Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Domestic Enemies of the Allergy Mom

Doesn't it look delicious?
Well, you can't have any because it's poison.
This long overdue post about kids with food allergies come to us from our friend Portia, a working mother of two (an almost 5 year old girl and an almost 3 year old boy). She is awesome and funny and brutally honest about what it's like to have a kid with food allergies.

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Hi! I'm Portia and my kid has a pretty severe set of food allergies. And while he is totally awesome - allergies and all - some of the stuff that goes along with it (that really have nothing to do with HIM) are enough to send me to the nervous hospital.

Example? Why sure!

The Doubting Thomas Type 1
Apparently there are people that exist in the world who don’t believe in food allergies. I try to act like I don’t believe in people that don’t believe in food allergies, but they make it hard for me what with all their nagging questions and not-so-helpful suggestions. This was much harder to deal with in the beginning when I suffered from the inevitable doubts myself about whether all these problems could really possibly be caused by food. Nowadays I tend deal with it by vomiting up details the way my son vomits up beef and I find that it really discourages people from involving themselves further.

The Doubting Thomas Type 2
Even those who do ‘believe’ in food allergies sometimes give the definite impression that it can’t possibly be as bad as I say and he can’t possibly be allergic to all the things I say he’s allergic to. And surely one little taste isn’t going to hurt and why don’t I just let him try it and see what happens and I heard even kids who are allergic can eat it if it’s cooked and was it really necessary to snatch the cheez-it from his hand as if it were a venomous snake?

Anyhoo, these are the people that look at me like I’m crazy when I tell them that my son can’t have whatever it is they are trying to give him because I don’t know exactly what’s in it. These are the people who start interrogating me when I say he’s allergic (What makes me think he’s allergic? Oh, I brought him to a shaman and had him do a vision quest. It was totally reliable; he had a real tipi and everything). These are the people who are angry because our daycare asked them to stop sending peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in their kid’s lunch.

The "You are a Hoverer Because You LIKE It" People
These are the people who roll their eyes at my ‘overprotective helicopter parenting’ when I follow my kid around in public to make sure he doesn’t pick anything up off the floor or let any other sweet-and-giving child share their snack with him.

Let me add for clarification that I am not a hoverer by nature. In fact, with my first child I accused of being too relaxed. (TRUE STORY: Oh, she just ate a moth? *shrug* Eh, it’s probably not the worst thing that’s been in her mouth today.) But this one I have to hover. Not only is food an issue, but he has severe eczema and if not closely watched and forcibly restrained he’ll (quite literally and with no exaggeration) scratch himself until he’s raw and bleeding. So no matter where we are I am there. Hovering. Hating that I have to hover and trying to ignore the rolled eyes of people who don’t know why I have to do it. Which brings me to…

The Crushing Guilt
Not only is it my fault he’s allergic to begin with because I ate peanuts when I was pregnant/didn’t eat peanuts when I was pregnant/ate peanuts when I was nursing/didn’t eat peanuts when I was nursing/had a vaginal birth/had a csection/didn’t make the proper burnt offerings to the right god, it is also my fault when he does accidentally get something in his mouth that triggers a reaction. Thank JEEBUS he’s never shown signs of anaphylaxis so I’ve never had to deal with that particular hell, but it’s an ever-looming specter. What I DO have to deal with as far as reactions is the vomiting/mucousy-or-bloody diarrhea/head-to-toe-rash/constant-scratching/bleeding/gassiness-and-bloating/insomnia. And to anyone who thinks it’s okay to let him have “just a taste” because “it’s not like it’s gonna kill him” why don’t you ask him first whether a taste of yogurt is really worth all that. Oh wait, you can’t. He’s two.

But I digress. Point being I feel guilty any time he has a reaction and I spend the next…however long the reaction lasts this round…trying to figure out what exactly I did wrong when probably what happened is that he found the pretzel his sister discarded (because it wasn’t twisted right) under the couch and gleefully consumed it (because he KNOWS he’s not supposed to eat her pretzels) and really that’s my fault too because I didn’t vacuum yesterday (or all of last week) and also I should probably just not have pretzels in the house in the first place except big sister LOVES them they’re her FAVORITE and if I don’t let her have pretzels I have that guilt of denying her piled up on top of all the rest.

And let’s not even get into the guilt of trying to nurse him while eliminating every food known to man and seeing him react to everything that goes in my mouth. And the twin guilts of having to abruptly wean him and wondering if I should have weaned him sooner. Yeah, let’s not get into that because then I’ll have to cry.

