought forever.  Even if I wanted to purchase a quick fix, I just couldn’t enjoy it after tasting the real deal.  Conveniently, I had my Mom’s Magic Bullet at my house for making baby food, so I was able to try the recipe out in it.  Why was I using my Mom’s Magic Bullet to make baby food when I own a food processor?  I wasn’t exaggerating.  I REALLY hate taking it out.

I mentioned a bite changed me.  I tasted this hummus at a party, and I couldn’t walk away from the bowl.  I will admit, I felt a little bit possessive of it, even though I hadn’t brought it.  That’s why they call it “crazy” good.  The Zimmermans, who brought the hummus, were kind enough to share the recipe with me and everyone else who tasted it because none of us were willing to let this recipe go un-had.

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The Zimmerman Family, looking all good.

Let me tell you a little bit about the Zimmerman family.  The only way I can really explain it is, they do it right.  By “it”, I mean life.  Homemade hummus is not even the tip of the iceberg.  I can’t do it justice, but check out the article, Family Lives the Self Sufficient Lifestyle, to have your mind blown.  What I CAN say is that every time I am around them, I leave feeling inspired to do a better job feeding my family.  This isn’t because they tell me I need to do better.  They never do that.  In fact, I’m pretty sure I have even seen one or both of them pretend to really enjoy my “something wrapped in canned dough” finger food offering at the very party where I laid claim to their hummus platter.  I want to do better because their passion and knowledge are inspirational.  They make the impossible seem pretty darn doable.  Not to mention, they do it all while raising two of the most well-rounded tween boys you will ever meet who are just plain fun to be around.

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They’re the kind of people who leave organic sweet potatoes on their neighbor’s porch as a random surprise. WIN!!!

So, maybe my big beautiful garden only exists on my Pinterest board and my “composting” takes place in our garbage bin, but we now eat homemade hummus.  Baby steps, right?  Without further ado…

Baba Gha-Hummus

Ingredients:

1 large eggplant

1 15 oz can garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained

3 tbsp. tahini (or sesame seeds and a little extra EVOO)

1 ½ tsp. ground cumin

1 tsp ground coriander

¾ tsp. salt

⅛ tsp. ground red pepper (or less)

2 garlic cloves (Sometimes I just throw in garlic powder; sometimes I roast the garlic for some extra yum!)

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 or 2 squirts of lemon juice (optional)

Penny’s directions:

Preheat oven to 375. Pierce eggplant with a fork. Place eggplant on a jelly roll and bake at 375 for 30 min or until tender. Cool eggplant completely; peel. (Although I don’t peel mine.) Cut eggplant into wedges. Combine eggplant, tahini, and remaining ingredients in a food processor; process until smooth.

Yields 2 cups.

This recipe is very forgiving and also able to easily adapt. I often add a little lemon juice to bring out the flavors or have to add a little more olive oil if it seems dry. Also, don’t be afraid to play around with the amounts of the spices, just know that the flavors develop the longer it sits. Enjoy!

There you have it.  Below are some photos of what it looks like when I make this hummus.  I have had the recipe for a little over a month and I think I have made it at least 6 times.  I made a couple of batches by roasting red peppers when I was out of eggplant and it was great that way too.  I’m pretty sure you have to change the name if you swap out the eggplant, though.

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These are the ingredients. I use sesame seeds instead of tahini because I can’t find a tahini that isn’t processed in a facility with our allergens. Also, the ground red pepper is missing because I forgot to get it out for the picture. Oops!

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There’s the whole eggplant just roasting away. It doesn’t get any easier than putting it in the oven with no prep at all.

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I grind the sesame seeds to a powder first.

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With the magic bullet, I have to do a few small batches. I try to divide all of the ingredients into semi-equal parts. Here is everything in the first batch of this round.

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The Magic Bullet gets the job done, but it’s not without a good bit of effort.  I divide the ingredients into smaller batches, then I have to shake the blender considerably while it’s working through it to get all of the chunks down to the blade.  I end up adding a bit more oil and lemon juice as I go to thin it enough for the magic bullet to cut it.  This feels like a good time to mention that I’m campaigning hard for a Vitamix from my husband for Christmas.  Oh what I could do with one of those!!!  If you have any compelling arguments, go ahead and email him directly 🙂

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Did I mention this deliciousness is top 8 allergen free, gluten free, and vegan?  BOO-YA!!!!!

