It’s been a year since my little boy was diagnosed with multiple severe allergies and in that time I have been really lucky to have a number of totally excellent friends around me. Getting used to life with an allergic kid is a steeper learning curve than it first seems.
“Ah, well just think of all the things he’s NOT allergic to!” was one well-meaning comment I received. But all I – driven by mummy instincts – could think was “look at all the stuff, totally normal stuff, that’s around us every day, that could suddenly and without warning just kill him”.
And as I’ve learned how to manage the risks that my son’s allergies bring, my friends have been learning how to manage me… Because, let’s be honest, allergy mums can be a little high maintenance. So this post is a thank you to some very wonderful friends and family members. Here’s some of the brilliant things that they have done:
- Still inviting him to stuff
Some people don’t get that allergies can be serious, and some people get it almost a little bit too much. Someone once told me “I’m not cooking for him!!” as if he’s too hot to handle. Currently, he’s 18 months and too young to sense that some people will just find it easier to exclude him than to ask how to feed him safely.
I think one of the biggest challenges that allergy parents face is how to make sure those people around their kid are careful, but not so scared that the child ends up just being left out.
- Asking ‘what can I bring?’
This is a great question, and I speak as a stereotypically British human who hates the social awkwardness of returning unsafe gifts. So I’ll usually say “strawberries please!” or some other yummy fruit that still feels like a treat.
- Letting me cater our get-togethers.
Even though I’m not a natural chef my pals have let me make the food for lots of our get-togethers this year. That way, when my storm-force toddler blows around the room grabbing food from plates and bowls like a tornado ripping up trees, no-one needs to worry that he’s shoved something he shouldn’t into his ever-consuming cake-hole.
- And when I’m not the one catering…handing me food packaging so I can read the labels.
Labels, labels, labels… It’s all about the labels. While EU law says that all the top 14 allergens must be labeled, there’s no law requiring products to list ‘May Contains’… and they all do it differently. “May contain nuts’ can mean, for example, all nuts – tree nuts and peanuts. Or it can just mean tree nuts and exclude peanuts. Brands do it differently… and that difference matters.
“Made in a factory which handles allergens” is my personal pet hate. They might as well write: “Made in a factory which can’t be bothered to have proper cleaning practices but if we write this then you can’t sue us if our product sends you into anaphylaxis”. But maybe that would take up too much space.
So, yeah, reading allergy labels is as much an art as a science so us allergy mums really appreciate the chance to have a peek ourselves.
- Being happy to share party food plans ahead of time.
My boy is only 18 months now so the peril of food-smeared faces and fingers at kids’ parties should be a few years off yet… except that his 4 year old sister sees it differently. As she gets invited to parties, it’s often the case that he has to come along for the ride too.
One of his severe allergies is sesame… which is in hummous… which seems to be a kids party essential item these days. I mean, it’s the tick-box healthy item along with cucumber and carrot sticks, and it does generally get eschewed by the mini revelers for the all-pervasive Pom Bears and chocolate cake… but STILL, tiny fingers and faces sticky with hummous makes for a cute-looking but ultimately dangerous environment for my kid.
So, having friends share their party food plans in advance gives me a chance to say “can I bring sesame-free hummous?” or even just to make up an individual picnic of similar-looking party food that keeps him safe and not feeling left out.
- Not wincing when I mention allergies.. again
I’m sorry, it’s a boring topic for lots of people. But it’s been an epic misadventure for us and it is life changing. Just in this first year it’s affected where we shop, where we eat out, the nursery we chose when I went back to work, was a factor in which school we chose for his big sister, and where we went on holiday…
There have been silver linings too. New friendships have been forged in the fire of shared experience; we’ve become more sensitive to the different challenges other families face; and I’ve become a super brilliant baker at egg-free cakes and cookies!
So my boy’s allergies have subtlely changed quite a lot in our lives. And that’s why I suffer from allergy mentionitis.
- Not being obsessed with WHY he has allergies
This is a funny one. I find that some people – and it does seem closely aligned with the people who don’t necessarily accept that his allergies are real get stuck in a little loop of obsessively asking what has caused the allergies.
“But I thought you breastfed him?”, “Oh, is it because you did/didn’t eat peanuts while you were pregnant?”, “Was he born by C-section?”.
I think the reason these questions grate on me is that it’s fairly evident that these people are searching for a specific cause, a reason…and all of them relate to the actions of the mother.
While all mums seem to give birth to three things – a child, the placenta and an all-new shiny guilt complex – this seems to be especially true for allergy mums.
The fact is that doctors don’t definitively know why there is an explosion in the number of kids developing allergies. There are theories… but we don’t know. And for the kids who already have the allergies, there is really nothing to be gained from asking this question again and again.
- Being honest
While I’d love everyone I know to banish all of my boy’s allergens from their lives, that’s clearly not realistic! So when a friends’ kid has just had a peanut butter sandwich, or a runny egg or some other kryptonite for my superkid, and they tell me and give their child a wipe-down, I know I’ll love them forever for their honestly and their understanding.
Which brings me to…
- Getting it
The good pals get it.
Whether that means they share my fury when a restaurant won’t say (illegally!) what allergens their food contains (“outrageous! You should complain!”) or bring nut-safe chocolate when they come over (hello Kinnerton!), or humour me with thumbs-ups for the seventeenth time I proudly share a photo of an identical egg-free cake I’ve just baked … I am incredibly lucky to have some wonderful pals and family members who just blimmin’ get it.
And for that I will never stop being grateful.