Geek. Pirate. Mom

The Life and Times of Whitney Drake

Posts tagged 'allergies'

Despite planning, things still go wrong.

As I mention frequently, the Little Kidlet has food allergies. A lot of them. Not in any particular order, he’s allergic to: Dairy, Soy, Peanuts, Eggs and Wheat.

Today at his school, they were having “Green Eggs and Ham” day. After they read the book, they were going to make Green Eggs and Ham. Supervised, they would get to crack eggs, whisk them with the food coloring and the teachers would scramble them on a griddle. It’d be served with ham (cooked on a separate griddle).

His teacher is awesome. On normal days, he simply eats the snack I provide. But prior to class parties, she makes sure to talk to me so that he can have something comparable to everyone else, and see what of the provided foods he can have. She even keeps some ham lunchmeat in the fridge just in case I’m running late or they’re having their lunch early – so that he can have something to eat.

We had talked about today at length. She told me how the project would go, asked me if he’d be able to be in the room while they made them. Our best case scenario was that Reed watch. But, if he insisted he crack the eggs, he could do it, if someone took him to wash his hands right away. (Hey, he’s four. He knows he can’t have certain foods, but he doesn’t always get how sick they can make him)

So when I got a phone call from them, I was worried. As it turned out, in the split second his teacher turned to get his ham, he took some egg off of someone else’s plate before the other teacher could reach him. They gave him Benadryl, but wanted to see if I wanted them to use his epi-pen. Since he was breathing normally and didn’t seem to be breaking out in hives (his typical reaction to egg), I said no.

I admit, I’m scared to death of what might happen with my son’s allergies. But I trust his teacher, and it seems that I need to spend some more time talking with him about why he can’t eat eggs.

I do hope he outgrows this egg allergy. Just because there really isn’t a substitute for scrambled eggs.

Allergies vs Thanksgiving

As you all should know by now, the Little Kidlet has a slew of allergies and I have a gluten issue. On a normal day, this means that LK and I have a lot of separate meals from the rest of the family.

But how does it affect holidays? Well, in the past, I’d roast a turkey for LK and make sure he had a couple of sides. Now that I’m on a restricted diet, we’re going for broke- I’m going to make a separate meal for her and I.

How to handle it? I bought separate tupperware containers for LK and I with different colored lids so that it’ll be obvious which leftovers are ours. I found matching serving spoons (all bright green) so that it’d be easy for family to look at an item and know that it’s the allergen-free ones, and not theirs.

And to minimize contamination, I’m making most of our food tomorrow. The only thing I won’t be making are the mashed potatoes- but I’ll be making those for the rest of the family, too. After I boil the potatoes, I’ll be setting aside some to make for the Little Kidlet, then use the rest for the big batch of mashed potatoes (then I’ll set aside some of those for me). Oh, and I’ll be labeling all the plastic containers just so we all know what is what.

The menu:
A roast turkey, unstuffed – I bought a fresh one from the store, and made the people at the store laugh because I was looking for the smallest bird while everyone was looking for the biggest ones.
Sage stuffing – I saw this recipe and thought it looked delicious. Instead of making it in the crock pot (next year: tiny crock pot), I’ll do it in the oven and just microwave it the day of.
Gluten free turkey gravy – this I’ll make the day before with the drippings from the turkey, reheat the day of and thin it out if I need to (I bought a LOT of a chicken broth that I know is gluten free).
Mashed potatoes – for LK, I’ll make a batch with almond milk and butter.
Roasted asparagus – a family favorite, I’m really making this one so that LK and I have a veggie on our plate. This will be made day of and at the last minute since it’s so fast (400 degrees for 10 minutes!)

And for me, a pumpkin cheesecake with a gluten free crust. While LK can’t have this (it isn’t dairy-free or egg-free), I can’t live without a dessert at Thanksgiving. He’ll have his favorite snickerdoodles. I didn’t think about experimenting with pies until now, so I’ll start a few trials to prepare for Christmas.

Now, this brings me to an observation I’ve made over the last week. When you start talking about cooking for someone with food allergies, people usually make some pretty crazy assumptions.

A woman I worked with at Disneyland has some similar allergies to LK and posted on Facebook that she was making blueberry muffins. In the comments were several people who said (and I assume they were joking) things like “you’re taking out the best part” or “are they even considered muffins anymore?” And I was suddenly very annoyed.

Why? 80% of the time when I say something about being on a gluten-free diet, the person I’m talking to will reply with “I couldn’t live without [insert gluten filled item here].” Which for someone still struggling with keeping to my diet, is pretty rough. Because yes, I do miss croissants and crusty french bread. But I’m still surviving. Which is the important thing.

When I mention my son’s allergies, everyone responds with “then what does he eat?” Well, there’s a lot he can still eat. Considering it’s been 3 1/2 years of a diet without those allergens, and he’s close to 75th percentile for height and 50th percentile for weight… I think he’s doing just fine. Plus, he doesn’t know how amazing a buttery croissant is. So he’s absolutely fine with his world as it is.

