What Halloween Taught My 4-year-old: Life as an Allergy Mom

No one wants to be an allergy mom. But you really have no choice in the matter. It’s your life. It’s your child’s life. Deal with it.

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My middle son’s severe peanut allergy became glaringly obvious when he was not even a year old. I was at work a state away, my husband was at home simultaneously trying to send work emails and wrangle our not-yet-3-year-old daughter and our 11-month-old son. Our daughter took that opportunity to act upon our often-ignored requests to share with her brother, and gave him a nice big bite of her PB&J. Hives covered his tiny body — scalp, face, legs, feet, ears — he vomited, his bowels evacuated, Benadryl didn’t touch the reaction. My husband called me at work. I called the pediatrician, rushed home, raced to the pediatrician’s office, and they called it: peanut allergy. Just to be safe, they ordered a blood allergy test. He reacted to 5 of the 7 peanut proteins. He was severely allergic. He also had an egg allergy that he, like our daughter and eventual second son, outgrew by the age of 2.

We were Epi-Pen carrying allergy parents. Crap. And I had once been that snotty know-nothing teen who bemoaned the lack of free peanuts on planes. How inconvenienced I felt to be handed pretzels instead of overly salted legumes! Clearly karma was biting me in the ass. Those same peanuts I now regard with the same level of mortal dread as a rattlesnake.

By 2.5-years-old, “pants explosions” as we called them (sudden, explosive diarrhea) and rash made our middle son’s dairy issues clear. In an odd twist of fate, I had developed not just a milk aversion during his pregnancy but a dairy allergy after his birth. So, I had been the initial dairy-free guinea pig. By the time his dairy problems undeniably presented, I had dairy-free living down pat.

Then came our daughter’s dairy issues. First it was the undereye circles, the belly distention, the moodiness. All foolishly excusable… poor sleep, seasonal allergies, toddler stature, potty-training. Then constipation gave way to belly pain and bowel evacuation. Clearly, dairy was her body’s enemy. We were now 3 for 5 on dairy issues, and The Hubs’ belly was already firing warning shots after cheesy quesadillas and ice cream sundaes.

Then came Halloween. With two kids unable to eat dairy and peanuts regarded as asbestos, the holiday was tricky. We rehashed the “no eating candy until we sort it” rule and showed them examples of what candy to avoid verses choose if presented the option (Snickers = bad, Starburst = good, Milky Way = bad, Swedish Fish = good.) Then we handed them their empty candy collection sacks and off we went — a pint-sized airplane pilot, unicorn-mermaid, and a flamingo — going door-to-door for treats.

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Midway through the venture my middle son looked up at me, unicorn-horn-topped rainbow wig obscuring his blue eyes, and said he didn’t want anymore candy. I asked why. He said, “All I get are peanuts and dairy.” My heart sank. I felt so sad for him. It was true, those two delicious allergens were prevalent in his loot bag. “I still want to trick-or-treat though,” he said. The sadness left and my heart filled with pride.

He happily continued the outing, bouncing up to each door — rainbow wig dancing with each step, green scaly fin-bedecked leggings glinting in the jack-o-lanterns’ light — and chirped, “Trick-or-treat!” With his empty hands clasped in front of him. Every so often, if he saw a bowl contained only safe-for-him treats, he’d grab his bag from me and open it happily for the giver’s goodies. Otherwise he enjoyed the holiday in his own way.

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That night my 4-year-old learned a valuable lesson: how to enjoy a celebration without letting dietary restrictions get in the way. Could he eat all of the candy he received? No. Did he still have fun? You bet! And that is truly what matters. The memories, the fun, the enjoyment… not the food.

Will he remember that pink Starburst a day, a week, a year from now? No. But he sure as heck will recall the pirate who answered the door with a treasure chest of treats or his sister’s teacher (our neighbor) who so warmly invited us into her home. Those are the keepsakes.

As food-centric holidays unfold, this lesson will be invaluable for him. Not everything will be centered around his dietary needs, but that doesn’t mean he can’t enjoy himself. Food is not all there is. The company and the experience mean far more. Enjoy what you can and forget the rest.

I guess he is a pretty smart kid after all.

 

 

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