The Public Play Area
Well, public places in general, but the worst are public play areas. Have you ever been inside those tubes at the McDonalds playground? No? Don’t. You’ll never let your kid in there again. I haven’t let mine go back, and I wasn’t even the one that went in there. Daddy is the one who went in after a youngun and came out shell shocked and traumatized by the experience, muttering something unintelligible about sticky french fries. And while I know Chuck E. Cheez is probably NOT the favorite place of any mother anywhere (potentially a gross understatement) for the allergy mom it is like a frigging war zone with enemy agents waiting to spring on you and deadly land mines lurking under every surface. And I’m supposed to let my kid play there? Um, to totally jack a phrase from Kate and Lydia, EVEN NO-ER. And while I’m on the subject of Chuck E Cheez…

Birthday Parties
I have friends with food allergic kiddos that won’t even go to them, but I feel like that’s cruel. So we go. And then I spend the entire time trying to pretend like I’m not secretly having a panic attack. I have to go through the goody bags with a fine-toothed comb to make sure there aren’t any edible items in them and try to ignore the fact that the mom who put them together is rolling her eyes at me because she’s probably one of those people I talked about in #1.

And let me tell you, there is no greater mommy guilt (without a doubt an exaggeration, but let me have my moment) than sitting in the middle of a room full of sparkly-eyed children getting ice cream and brightly-colored birthday cupcakes (probably decorated with a favorite cartoon character) doled out to them and hearing your barely verbal toddler ask in the most pitiful and plaintive voice ever heard by anyone anywhere, “I have cupcake mommy?” AND HAVING TO SAY NO. And all because I didn’t make it to the store to buy supplies to make wheat, dairy, egg, nut, soy free frigging cupcakes (can you even call them that?). Not that I’d have had the spare time to make them anyway because who the heck has the time to bake everyFRIGGINGthing from scratch? (Yes, I’m purposefully ignoring your raised and manicured hand, Perfect Mommy). And while I’m on the subject of making everything from scratch…

Food. Just all of it.
I never realized how little attention I paid to food before. I mean, I paid attention in that I have a love-love relationship with food. I love it. And then I love it even more, as evidenced by my curvy physique. I’m from the south, so pretty much ever family get-together, holiday, and social function revolves around food. Food is a good thing and the source of all things wonderful (and sometimes gassy). At any rate, I never really gave much thought to what was in my food, not past the oh-my-god-this-is-delicious-what-IS-it level. But now every trip to the grocery store takes at least twice as long because I have to read the ingredients on every. single. item. And I have to do it every. single. time. Because manufacturers don’t care about my precious precious sanity and for whatever reason they think it’s fun to keep changing their ingredients on me.

Oh sorry. Not for you. Move along.

Now I recognize that my son has more allergies than most food-allergic kids, so he’s kind of a special case, but I have to mention here that he can’t eat out anywhere. ANYWHERE. Gone are the days of Happy Meals (FINE! YES, it’s probably a good thing for their health, but dammit they are cheap and fast and easy and EVERY ONCE IN A WHILE it’d be nice to have the option). He can’t eat the food served at friends’ houses or at school (finding a day care turned out to be pure hell) and I’m really not looking forward to the days of Boy Scouts and Baseball Teams because he won’t be able to eat the food there either and it’s only going to get harder for me to monitor and enforce.

And along the same lines, specialty food is EXPENSIVE. Have a cruise through the “natural foods” section of the grocery store next time you’re there. It’s like you’ve magically been transported to Whole Foods for just one aisle, with prices to match. It doesn’t make sense to me, it seems like if it tastes WORSE than its normal food counterpart it should be CHEAPER, but despite my angry phone calls and drunk-rambles on their facebook walls EnjoyLife and Rice Dream continue to disagree with me on that score. And I’m not even going to get into the cost of hypoallergenic elemental formula that at nearly three my son JUST stopped drinking (not because he no longer needs it, but because we can’t get him to drink it from a cup and I can’t take the guilt of having a three year old still drinking from a bottle).

So there you have it. I love my son, I’ll face whatever enemies are thrown at me to make sure he is safe and lives a relatively normal life. But I’ll probably continue to bitch about it when he’s not listening. And sometimes I have to laugh or I’ll cry.

(c)Herding Turtles, Inc. 2009 - 2011

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