Food Allergies Get A Mascot This Halloween

Our kids spend most of October in their Halloween costumes. Sometimes, they pretend to be their characters (Transformers, this year) and other times, they pretend they are trick-or-treating. We make pumpkin-shaped, peanut/tree nut/milk/egg-free cookies. They paint pumpkins. (No carving them, after seeing what they did to Charlie’s arms.) They draw ghosts and jack-o’-lanterns, bring us spooky books to read, and look for Halloween decorations when we walk around the neighborhood. As Max says: “Halloween? Thumbs up.”

Image courtesy: FARE

Image courtesy: FARE

They hardly mention candy, though. Sure, they get loads of it when they hit the streets on Halloween, but the treats they look forward to are plastic spider rings, pencils, tiny rubber snakes, and other random goodies. That’s what they get when they turn in their bags of trick-or-treat candy at the end of the night. They also get a few candies that we have personally bought and vetted, but it’s not the highlight of the evening. The kids have a good time and Charlie is safe. It rocks.

The-Teal-Pumpkin-Project-5

Image courtesy: FARE

This year, we’re adding a new tradition, thanks to FARE and FACET. We’re painting a pumpkin teal and putting out a sign that will let parents know we have non-food treats available. It will also help get the word out about food allergies. We only hand out non-food treats, but many families who are taking part in the Teal Pumpkin Project will be handing out candy and offering non-food treats to trick-or-treaters who request them.

What makes the teal pumpkin useful is that when we see one, we’ll know that we can ask for non-food treats. That means that more of the treats Charlie and Max collect will be treats they can enjoy. It adds to the fun for them and doesn’t change anything for kids who don’t have food allergies – especially at homes that offer candy and non-food treats (from separate bowls).

I really like this idea and I’m glad it’s getting so much love from the press. When it comes to educating people about food allergies,there’s still a long way to go, so some of the comments on these news pieces are a little disheartening, but most people seem to think the teal pumpkin project is a great plan. Hopefully, those who think it’s an attack on an American tradition will see that no kids are being excluded – they’re being included. Everybody gets to have good, safe, fun.

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Food Allergy Fun: Charlie Meets Charlie

Whole Foods is on the other side of town, but it’s loaded with allergy-friendly brands and the kids love the produce section because the employees sometimes give them fruit to snack on. So, we trek out there occasionally and stock up on Applegate meats, Daiya cheese alternatives, Earth Balance vegan butter, and So Delicious coconut milk and yogurt.

And, of course, we get cookies. We can bake our own and often do (look up Kelly Rudnicki online for allergy-friendly baking recipes) but sometimes it’s fun to buy boxed cookies. We typically go with Enjoy Life and Cybelle Pascal’s cookies. It’s fun: it’s one of the few times I can point to several shelves of food and tell Charlie “pick what you want.” The cookies are insanely expensive, but watching Charlie choose his own treat is good for my heart.

Anyway, we went to the register and were just finishing up when a family walked past. The mom glanced at our counter and stopped dead.

“Does someone in your family have food allergies?” she asked.

I explained that Charlie does and she pointed out that her son was also named Charlie, and he also has food allergies – the same ones that our Charlie has. The two Charlies, who are about the same height and age, sized each other up while we talked about our experiences with the kids and food allergies. We agreed: it’s hard.

Charlie is very happy to know that there’s another Charlie who has food allergies, and he told MK about it as soon as she got home. I got a kick out of the coincidence, and, although I wouldn’t wish allergies on anybody, I’m always a little relieved to see that there are other families going through the same thing – MK and I are not alone.

Dodging Food

It’s been an exciting week for Charlie. We ended up in the hospital parking lot during dinner one night, waiting for his face to calm down. I made chicken parm with some homemade marinara and it should have been fine for him, but sometimes pasta sauce makes his face red – probably the acidity. We might have waited it out, if Charlie didn’t already have a tight, awful cough from his cold. As it was, we couldn’t be sure what was cold and what was allergy, so off we went, and dinner was cold when we got back. That’s pretty frustrating. Max woke up that night from a nightmare in which “Vegetables were coming out of Charlie’s neck.”

A couple days later, Charlie was well enough to come to Max’s swim lesson and sit with me at the picnic table. It was the last swim lesson of the season, so the teacher gave the kids little bags of chewy fruit-flavored snacks. I didn’t see her do that, so when Max got back to our table he had already opened it, eaten one, and immediately tried to give one to Charlie. I vetoed that, and explained to Max that we couldn’t eat any more of them until we got home and I could check the ingredients. Max understood, but it was too much for him and he sobbed and screamed all the way home.

