FoodHealth

I’m Not That Mom: Parenting a Kid With Food Allergies

I stared at the last few lines of a recent e-newsletter from our local pool and tried not feel irritated. After all, it was just a joke. But it was the second time the president of the pool association had made the joke, and I couldn’t help but bristle. The jist of it, more or less — The pool regrets to announce that it has been unable to find any overpriced fat free, dairy free, taste free, high fructose corn syrup free, nut free ice cream. This witty little bon mot appeared to be a response to one parent’s expression of enthusiasm for dairy free options and a few requests for all fruit popsicles.

My daughter is allergic to nuts and — for the record — I hadn’t and still have not requested that our pool carry nut free ice cream or do anything at all to interfere with what people eat there. Yet reading that newsletter made me feel like I’d been unfairly characterized as that kind of mom. The kind of mom who insists on creating an everything-free environment for her children. But that’s not me. I have no desire to micromanage what my kids or anyone else’s kids are eating.

If I ever ask about the ingredients in my daughter’s food, it’s as simple as this: she has a peanut allergy and peanut allergies are deadly. I don’t want her to end up in the emergency room or worse.

While the number of deaths caused by an allergic reaction to food each year are relatively low, the tricky thing is the unpredictability. You never know when a reaction will become severe and life-threatening. You could be exposed to an allergen six times in a row — react with a few hives for the first five times but on the sixth time your throat swells shut and you have a full anaphylactic reaction. Now consider how it might feel if you were responsible for that allergic person, only she’s a three year old who can’t appreciate the consequences of her actions. She might grab those pistachio shells on the ground. She might pick up a candy bar wrapper that someone discarded before I can grab it. She might try to share another kid’s snack before I can intervene.

It would be easy to lump parents of kids with food allergies into that great big bucket of dietary compulsion but most of us allergy moms would give anything to be carefree about what our kids are eating.

I also feel compelled to add that the rise in popularity of gluten free diets that aren’t tied to an actual medical diagnosis isn’t helping our case. To someone unfamiliar with food allergies, we all seem like the same parental pain in the ass.

If you don’t have a true allergy, but are avoiding a particular food because of a preference, please stop telling people (cafeteria staff, caregivers, restaurants) that you have an allergy. Because you’re the reason that everyone thinks we’re assholes.

So, the newsletter? I took a deep breath and composed an email that I tried to word as positively and in the most upbeat way as possible. I tried to explain that while I understood it was a joke, parents of kids with a nut allergy aren’t interested in depriving you, your kids or anyone else of tasty, non-organic ice cream. We’re just trying to keep our kids breathing. I never got a response.

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Jenny Splitter

Jenny Splitter

Jenny Splitter is a writer, storyteller and over-scheduled mom of two living in Washington, DC. She spends her glamorous days trying to write whatever she can, counting 1-2-3 in a slow yet threatening manner to her children, playing with gluten and working to eradicate dog hair from the planet (or at least her home). Find her on Twitter , Google+ and Facebook

14 Comments

  1. July 2, 2014 at 11:04 am —

    I’ve never quite understood the pushback against accommodating food allergies that is so much greater than against other allergies (such as bee stings), and I wonder if it is partially that a bee sting allergy doesn’t require the same daily changes of people around the person that food allergies do–(my inconvenience outweighs your kids’ death? so weird). Or maybe it’s that bee stings affect all children slightly. . .so it’s not too much of a stretch to understand how it could swell worse, hurt worse, or affect the rest of your body. But, eating doesn’t hurt non-allergic kids at all, so it’s too hard to understand/empathize.

    • July 2, 2014 at 11:43 am —

      One of the things I have noticed is that people assume that my allergy is no big deal. When I tell people that I have an allergy to shellfish they often think it will cause a rash or some discomfort. What it really means is that I need to stab myself in the thigh with an automated need to deliver epinephrine to my system and then get on an ambulance to the emergency room as quickly as possible.

