Not many people know this but all my kids are freaks. My oldest had no heartbeat when she was born and had to be taken via ambulance to a higher level NICU. So, that was my mirth-filled “welcome to motherhood” moment. My second has a diagnosis of Cerebral Palsy, my third has a kooky eyeball and my youngest has food allergies. They just don’t make kids like they used to.
Dear readers, please say you know me well enough that I won’t get hate mail for calling my children odd balls. It’s a term of endearment really, and for the record, the apple didn’t fall far from the tree.
When our youngest was an infant, we realized he was a little sensitive when it came to his skin. Sometimes it looked like rival gangs of Brillo pads and sandpaper were having a turf war over his face. We wondered why but for the most part we slathered him with Cetaphil and throw up our hands in bewilderment. I did occasionally think that he would look worse when I ate certain foods but I assumed it was my imagination. Also, with it being my fourth and all, I was slightly too tired to care.
However, when he was six months old, he reacted to something we now think was Parmesan cheese that a then-toddler was throwing about that landed in his dinner. He just kept getting redder and itching more and more. It was painful to watch so I took a nap. Totally kidding—I gave him an oatmeal/milk bath because I had heard that it helps calm skin, yet it made him into a human hive from top to toe.
After giving him Benadryl and talking with our nurse practitioner the next day, we decided to put my nursing self on a diet that eliminated all things noble: dairy, eggs, chocolate and anything that contained nuts. I confess that after getting off the phone, I indulged in a bowl of ice cream just in case it would be awhile.
And it was. After avoiding the offending foods, seeing him improve and meeting with a pediatric allergist, I avoided the aforementioned products for about a month and a half before I raised the white flag and gave the kid soy formula.
For the record: before this, I had verbally and mentally mocked those “allergy-freak” moms who sent notes home asking that all snacks be gluten free, peanut free or joy free. I thought, “They really need to relax. I mean cats have nine lives—surely a toddler has at least two!” But God has a great sense of irony, doesn’t he?
For those readers who don’t have allergies in their families, it is truly alarming to observe the rising number of children and adults who are developing them. And to all of us in the allergy world, it’s even more frightening and life-altering.
For those who desire to be supportive and kind to those of us in the allergy trenches, here are some gently suggested don’ts and do’s:
- Please, for the love of epi-pens, don’t query, “I wonder if it was what you ate, wore, or breathed while you were pregnant?” I’m not an epidemiologist nor am I certified to work at the EPA so please don’t expect me to be an expert on the origins of my child’s issues. Believe me, if I had known, I surely would have avoided it. Please read all the scientific and quackery articles you desire but keep your opinions to yourself unless asked.
- Also, please don’t say, “I guess people like that didn’t survive in the old days?” Like our children are unwanted spawn kept alive by the miracles of science and would have been weeded out by natural selection long ago. Yeah, probably not the words you want to say to a Mom who is struggling to find foods her child can eat without getting covered in hives, wheezing or even going into anaphylactic shock.
- For the do’s portion: I love it when people take his needs seriously without looking so overwhelmed that they won’t ever have him over. Luckily, he has grown out of the dairy and egg allergies and now we only have to be careful around nuts. I never insist people change their menu for us and will bring snacks or desserts that will suit him just in case. I feel it’s my job as a parent to set our children up for disappointment so he is used to getting a handful of marshmallows instead of peanut butter pie. Pain is good for the soul.
- For us allergy moms: we have to make sure that we are clear. It is confusing for caregivers, friends and family to hear on one hand, “It’s a big deal!” but then a minute later we say “But don’t make it a big deal!” We have to do our part to inform without alarming and to train and provide all the needed information ahead of time with all the equipment necessary to keep our kids safe all while not being a total joy-sucker. Yes, it is your job and no one else’s.
- For grandparents and those in an older generation: I promise it’s not a new parenting fad. No one in their right mind would ever choose this label-reading and panic-inducing lifestyle. Again, we aren’t epidemiologists. It’s not our job to figure out why it’s more common. It’s our job to keep our kids healthy and alive.
We have to be able to trust that those who watch over our children (including family members) take their healthcare seriously. If you would be shocked if someone let your grandchild jump off a roof into a pile of sticks please be equally concerned if you don’t read a label before giving food to a known allergic kid—it can be just as deadly as impaling branches.
I am seriously the worst allergy Mom (shocker!) and frequently forget to tell people and it has put us in a few tight spots over the years. Also, luckily he isn’t an anaphylactic kid and we have only used the epi pen once when he was younger and the little stinker sneaked it out of the cupboard and stabbed it into the carpet. Good times.
As with all parts of life, extend mercy and understanding to those in situations that you are not familiar with—just listen, be kind and offer support if they ask for it. I so appreciate all loved ones who over the years have shown concern, empathy and reserved judgment with all of my mutant children. Please take this advice and apply liberally to all relationships: don’t be a know-it-all or a discounter of feelings or you may find yourself having friends who are allergic to you.