Do You Think Your Child Is Safe At School?

You might have heard the buzz about new legislation for stocking epinephrine in schools.  As the mother of two allergic children and one non-allergic child, I am very passionate about this legislation.  You might think it’s because I want to take every precaution to keep my allergic children safe at school.  Nope….not about them at all (for me, anyway).  I want it for my non-allergic child, and you should too.

According to the recent Yahoo News article, States Enact Laws To Stock Epinephrine at Schools, by Lucas L. Johnson II , one quarter of all anaphylactic reactions that occur at school happen to a child with no known allergies.  Just let that sink in for a minute.  Twenty five percent of life threatening reactions in school happen to a child like your non-allergic son or daughter.  I don’t like those odds one bit, considering my non-allergic daughter does not have an epinephrine prescription.  In fact, she is the only one of my children who I know will not have epinephrine accessible to her unless she is with her siblings.  It is for her that I want this life saving medication stocked in her school.

Olivia has been tested for the top 8 food allergens and her results indicated that she is not allergic to any of them.  She has no known food or other allergies up to this point.  I know though, that she could develop an allergy at any time.  I also know that things she has never been tested for could cause a life threatening reaction, such as ant bites, wasp stings, etc.  If Olivia suffers a reaction at school, she will not have access to epinephrine because we live in North Carolina.  North Carolina is neither one of the four states that requires stocking of epinephrine, nor is it one of the 23 others that ALLOWS stocking of epinephrine.

Basically, the children with known food allergies who bring their own prescribed epinephrine to school are the only ones who will receive life saving medication in our state.  Even if another child has epinephrine on site, it will not be used on your child during an unexpected reaction.  Your child would not be treated in order to prevent their death.  They would have to wait for emergency assistance to bring the medication, which could easily arrive too late.  If you don’t care about the stock epinephrine bills because your child doesn’t have a known allergy, you might want to rethink your position.

My daughter who has severe food allergies never leaves home without at least 2 epipens.  She will always have them if she needs them.  This legislation is not for her.  This legislation is for my non-allergic child, and it’s for your non-allergic child.  Do you really want to bank on the chance that help will arrive in time?

Check the map above or this list to see if your state is one of 27 that allows or requires stocking of epinephrine in schools.  If not, the next time you see an opportunity to support legislation for stocking epi, don’t ignore it.  It just might save the life of a child you love, including your own.

I would love to see your thoughts on the issue in the comments below.  Does anyone think epinephrine should NOT be stocked in schools?

NO this, NO that…What CAN you send to school for lunch?

I know that many parents struggle to find school lunch ideas, even without restrictions.  For some, finding themselves in a nut-free school or allergen free classroom is a huge inconvenience.  Although my daughter’s school is not nut or allergen free, I know that many of the other parents make an effort to send in lunches that are safe for her so she can sit with friends without worrying about their food or hands touching her.  For the record, I am not suggesting that everyone should pack allergy free lunches.  I just like to share some of the things we pack in hopes that others might see something they like and can use.  I have been asked many times what I send for lunch and I feel like the options are extensive, despite being dairy, egg, peanut, and tree nut free.  Below is my post from last year with all of the lunchtime details.  I promised to add more to it, so here they are.  I have photographed lunches these first two weeks of preschool so you can see what I send.  Notice that there are two in several of the pictures.  My non-allergic daughter goes to school a few days each week and she eats the same lunch as my allergic daughter.  It’s not “special” food.  It’s just FOOD.

School Lunch:  Keeping it Simple (The original lunch post)

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Turkey rolls, tomatoes, steamed green beans, berries, and popcorn.

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Quinoa salad, turkey rolls, tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, strawberries, fruit smashie pouch, and juice.

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Turkey rolls, steamed green beans, carrots, tomatoes, mixed berries, hummus, crackers, fruit smashie pouch, and juice.

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Nectarine, raisins, and hummus with veggie dippers: green peppers, carrots, sugar snap peas, cucumbers, tomatoes.

