Thursday, February 20, 2014

Why Do Your Kid's Allergies Mean My Kid Can't Have a Birthday?

If you have been on many FB pages today, you may have seen this article Why Do Your Kid's Allergies Mean My Kid Can't Have a Birthday?   If you haven't had a chance yet, I would encourage you to give it a read.  This was a very thought provoking article for me.  The author has an egg allergy. She knows what it is like to be left out. She understands the potentially life threatening reactions that can happen and, honestly, I agree with some of what she says.

I agree that asking other parents to bring in commercially packaged foods that are "safe" for our kids is not appropriate. I sincerely doubt a parent without an allergy education actually understands if the food they brought is safe or not.  Do you think Tommy's mom called to check on cross contamination?  Most of us (definitely me) knew nothing about food allergies, label reading, or safety protocols until we were thrown into the allergy lifestyle.  It's insane to expect another parent, who hasn't had to deal with allergies, to know what is acceptable.

Now, she loses me a bit in the next couple paragraphs.  They have to buy store bought food due to food allergies?  I think it's a bit more about food safety.  Let's face the hard truth here, some people's houses and hygiene are substandard. The schools, and me too, don't want kids eating potentially contaminated foods. Nothing like having 25 third graders with food poisoning.

Then she goes on to talk about how she doesn't want her kids eating junk foods with long lists of  ingredients.  If you truly want your child to have a healthy diet, then why are you ok with them having 25+ sweets during school hours. With all the parties that happen, in addition to birthdays, there is junk food in the classroom on a weekly basis.  Also, how come the mom who could only bring fruit snacks and juice because of allergies couldn't opt for fresh fruit?  It certainly would have had less ingredients.

Next, the author moves on to something that has caused a bit of a divide in the allergy community and beyond. It's the idea of banning certain foods because of allergies. The author discloses that she has an egg allergy.  My daughter is also allergic to eggs, as well as dairy and nuts.  With nut allergies, bans are commonplace.  It seems like if the school or parents ask for no nuts, they just get it. Yeah, the nut kid goes to school and the parents feel pretty secure and the nut allergic child feels safe. This is another moment that we have to be real. I have two big problems with food bans.  1) Schools can't really enforce them properly. Kids, and even parents, bring the nuts anyway. 2) Why get your child used to the idea that their safety is only guaranteed by exiling the nuts.  Some day they will go to middle school and exceptions will no longer be made.

Then there are other foods, like egg, soy, and dairy, that are staples in every meal.  They will never be banned and you can't avoid them.  Children with certain food allergies grow up knowing the food around them isn't safe and that everyone else will be eating it around them. They are thrown into all of this head first and have to learn as they go, sometimes from experience. My daughter has become a master at avoiding kisses from people after getting tired of all the contact reactions. The sense of security she gets is from knowing how to avoid the foods and contacts, and how to treat herself (or get help) if an incident occurs.  There is not much you can do as a parent but teach them advocacy, avoidance, and treatment for the symptoms that happen occasionally, and keep an open dialog about their feelings of being left out or feeling different.

I have an interesting perspective on food allergies right now. My friend Natalie, of behind the reaction has food allergies. My daughter isn't at the age where she can clearly tell me what she's experiencing, or how her food allergies affect her personally. I get to see it through Natalie. She is an incredibly outgoing, motivated, and caring person who has never let her food allergies slow her down.  It's just something she has to deal with. What someone else is eating isn't going to change her plans. She goes out to eat, hangs with her friends, and is working towards a medical degree. Some days are hard for her still. Some days she's a hot mess, but don't we all have days like that? The point is, she is living her life, fully, with food allergies. She is a shining example of what our "allergy kids" can become. 

At what point do we as parents, and schools, stop sheltering our kids with food bans? While I totally agree with the author that bans may be necessary in younger grades, for certain students, at some point we also have to teach our kids to live their lives around their allergies.  How to avoid the foods on their own, and just as important, how to deal with the emotional aspects of food allergies. Yep, sometimes they get left out of the cake, but everyone has something to deal with. Lets not forget the kid in the wheelchair who doesn't get to play soccer or the blind child, deaf child, dyslexic child. They are all dealing with the emotional aspects of their disabilities as well. Let us not forget the children who are dealing with poverty, domestic violence, and hunger.  I think it's important that our children realize that there is no such thing as different. We all have to adapt a bit to be the person who society wants us to be.

I feel it's important to teach my child as much about her allergies and needs as early as possible. Then she will have all these years at home with me to master it.  It's going to be with her the rest of her life so she needs to learn how to advocate for herself. I'll always be here to help her work through her feelings, and guide her in avoidance techniques.  There's no doubt that she will come home, more than once, in tears because she feels left out or was teased about her allergies. I would rather she take the bad experiences and remembers those feelings. My hope is that she will take the empathy she has gained from her hard times, and use it comfort others who are having trouble coping with their own issues.