The following day, we stopped at Trader Joe’s to pick up some vegetables and fruit. Sure enough, there was a big event for kids: they were making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Charlie really wanted to go over there, but I explained why he couldn’t, and he understood…although I had to hold his hand the whole time to prevent him from going over anyway. He gets it as much as a three-year-old can, but he has the control of a three-year-old, too.

As a parent of an allergy kid, I see the world differently than I did before. For one thing, I’m stunned by how much food is given to kids. I never noticed it until we had Charlie, but wow: so many events for kids also end up including snacks or candy. And the oil change place, where they offer candy. And the bank, where they offer candy.

The other thing I’ve noticed is that nearly all of this food is crap. Candy, rice krispy treats, fruit-flavored gummies – this is all junk food. I appreciate the people who keep stickers on hand instead of sweets. Kids love stickers.

So that’s the food allergy update. These things are rough, and affect our quality of life, but they’re nothing we can’t handle. I’ll take the tribulations of unexpected snacks and a weird sensitivity to marinara sauce over anaphylaxis any day.

Food Allergy Challenge: Peanuts

This kid tolerates peanut butter.

This kid tolerates peanut butter.

Charlie tolerated peanut butter at his food challenge today. No, he shouldn’t eat it again. But, it’s not lethal to him. MK and I are so happy, we could pop.

After being off his allergy meds for several days, Charlie walked into the doctor’s office, hopped onto the little bench, and downed 10 consecutively larger portions of peanut butter, starting with a portion so small he couldn’t even taste it, and ending with a sizable bite. We waited 10 minutes between each portion, and I (and the nurses and doctor) monitored him closely. The whole thing lasted an hour and a half, but it felt like 20 minutes to me.

Charlie’s face didn’t display any hives during the test, but his arm got a bit red at the inside elbow and a tiny hive appeared on the other arm. The doctor also skin- tested him for environmental stuff (he’s allergic to mold) and tree nuts. He’s allergic to everything except hazelnut. (We initially thought that opened the door to Nutella, but it contains whey.)

At this point, the doc says, the peanut butter appears to exacerbate Charlie’s eczema. The doctor thinks Charlie will outgrow peanut by his next food challenge, which is in the Spring. But, for now, we’re happy just knowing that he’s not likely to experience anaphylaxis from accidentally eating something that has peanuts in it.

Still on the anaphylaxis list are egg (confirmed), dairy (confirmed), and tree nut (possibly). Knocking peanuts off the list is a huge win, and gives us hope that the others will be outgrown, too.

Scared Eggless

A couple nights ago, Charlie sat down at the table for dinner, looked at his plate, and pushed it away, saying, “Dis make me sick. I go to da hospital.” We told him that it wouldn’t make him sick, using that high-and-soft tone you use when you’re trying to reassure someone, but freaking out on the inside. I don’t want my kid to be afraid that the food he’s about to put in his mouth might turn out to be poison. But that’s the risk he’s taking every time. MK and I are vigilant and we cook meals that are as safe as mere mortals can verify, but allergens have gotten through our defenses a couple times, thanks to the cross-contamination crapshoot.

I’ve also had two nightmares this week about Charlie eating foods he’s allergic to. In one, he was well into an oversized bowl of vanilla ice cream. In another, he was just finishing off an entire glass of milk. In both, I realized that epinephrine probably wouldn’t save him now, and then I woke up.

October 4th is his next food challenge. If that is successful, it would go a long way towards making me worry less. Actually, probably not.

No Jersey Mike’s For You

A long time ago, MK and I went through our kitchen and tossed or donated every food that Charlie is allergic to. We also disposed of any foods that were made on shared equipment (or in the same facility as) his allergens. We donated any cookware that struck us as possibly having traces of allergens on them (the blender went, for example). Since then, our house has been Charlie-safe. We cook only foods that he can eat.

Once in a while, we’ll get take out when Charlie is asleep and eat it downstairs – often the garage. Then we clean it up, toss everything, wash our hands, etc. So there’s your backstory.

Today, we went to the Children’s Museum and parked a little farther away than usual. When we got back to the car, I realized we were right in front of Jersey Mike’s. I thought: Heck, I’ll just take the kids in, they won’t touch the sandwich, it’ll be in a bag, and I can eat it after they go down for a nap.

We got as far as the line when it occurred to me that I’d be holding Charlie’s hand with my left hand and a bag of poison with my right. And, of course, he was asking me if he could have a sandwich, too. And so was Max.  We turned around, went to the car, and when we got home I made us delicious sandwiches and salads. Now he’s sleeping, safe and sound.