Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Becoming "That" Mom

It's been fairly easy so far to keep a low profile with respect to Georgia's allergies and not come across as crazy overprotective parents. Sure, we've probably driven the nanny, our nanny-share partners (hi Crystal and Rob if you are reading this!), a couple of babysitters, and our own families crazy with our ever-changing rules and restrictions regarding Georgia's diet and what foods we will and will not allow in our house, but as for strangers? Other friends? We really haven't had to bring up Georgia's allergies too much or bother them with the issue.

Unfortunately, though, I think our ability to go low-pro is largely due to Georgia's age. As she gets older, we'll stop having such complete control over what she eats and where. From playdates to birthday parties to preschool, we'll have to start trusting a wider group of people that may feed her.

A couple of recent events have me thinking about this. One was an instance where Georgia was around a young child eating what I think was peanut butter, and I found myself feeling a little paralyzed watching it. (I think this kind of parental anxiety is the part of food allergies that it's hard for outsiders to comprehend. You think you can imagine putting yourself in someone else's shoes but you really kind of can't. Believe me, I grew up eating pb&j's all the time and never used to think of peanuts as if they're some kind of evil. It's an unsettling feeling to realize that silly peanut butter can make you go suddenly nervous.) But back to the point - I didn't say anything and didn't want to have to but was watching Georgia like a hawk. Maybe I should've said something? I don't know. The second instance was one where a kind person gave Georgia a cookie, which she is not supposed to eat because of the eggs in them. I hated to make this person feel weird or make a scene, so instead of saying anything I just deftly took the cookie away while no one was looking before Georgia ate any. I think this was the right thing to do under the circumstances. Not every moment has to be an opportunity for food allergy education and advocacy, right? I don't think I'm cut out for it -- at least not yet. At the same time, though, I know that as Georgia gets older I will need to get braver, clearer, and more up front about addressing her food allergies with others if I am to adequately care for my daughter or have any peace of mind when leaving her in others' care.

On that note, I am pasting in excerpted text from a blog entry I stumbled upon that I think pretty well sums up a lot of what I'm feeling. I don't know if I'll have to make safe snack lists someday, but I can certainly relate to this mom's concerns about sesame allergy. No sense reinventing the wheel if someone else has already said it best, right?

Don't Kill the Allergy Mom (from Scrambled CAKE, September 9, 2007)

"The Allergy Mom. You know her, the one who goes on about deadly foods (everything your child likes to eat) as she politely hands you a list of “safe” snacks (nothing he’ll go near). Once she’s out of earshot, the other parents huddle and express outrage. “But all my kid eats is peanut butter!” “What am I supposed to send for lunch?” “What nerve! Can her kid’s allergy be that serious?”

Yes, it can. Food allergies can kill. And sometimes they do. Sometimes at school. Be thankful you’re not an allergy mom.

When Smartypants was a toddler, I mixed up a nutritious batch of hummus for him. He loved my homemade blend of chickpeas, tahini (sesame paste) and garlic. I beamed as he gobbled my creation. Then he got tired, started rubbing his eyes and fussing. I figured he’d had a long day and he was telling me he was ready for bed. Wrong, he was telling me he was in distress.

When I wiped off the hummus that coated his fingers, arms, hands and face, I saw he was bright red. He had a rash on every inch of skin the hummus touched. Hives erupted before my eyes. Fortunately, my cousin had advised us to keep a bottle of Benadryl in the kitchen, so DH grabbed the nearby bottle while I phoned the pediatrician.

We gave our young son the medicine and sat watching him, studying the dynamic 3-D show on his skin, dutifully tracking his breathing, the ever-changing hives and his vital functions. And trying not to show how completely freaked out we were.

So, yes, I’m an Allergy Mom.

Thankfully, we were spared a trip to the ER, but that night we were introduced to a whole new set of parenting worries. Allergy testing indicated a potentially life-threatening reaction (anaphylaxis) to sesame."

"Even though sesame is not as ubiquitous as peanuts, it’s out there. Sesame seeds top bagels, loaves of bread and pretzels. It’s a common ingredient in Japanese, Chinese, Greek and Mediterranean foods (falafel, hummus, etc.). Those potentially deadly seeds lurk quietly in many snacks “party mixes” and containers of bread crumbs. Allergy Moms ask questions. We read labels. Always.

Now that Smartypants is older, he takes more responsibility for himself (I still give a heads-up to his teachers- I’ll get into more detail about this later in this food allergy series). But when he was in preschool, I was the Allergy Mom who handed out the “safe” snack list. A list compiled after a long night at the grocery store, examining the fine print and ingredients list on almost every product label in the snack/cracker aisle.

Most of the parents took care to stick with the list or call me if they wanted to bring an unapproved item. Some even insisted I read the product label myself before giving the green light. Their concern meant a lot to me. It’s scary enough sending your child out into the Big World. When that child has serious food allergies that maternal fear inches up a notch or five.

So please be patient; hold back your snarky comments and give the Allergy Mom a break. She’s depending on you to help keep her kid safe."

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