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Rice cake, turkey rolls, tomatoes, green peppers, and apple slices.

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Turkey rolls, green beans, tomatoes, apples, crackers, and hummus.

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Apples, green beans, red grapes, green olives, somersaults sunflower seed snacks, tomatoes, and turkey.

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Tomatoes, red grapes, frozen peas*, frosted mini wheats, raspberries, sweet potato sticks, Triscuits, and hummus.

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Hummus, crackers, sugar snap peas, tomatoes, kalamata olives, cucumbers, blueberries, and carrots.

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Fruit smashie pouch, honeydew, strawberries, mini banana muffins*, kidney beans, carrots, green beans.

A few notes:

*1) I pack the frozen peas straight from the freezer.  I don’t thaw at all.  If I pack the night before, they thaw by lunch time.  If I pack the morning of, my girls eat them frozen.  They actually love them frozen as much as thawed, if not more.

*2) I made a double batch of mini vegan banana muffins before school started and popped them in the freezer (wrapped in sets of 4).  I take out a pack of 4 the night before I want to pack them and put them in the fridge.  They are thawed by morning.

3)  You will notice I pack a lot of hummus.  I have learned to include a spoon because no matter how many dippers I give, the fingers will end up in the hummus by the end if there is no spoon.

If your kids really love their nut butter sandwiches, fear not.  There is an option even if your school is nut free.  We are big fans of WOW Butter.  It is school safe and has the texture of real peanut butter.  The flavor is great too.  There are a lot of alternatives on the market, but after trying many of them, this is our favorite.

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If you peel back the label, there are even little sticker labels to put on the sandwich wrapper so you can be sure it won’t be mistaken for peanut butter.

*All views expressed in this blog are my own…until I change my mind, at least 😉

After All These Years, Beer Still Makes Me Cry

So, this….

What a beautiful illustration of “dedication, loyalty, friendship”.  Not everyone gets to experience this degree of loving support from their friends and family.  It’s not because they’re not loved enough, but because the circumstances aren’t right.

Have you ever had an entire gathering of friends or family give up a basic daily right and ritual so you could be included?  We have.  This show of character is one that we have experienced over and over again.  Every time we go to a birthday party where the parents and children have opted for an entirely allergy free party just so Elena can participate fully, we feel it.  Every time we go to a playdate where people have gone out of their way to check every label, we feel it.  When we go to church and the coffee cart is stocked with Elena safe treats (and even rice milk), we feel it.  When we attend our family Thanksgiving and everything has been adapted to a safe version, we feel it.  Of course, we also feel it when this happens.

People often ask what are the hardest things about dealing with food allergies, but nobody ever asks what are the best parts.  This is the best part.  We get to feel this kind of love from our friends and family all the time.  It’s truly an amazing gift.

“Dedication…Loyalty…Friendship…The choices we make, reveal the true nature of our character.”

-The Good people at Guinness

Empty Tear Ducts, Full Promises

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Today is Elena’s last first day of preschool and Olivia’s first first day of preschool.  It’s a big day.  This is different from the past two years when Elena went off to school for a few reasons.

This is the first time I have sent a non-allergic child to preschool.  It’s incredibly different.  When she got out of the car, I didn’t feel panic that it might be the last time I see her.  I didn’t worry about what the other children in her class might bring in or might have eaten for breakfast.  I know that, even if things don’t go perfectly for her today, Olivia will be safe.  That’s not to say it’s easy to let her go or that I don’t have any concerns for her.  I really hope she has fun, and makes friends, and makes it to the potty every single time.  If not, though, I know she will have another chance.

With all of the recent news of children losing their lives to food allergies lately, this year was the toughest for me.  Last night I was restless.  I have always promised Elena I would keep her safe, but this year that’s not enough.  I have a few more promises I need to make.  Elena, I promise not to let you see my fear as I drive you to school this morning.  I promise to get all of my tears out when you’re not around, so you don’t have to wonder what might be causing them.  I promise I will be strong and brave and I will not let my fears prevent you from living.