      • July 2, 2014 at 1:53 pm —

        That’s so weird to me. I’ve always associated shellfish allergies with anaphylaxis. It was definitely one I was are of long before I learned more than I ever wanted to know about food allergies!

      • July 3, 2014 at 8:13 am —

        I don’t understand that assumption at all, Daisy, but a friend of mine who also has a shellfish allergies tells the story of when a prankster friend arrived at a restaurant before him and ordered an appetizer with shrimp and did not tell my friend because he thought it would be funny. The police were brought in at the hospital, and the friend’s only comment was that he was sorry and he had no idea that it was a *real* allergy.

    • July 2, 2014 at 1:51 pm —

      I’m shocked by the vitriol I see online about nut-free schools. You’d think it was some grand socialist conspiracy to deprive children of their freedom. Some argue that the data shows nut-free schools aren’t any safer and that’s a totally fair argument to make. I just don’t get the hate.

      • July 2, 2014 at 2:00 pm —

        In most of the complaints that I have seen the parents are mad that they can’t bring in homemade items in to the school/class because every thing needs to be clearly labeled for allergy warnings. They want to bring in all organic and natural cupcakes for birthdays. News flash, most kids will happily eat store bought cupcakes.

        • July 3, 2014 at 1:07 am —

          I can actually sympathize with that one since I love baking for my kids. I personally would be fine with sending in something just for my kid in that circumstance provided no one is sending in peanut butter cups on the cupcakes or whatever but it’s not always that easy. Weirdly enough though that wasn’t the complaint I came across. People just seemed upset that someone would ask a kid to give up something. Like that was the worst thing in the world. I don’t know if this was just a freak corner of the internet (one was on Blogher, as I recall) or what.

          • July 3, 2014 at 9:47 am

            I totally love baking for my kids, too. I have three different kinds of cake-stuff lined out for the kids upcoming birthday and her end of year barbecue.
            But those kinds of parents, including myself, they can brag at other occasions (yes, it also is about bragging. Look what I can make. Being asked how you make that is clearly superior to being asked where you bought that).
            I’m all for fitting the response to the problem: Banning all homemade things because one kid in grade 4 has a lactose intolerance is clearly not the way to go. And if it’s “only” a problem when eaten, I can expect high-school students to take care of their own food.
            Lucky are the parents whose kid was never the odd one out for some reason or other. Why they would insist on making the problem all about the poor kid whose life is complicated enough instead of just buying some clearly labelled things is beyond me. That’s just being an asshole. When I invite kids (or taller people) I always ask if they have any food allergies or even simple dislikes and I am happy to accomodate (I probably wouldn’t get a second kitchen to cater for ultra-orthodox Jews, though)
            And I don’t understand the hostility against providing options. I really can’t believe that the swimming pool is unable to get some fucking fruit popsickles.
            Thankfully, my kids are clear of allergies so far, and I don’t hope that they’re taking after their mother because I would really love to ONCE find a ready made salad and not put it down again because of carrots

  2. July 3, 2014 at 11:48 am —

    I totally agree – if you or your child don’t have a true allergy, don’t say you do! It perpetuates this caricature and the notion that most allergies aren’t “real.” And that is a dangerous trend for those who are actually allergic.

    • July 3, 2014 at 5:35 pm —

      I think I would just prefer people be specific and factual (duh) because I think that would hopefully diffuse some of the emotion around this issue. Also, people have no clue what it means to have a food allergy. I almost signed my daughter up for this co-op playgroup but I got the sense that the group didn’t really get that even a small amount of nuts would cause a reaction. They kept asking “how allergic is she?” Well, that’s hard to quantify.

  3. July 3, 2014 at 5:41 pm —

    Giliell – are you saying I brag via baked good??? Ha ha. Probably at some level. At my son’s school (which is nut free and soon to be my daughter’s school too) we seem to have stopped the potluck classroom parties and I don’t even really miss them. Mostly I’m too busy. Or I can just bake at home for a party and still find meaning in my life. 😉 There are opportunities to bake stuff for school events though and we’re just asked to keep it nut free. Seems to work fine!

