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.