When every bite of food your child takes could take her life, it is terrifying to know she will be eating when you’re not around.  Even though I have checked and packaged all of her food myself, I won’t be able to breathe easy until I see her face at pick up.  I will smile and try not to hug her too tightly.  I will act like it was a normal day.  I will pretend like I enjoyed my break while the girls were at school.  Mostly, I will say a prayer of thanks that she is back under my watch.

I have many prayers of thanks for this day.  I thank God that Elena doesn’t seem crippled with the fears that are eating me alive.  I thank God for the brave parents,  like Natalie Giorgi’s mom and dad, who use their own loss to bring light to the subject and make all of our children safer.  I thank God for the wonderful and loving teachers and director at Elena’s school who “get it”.  I thank God that He gave me such a wonderful partner to navigate these challenges with.  My husband is strong when I’m weak and he is able to help me avoid making emotional decisions against my better judgement.  Finally, I thank God for the strength to let her go and live that life He gave her.

Since I was up all night getting my tears and fears out anyway, I put together this video.  Get a tissue.  You have been warned…

Here are a few helpful resources if you’re sending your child to school this year with Anaphylactic Food Allergies…

Get Schooled In Anaphylaxis

FARE Food Allergy Action Plan

Top 8 Food Allergies (and how to eat around them)

Lunch Ideas (egg, dairy, peanut, tree nut free)

We rocked out the night before school started to Kyle Dine‘s CD’s.  They’re really fantastic for getting the kids thinking and asking questions.  I also like sharing these songs with our non-allergic friends.

Please post in the comments if you have resources that helped you with the task of sending your allergic children off to school.  Most of the best resources I have found in this journey have come from other mothers.

How to Crush a Food Allergy Mom: A Tutorial

This is an easy to follow tutorial for how to crush a food allergy mom.  I’m offering the top 5 most crushing blows I have heard from other parents regarding my food allergic daughter or as commentaries on food allergies, knowing I have a food allergic daughter.  I know these work because I myself have been crushed by them.  Truthfully, you don’t need to follow each step.  Just pick your favorite and it will probably get the job done.  Of course, the more you use, the deeper the crushing.  Some of these have been said directly to me or in front of me.  Others were passed along second hand.  Either method seems effective.  Let’s get started.

Top 5 phrases for crushing a food allergy mom:

5)  “My child’s food preferences are as important as your child’s.”

Why it works:  This not only shows that you consider avoiding allergens to be a choice rather than a necessity, it also shows that overprotective food allergy mom that the effects of eating something other than cheese or peanut butter for a snack or meal are every bit as damaging as the effects of exposing her child to potentially “life threatening” allergens.  Just because the snack could kill her child, doesn’t mean yours shouldn’t eat it.  It’s not like kids ever transfer food particles around the classroom or playground.  If your kid NEEDS these snacks, other kids just need to deal with it.  Its not YOUR responsibility to keep her child safe at school.  She just wants everyone else to do her job for her.  (Last line was borrowed from a particularly fed up mother who was tired of the food allergy moms relying on others.)

4)  “If it’s that severe, you should just homeschool.”

Why it works:  This is the best way to show that food allergy mom that her child has no right to public education if they can’t tolerate being around your child’s favorite foods.  Why should THAT child even be here if everyone else has to change the way they pack lunches?  If his food allergy is that severe, he should just dig a hole and never climb out of it.  That will keep him safe for sure and nobody else will have to worry about it.  You know that if it were your child, you would just abandon all hopes and dreams for their future and change the plan.  After all, it’s not like they will EVER be able to function normally anyway, so why even bother trying to exercise options that should be reserved for “normal” parents?

3)  “Food allergies are not real.  They are made up by attention seeking parents.”

Why it works:  This works for two reasons.  It shows that the parent is to blame for the condition, while also pointing out the inauthenticity of food allergies.  You need to show these mothers that they can’t pull the wool over your eyes.  As if contact with a smear of ranch dressing could really KILL a child with an egg allergy.  What kind of a dimwit does she take you for?  Certainly it would just be a mild rash or a tummy ache.  Those who DO suffer breathing difficulties, anaphylaxis, and even heart attacks following ingestion probably only do so because their parents have caused such anxiety about everything the child eats.  Those parents should be ashamed of themselves.  After all, if you don’t fully understand a disease, it probably doesn’t exist.