    From what I’ve seen online (and it was limited), I feel like some Americans think being asked to do something to accommodate someone else is some sort of communist plot. The reactions were so weird. All of this personal responsibility stuff – this is your problem, why don’t you just homeschool, etc. It was so ugly.

  4. July 4, 2014 at 6:50 am —

    Well, Germans seem to be more clueless than hostile and I also feel like food allergies have either not hit us as hard yet or that schools are dealing with the issue differently.
    I definitely think that the “homemade stuff” is ultumately also an expression of privilege: You’ve got the time, the money, the opportunities, the knowledge. The more from scratchy and organic the more privilege and the better mum you are. You are propperly devoted to your offspring, not like that other woman who gets a cake between her two jobs…
    And because I’m stupid I have been known for making cupcakes at 2am because the world will end if I don’t.
    +++
    I also think that the world simply needs to accomodate more no matter what people’s reasons are. I used to not mention my allergy when I asked for the salad to be without carrots because I didn’t want to be melodramatic because I might dieeeeeeeee. This was often ignored, which is annoying if your salad is part of the meal you ordered. So I started to mention that I actually have an allergy and this helped. Probably because no chef wants to explain incidents as the one with the seafood above to the police. While I don’t think it’s OK to feign an allergy just to get a meal like you want it*, I have a bit of sympathy. Doesn’t apply to people who withhold lots of food from their children because they think that gluten is like “chemicals”

    *Although I think that there’s something seriously wrong with you if you can eat raw carrots and don’t do so.

  5. July 6, 2014 at 1:45 pm —

    The person making the comment is certainly out of line. I would assume they are completely ignorant of the danger of food allergies. I can only image the amount of undue stress and frustration that would cause.

    My frustration with selecting food for a group of kids is just how difficult it is to do month after month. My daughter’s classroom required that she bring in a snack once a month. And if you look at the list it is a bunch of prepackaged, no value for your money nor your belly crap. And what are my options really? I can’t afford those snacks for my family and now I am required to buy them for a group of 30.

    And I also am frustrated by comments that people who are DIY people are the privileged and somehow showing up others. I am privileged, I am able and capable, but also want value for my money and efforts. And I do take great pride in doing things myself too! It is doubly hard to try to keep other kids health in mind while juggling all the balls. I wish what I provided just went to my daughter and that was that, homemade and all. For her summer camp, we pack her lunch and the staff provide snacks. I LOVE this arrangement. I wonder how parents of children with allergies feel about these arrangements? I do not know the special needs of each kid and I would much rather go about things this way.

    BTY lunches for the month is roughly the same cost as prepackaged food for her classroom for one snack and I know that she is getting at least one good meal during the day.

  6. July 6, 2014 at 6:13 pm —

    The gluten thing is hard in a different way. I eat a low FODMAP diet, which is very similar to gluten-free, but the consequences of eating the wrong thing is normally just gas. Lots of it, and particularly stinky, but just gas. Apparently my gut is very effective at turning sulfur-heavy fruit sugars into hydrogen sulfide! So when coworkers insist that I have cake, really, just one slice, go on… I’ll have cake. After the first time they usually change their minds 🙂 The worst reaction is diarrhea, but that’s rare and normally from eating something the presses all my buttons (fruitcake, maybe).

    I’ve been around people with real gluten allergies, and that’s no fun. One friend had some “gluten free” rolls while we were on holiday, so we got to visit the local hospital intensive care unit. That was somewhat more excitement than I really needed on my holiday (to say nothing oif her feelings), and really, hospitals are not very scenic. Especially the inside.

    The idea that “gluten” == chemicals hasn’t occurred to me before, but it has a scary plausibility. Anti-chemical woo irritates me a great deal and makes me want to start by own “ban dihydrogen monoxide” campaign.

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