Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Food allergies and teal pumpkins

I can completely sympathize and relate to those with food allergies, or other mamas that have kids with food allergies. My oldest daughter has struggled with food allergies since she was born. The first diagnosis of a milk, egg, peanut and tree nut allergy was tough to comprehend. What? My child can't drink milk, isn't that essential to a growing child's body?! Oh, not only can she not drink it, but it can't be used in any form in any of the foods that she eats?! 

I probably took this news much better than most parents. While I was going through college I was a substitute teacher at a daycare. One of the little boys that I always had in my classes was allergic to milk. We aren't talking lactose intolerant but allergic to milk protein. I got use to what he was allowed and not allowed to have at breakfast, snack and lunch. I learned to read labels just to ensure that what I was giving him was 100% safe. I learned a lot about food allergies from my job as a daycare worker. I saw kids with all kinds of allergies - corn, strawberries, blue dye, nuts, peanuts, milk, eggs, wheat - the list goes on and on. It was a common occurrence to walk into a new room and the first thing I would do was determine who had a food allergy and what that food allergy was. I guess it made sense that my first child would be born with food allergies. I was prepared. 

The one thing I wasn't prepared for was how unprepared and unaware other parents, adults, teachers, babysitters, etc were about food allergies. We interviewed new sitters, I always brought up that we had a child with severe food allergies. One lady said "So if she can't eat mac & cheese or pb&j what does she eat?". I was shocked. Not only did this lady not know what good nutrition was, but she really couldn't fathom what my child would be eating on a daily basis. I ran into this a lot. "She can't have anything with milk in it? How about some M&Ms?" I wasn't prepared to have to teach every person who encountered my child how to read labels, that yes milk chocolate really contains milk, the difference between lactose intolerant and a milk protein allergy. It was overwhelming. 

Luckily we've moved on from those days. Everyone in our family knows how to use an Epi-Pen and knows to administer Benadryl at the first sign of a reaction. I personally stocked each person's house with an Epi-Pen and Benadryl so there would be no option of "we don't have that on hand, sorry". We were fortunate to have her cleared of her milk allergy at age 6, but her peanut & tree nut allergies have continued to worsen. Each accidental exposure makes the reactions worse. The biggest struggle we still face is holidays.

Halloween is a big deal at our house. It's all about candy, pumpkins, scary stuff and having fun. The candy is the issue. I use to keep extra candy (smarties, lollipops, hard candies) on hand so once she returned from trick-or-treating she could turn in her allergy filled candies for something she could actually eat. Now at 7 she can spot a safe candy item in a bowl and make that choice, but there are still people who only hand out Snickers, Peanut M&Ms and Almond Joys  (those seem to be most popular in our neighborhood) so she has a choice to make. Does she take the candy she can't eat and give it to her parents or does she walk away with nothing? Either way she loses. 

I was so happy when I came across the Teal Pumpkin Project. FARE (Food Allergy Research & Education) has started this campaign to get people to have non-food items available during Halloween. This way when a child with a food allergy - no matter what allergy that is - arrives at your door they can be offered a small trinket/toy instead of something potentially life threatening. This idea is not to replace candy for those kids who can have it, it is to offer an alternative to those who cannot have the candy. To show trick-or-treaters that you are participating, place a teal painted pumpkin by your door and consider hanging up this sign.
Together we can make this a safe and fun holiday for all kids. Happy Halloween!

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