2)  “Ick.  I don’t know how you can eat that stuff.”

Why it works:  This is a great one.  You don’t have to actually express disbelief in the food allergy to get this jab in.  After working for her child’s entire life to find/create safe alternatives to the foods your kids enjoy without a second thought, you can use the food allergy mom’s own efforts to crush both her and the child.  Chances are, she has convinced her child that their alternative is every bit as tasty as what your kids are eating.  She might even believe it’s true.  Pffffffffft.  Can you imagine?  Be sure you say it in front of the child, so the mother HAS to address it with them and to be sure they won’t feel so satisfied with their alternative in the future.  Maybe if we take away the acceptance of alternatives, she’ll drop the ridiculous charade.

1)  “Maybe it’s just nature’s way of weeding out the weak.”

Why it works:  This one hits hard in a totally different way.  With this one, you can admit that perhaps exposure to the allergen would actually kill her child.  The fact is, who cares?  Is she is so full of herself that she thinks the loss of such a small percentage of the population would impact us?  These children are obviously defective anyway.  Maybe if her child dies from an exposure to their allergen it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.  I heard it put best, “maybe if we just all turn our heads for about 5 years, the whole food allergy problem will just fix itself.”

There you have it.  Just put on your pleasant parent face and deliver any or all of these lines in a sweet voice.  Chances are, nobody will stand up for her, and you will have successfully crushed a food allergy mom.  Honestly, there will be nothing she can say or do, so you needn’t worry about it coming back to you.  She’s going to have to maintain her focus on food and she really can’t afford to make any enemies.  She really can’t even react because she’s not going to want to bring any more attention to it in front of her child, who is already likely teetering on the edge of being a social outcast.  After all, food is central to all social events.  The most she can do is go home a cry about it after the kids are in bed.  Pathetic!

If you’re not interested in actually crushing her, but just want a few little digs to let her know you truly don’t understand or agree with her ways.  These are good to keep in your back pocket and slip into conversations with food allergy mom as needed…

-That’s a little over the top. (to be used for any precaution she takes)

-It’s too dangerous for the non-allergic children to have an Epipen in the classroom.

-I feel so sorry for your other kids because they have to live with this.

-Since there is likely a genetic component, I guess it was a tough decision to have more kids.

Happy Crushing!

Just remember this.  If you ever change your mind and heart, there are ways to help rebuild some of the rubble others have left behind.  Here are a few things people have said to me that make my heart feel fuller just thinking about them.

5)  “I would be doing the same thing if it were my child.”

4)  “These precautions are really not hard.  Anyway, it’s worth it to keep every child safe and included.”

3)  “I would like to pack a completely safe lunch/snack so our kids can play together without you having to worry.  What are some good food ideas?”

2)  “I just wanted to give you plenty of notice that I plan to bring in a treat for my child’s birthday.”  (followed by details of what they will be bringing so I can provide a comparable safe treat.)

and the biggest, best, most delightful way to build up ANY parent…

1)  “I LOVE your child.”  (End it right there.  This should not be followed by “but…”)

Anyone Know a Good Mother’s Intuition Repair Man?

You would think that I would know by now what an allergic reaction in an infant looks like.  You would think after all we have seen and experienced with Elena, that I would be an authority on the subject.  In fact, I have received countless emails and phone calls from friends asking, “Is this a food reaction?” as they describe symptoms their children are exhibiting or send photos of rashes.  We explained away so many symptoms when Elena was an infant.  If only we had known then what we know now, right?

The problem is, these symptoms are never black and white.  We were sure that Olivia had food allergies when she was a baby.  Ironically, she was the only one I was sure about, and as it turns out, she has none.  (See details of Olivia’s story here)  Because I was so wrong with her, I was hesitant to make the same assertion about Wyatt.  I didn’t want my hypersensitivity to lead to another incorrect assessment.

Sure, he was fussy.  I just assumed that was colic.  He was rashy, but so was Olivia.  He scratched at his head when he was upset and he spit up a lot.  I had logical explanations for all of it that did not include food allergies.  There is no reason to jump to conclusions.  Just because we have one child with food allergies, does not mean we are destined to have more.

It wasn’t until Wyatt’s 4 month well visit that it all hit me like a ton of bricks.  I had my little list of “concerns” all ready for the occasion, like any other well visit.  The nurse showed a little bit of concern after charting Wyatt’s weight because he had dropped from the 50%ile to the 20%ile.  When the Dr. came in and asked if I had any concerns, I started nonchalantly listing them, expecting the usual, “that’s perfectly normal” reassurance.  This time he just listened without saying much.  I felt myself connecting the dots as I was speaking and listing the other pieces of the puzzle that I had not included on my list, but now seemed so obvious.

He cries a lot, especially in the evenings.

He seems to eat frequently and spits up a lot.

He has rashes on his torso and eczema that never goes away.

He still has terrible cradle cap.

He is only soothed by bouncing on the yoga ball (exactly like Elena as a baby)

He itches.

I know he itches because he squirms all the time and scratches up his head and face when he’s in the car.  Otherwise, I never put him down because I’m afraid he will cry and scratch.  Until this moment, I convinced myself the scratching was just because he hates the car seat, but I know better.  He itches.  Of course he itches.

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Wyatt’s scratching made him look like he had been in a fight with a bobcat every time he rode in the car.

Our pediatrician then stated that he had never done an allergy test on a 4 month old.  The earliest he had done the test was 6 months.  I just held my breathe.  Elena’s allergy test at 9 months was horrific and I’m still not over it.  (Elena’s story here)

He asked if I thought I could cut out all soy and dairy as an experiment.  I assured him that would be no problem.  That is one thing I know how to do all too well.  The next morning, I began my and Wyatt’s dairy/soy free lifestyle and oh my.  What a difference.  Within a few days, he was less fussy and spitting up less. By the end of the first two weeks, I swear he was a different baby and had grown more than he had in the previous month.

Have you ever been so sick, but not realized it until you felt better?  This happened to me with my thyroid.  I found out in 2007 that I had Hashimoto’s and my thyroid was in bad shape.  I started taking Synthroid and it wasn’t until I started feeling better that I realized how horrible I had been feeling before.  The same thing happened here.  After Wyatt became himself, I realized he had been sick.  Even looking back at photos that at the time looked adorable to me, all I see is a sad, sick little baby.  He was always exhausted and itchy and miserable.  He would smile, but only if the time was just right.  Although I didn’t know it at the time, other family members had concerns about his lack of activity and alertness.  Now I question whether that viral rash he had a few months ago was actually a virus.  Perhaps it was a reaction to something I had eaten.

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After the dairy/soy detox, he is so happy and lively and active.  The rashes on his torso and his cradle cap disappeared.  He still has some eczema at the backs of his elbows and knees, but it has improved.  He is much happier to be put down and play and he naps.  He also spits up far less than he used to.

These photos are from “before” I eliminated dairy and soy.  Notice how tired and weak he looks.  Anyone who holds him is usually covered in spit up and even when he did smile, he always had some kind of rash or redness on his face:

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These are Wyatt’s “after” pictures.  He is so much more alert and happy now.  He is active and loves playing with his sisters and with toys.  Also, the matted hair from his cradle cap is now smooth and silky.  He is truly a new baby:

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This isn’t to say that Wyatt’s food allergy story is finished by any stretch.  We still don’t know if he was reacting to the dairy, soy, or both.  He could also have reactions to other foods.  He does still have some rashes and spitting up.  Also, since I rarely eat peanuts, tree nuts, or eggs due to Elena’s allergies, we don’t know if he would react to those.

Even though we don’t have all of the answers yet, I’m so glad my eyes have been opened.  I’m sure we will do the testing soon after he turns 6 months old, so hopefully we can start figuring out what his food allergy profile will look like and hopefully it won’t be too different from Elena’s.

Most of all, I am ready for this sweet baby boy to feel good and be healthy.  I’m heartbroken that it took me this long to put the pieces together.  I always see stories about these superhero moms who sense that something is wrong with their child even when everyone else is telling them it’s all in their head.  They turn out to be right and good old Mother’s Intuition is credited another success.  Where was my Mother’s Intuition?  It shouldn’t have taken that much.  For heaven’s sake, this is my second time around with this scenario.  Why didn’t I know until he was 4 months old?  Every time I had an inkling that it could be food allergies, I followed it with, “but you know, I thought Olivia had food allergies too and look at how wrong I was”.  Oy Vey!!!

All I can say is, Wyatt, I love you and I got this.  Starting now.

Preschoolers: They put the AW in FAAW

I had the honor of speaking to the delightful children at Elena’s preschool yesterday for food allergy awareness week.  The kids were excited and energetic and they participated in every aspect of the presentation.  What a blessing to be able to interact with this age group.  By this I mean, thank goodness they were not middle schoolers.

These kids were so smart and fun.  One of them even got my goat when I asked who knew what hives are.  He answered confidently, “They are where bees live.”  Talk about smart.  I had to concede that he was indeed correct, but there is at least one more meaning to the word.  I also loved it when one kiddo told me he was allergic to all yucky food.  Well played, little one.

We began by talking about what allergies are and what kinds of things people can be allergic to.  The kids came up with quite a list, including cats, dogs, pollen, bees, grass, poison ivy, smoke, and of course, germs.  We talked about what can happen if someone eats a food they are allergic to, which of course spurred a discussion about not eating dogs and cats if you are allergic.  Seriously, if you haven’t ever held audience with a group of preschoolers, you are missing out on something special.

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Two of our favorite food allergy books…and my toes. Oops.

We read ‘Cody The Allergic Cow’, which opened up to conversation about medical alert bracelets and Epipens, both of which Cody has.  The book is absolutely perfect for this age group and there are others in the series, which I will be getting my hands on soon.

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We use the Ergo pouch for carrying Epipens and Benedryl. This is Elena’s customizable AllerMates Bracelet.

One thing I found interesting was the kids response to the idea of talking about allergies with their allergic friends.  When I held up the bracelet, they were very interested.  I asked what they could do if they saw a bracelet like this on a friend.  Should they maybe ask their friend about it?  Both groups I spoke to said, “NOOOOOOO”.  I’m not sure if they thought it would be rude or unkind, but the initial response was that they should not talk about it.  I let them know it was OK to talk about it and that they should always ask questions if they are wondering about a food allergy.  I asked the children who had announced they have allergies if they would mind their friends asking questions and, of course, they said they would not mind.  What better way to learn how to help out your friends than to ask them what is safe and unsafe for them?  I hope that giving them  “permission” to talk about it will open up the doors for better understanding.  Although, I must say, these kids were pretty well informed already.

Next we played a little game of, find the hidden allergen.  The allergens I chose were not so well hidden, but keep in mind the age group.  I held up groups of three foods and the kids identified each food.  The sweet potato and rice cakes gave them the most trouble.  Then I asked them, which of these foods is hiding milk/nuts/wheat/etc.  They did really well with this and it was fun to see them so engaged.

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Find the hidden milk.

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Find the hidden wheat.

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Find the hidden tree nuts. (yeah, ok. Not so hidden. I told you it was easy.)

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Find the hidden peanuts. (I called this peanut butter and covered up the label because I knew they would be familiar. With an older group, I would have just used it to find the hidden soy.)

Since all of the allergies in the school are within the top 8, I was able to do a little taste test.  We talked about safe alternatives to common foods.  Just because your friend can’t eat your “bread”, does not mean they can’t eat any “bread”.  I showed them a bag of Enjoy Life chocolate chips and told them they are made with food allergies in mind to be safe for people with certain allergies.  Then they each tasted a few and I asked them if they tasted the same as the ones they are used to eating or different.  Most said the same and a few said different, but they all wanted more.

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Half a bag for the kids to share and half a bag for the presenter. Sounds fair to me.

I left them with a mission for the day.  Each of their teachers got a stack of helping hands.  I challenged each student to earn a helping hand by doing something to help keep their classroom safe for friends with food allergies.  Together, we came up with this list of things they could do…

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-Wash hands after eating.

-Keep food in food areas.

-Clean up food areas after eating.

-Never share food.

-Do not touch other people’s food.

and my favorite…

-Don’t feed your friend something they’re allergic to.

Kudos kiddos!

I hope they all earned their helping hands.  I enjoyed the talks so much and the enthusiasm of these wonderful students is infectious.  A great big thank you to CIC Preschool for letting me share this important information with them and for keeping our children safe every single day.

Food Allergy Awareness Week Challenge

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“FOOD ALLERGY AWARENESS WEEK 2013…WOOT WOOT!!!!!”  Yeah, it doesn’t quite have the same ring as “Spring Break 2013…WOOT WOOT”, but humor me.  Food allergy awareness week is May 12th -18th.  Well, obviously, every week in our house is FAAW, but for one week it hits your house too.  Since people who have food allergies are already pretty aware, my goal is to help others get a glimpse into our world.  This will be quite a challenge, and most people will not have any interest in participating, but I can’t wait to hear from those who do.

I saw an idea in a post on my support group’s message board (thank you, PAK Charlotte) for a subtract campaign.  The idea is that people without food allergies subtract a common allergen from their diet to help gain an understanding of what it’s like.  Sounds crazy, right?  Why would anyone want to do that?  I’ll tell you why.

The hardest thing for most of us to understand is that food allergies are about more than just food.  By eliminating foods, we also are limiting other experiences.  It’s something that is hard to grasp until you try living it.

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The idea of this is not deprivation.  If your kids are in a situation where they really want a special treat that they would normally get, go ahead and let them have it.  Just make a mental note of what that situation might have been like if you had to tell them no because the ingredient list was not available to you.  If you can’t think of anything to fix for breakfast that does not have the allergen you chose, go ahead and go with what you would normally eat, but take a moment to consider what it would be like to face that obstacle every day.  Remember, the idea is to increase awareness and empathy, not to suffer deprivation.  It should be an educational challenge, not a slow form of kiddy torture.

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This is not the goal at all.

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Owl be so sad if you let this happen.

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For crying out loud, give this poor little man the goldfish cracker.

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I think we’re missing the point here.

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“No cheese and sour cream with dinner? Am I in trouble?”

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Somebunny is really sad you didn’t give her cow’s milk today.

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This is taking it way too far.

The scale of your “subtraction” is completely flexible.  You might decide to eliminate one or more of the top 8 allergens (egg, dairy, peanut, tree nut, wheat, soy, fish, shellfish) for a week, a day, or for one dinner.  Obviously, if your kids don’t really eat shellfish, it won’t increase anyone’s awareness much to choose that one.  Choose something you think you all will notice, then talk about it.  Let them know you want them to think about what it feels like to be careful about the food they eat and the food around them.  Again, don’t make them do anything they’re not ready for.  If they need the ranch dressing in order to eat their vegetables, give it to them, but let them know it is not safe for people with egg, dairy, and possibly soy allergies.  Pay attention to labels and think about what it would be like to have to read every single one every time you go grocery shopping.

Don’t think I’m getting off easy.  I’m going to do it too.  Even though we have eliminated 4 of the top 8 food allergens, there are many families with far more restrictive diets than ours.  We will be eliminating one more.  I’m going to go with one that seems difficult, as I’m asking others to do.  Goodbye wheat!!!!  I will let you know how it goes.

I’m not worried though, I’ll just stick to my regulars…hummus and crackers.  Wait, no crackers.  I guess I’ll just do a simple pasta salad.  Errrrrr, no that doesn’t work.  Do you expect me to survive on bread and water alone?  Right, no bread.  Oh well, I guess I’ll just have a beer…DOH!

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All kidding aside, the most important thing is to talk about the experience.  Talk about it with your family and with anyone you know who lives with food allergies.  Ask questions about what they would do in certain situations you faced during your challenge.  Let them know what you found difficult and what you found interesting.  You might even notice some positives, like knowing every ingredient in everything you feed your family.  We love hearing those too.  Visit Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE) for resources and information to get the conversation started.

Use the comment section below to share your experience.  Even if it’s just one meal or if you thought about food allergies in a situation you normally would not think twice about.  I would love to hear your plan and your comments as you go.

* A special thank you to our friends for letting me use sad face images of your sweet babes.  They are all precious in any mood.