I suppose I’m saying, give people with allergies a break. It’s tough. You can’t go out to eat without asking a million questions- it’s even hard to eat at other people’s houses without interrogating them. It’s one thing to ask me how I handle it. It’s another to lead off with how much my life must suck.

Because honestly, even with all the label reading and a small (but growing) list of trusted restaurants- I still have a pretty great life.

Day 22 of NaBloPoMo

I survived! Now where’s my tshirt?

Yesterday was probably one of the busiest days I’ve had in awhile, and yet, I know that it’s just the warm up to what the next 14 years will be like.

Aside from the usual dropping the kids off at both schools and pick them up routine, I also had to take them both to the allergist (for the Little Kidlet’s annual checkup- more on that in a bit) and after that, I had to go to Back to School night for the Oldest Kidlet.

Now, the allergist. I’m not sure if I blogged at length about LK’s allergy struggles, but we were referred to this allergist by a dermatologist- and I’m quite happy with him. He’s attentive, great with kids, and doesn’t treat me like I have no clue what’s I’m doing. Yes, I’ve had enough doctors who act like I don’t really know what’s going on with myself or my kids, that I get a little wary.

We had a great year, allergy-wise. Only a couple of breakouts (hives) and we didn’t need to use the epi-pen at all. So we’re going to retest his allergies and do the scratch test. I know that they aren’t 100% accurate, but it should give us a place to start for this upcoming year. I hope that he can have eggs. While any of the allergies would open up his world… egg definitely would make life easier. (He’d be able to have Udi’s breads)

Back to School Night was interesting. At the private school, the opening remarks are held in the gym and everyone is silent the second that any started to speak. At the elementary school, they were held at the lunch tables and people were only quiet when the principal was talking, but kept conversations going when one of the teachers was translating in Spanish and when the PTA head and Dad’s Club head were talking. Lots of parents brought their kids, but nobody asked them to be quiet.

Yes, I was thoroughly bothered by the rudeness of it all. No, the opening remarks aren’t all that exciting, but you’re supposed politely listen to them and maybe you’ll learn something.

I learned that they were just starting a special dress day each week. On Thursdays, instead of the uniform, kids can wear college apparel. Meaning, they can bust out their UCLA tshirts & jackets. Or in Oldest Kidlet’s case, University of Arizona (Go Wildcats!) and University of Hawaii (a gift from his uncle, who went to Hawaii on vacation). We live in a house of UCLA fans (and a USC fan) and nobody has bought them clothes. I’d be disappointed, but the boys both love their Wildcat shirts.

I also got to meet the Oldest Kidlet’s girlfriend. Well, possible girlfriend. She sits next to him (at the smart kids’ table), and they’re apparently inseparable at recess. He’s told me that she’s beautiful a few times. I started to think that this was all too young for love, and then I remembered that I’d wanted to get married in preschool. Ah, young love.

I came home, and crashed. I’m paying for it all today- I’m already on my second chai latte. Hopefully I can keep the caffeinated buzz going so that I don’t crash.

What I Did For Love (and for a few hours alone)

Today was the Little Kidlet’s second day of school. I dropped him off, and while he was shy in the new class, he wanted me to leave.

Then I came to pick him up. He was in tears (he’d just had a fight with a kid over a toy) and I was asked to pick up his backpack from the preschool office.

Now, the Little Kidlet has food allergies and carries an epi-pen with him. Not knowing what was in store for me, I thought that filling out all those forms authorizing the school to care for my child was enough to bring them. I was informed that they’d need something from his allergist for the epi-pen to even be there. Worried that they’d tell me he couldn’t attend preschool (which meant no 3 hours of peace and quiet while he’s in school, and while his big brother’s in kindergarten), I left, on a mission.

I admit, I was mad. Not because there was another form to fill out, but because the preschool’s health paperwork (a good 10 double-sided pages) asked multiple times if my child had food allergies and what medications he takes because of them. Each time, I made sure to note that he carries an epi-pen, even though we haven’t had to use it yet. Not once did they mention that I needed the letter, back when I’d have time to work out when I was going to visit the allergist’s office.

Instead, I was calling the allergist’s office to find out about this mysterious letter. Which I was told that the school should have given me (the school told me the doctor’s office would have it) and that they would gladly fill out and fax back for $15.

So I went online. It’s California law to have dosage instructions laid out for the school and signed by a doctor, so I’d have to do this. The sooner, the better. So I drafted my own letter and called the allergist to confirm their hours. Only to discover that they aren’t at their office that’s near the LA/OC border (closer to me), but down in Orange. What’s usually a 30 minute drive on streets if I hit every single light, turned into 45 minutes on the freeway in traffic. Which feels like an hour and a half on the road.

I found the building, parked my car and handed over my letter. I explained that it’s a private school that had no letter, and she took it to the back to see if they could sign it. Immediately she came back, informing me that it had been over a year (one year and a month, to be exact) since the Little Kidlet had been seen by the allergist. I asked them why I’d only just received a reminder to make an appointment if it had already been a year, and explained the situation again. He needed it for school, he hadn’t had any major outbreaks… and I was willing to make his appointment right then and there.

They brought me the paperwork.

I got home, and realized that somewhere in the narrow passageways at the building’s garage, I had to have scraped up against a yellow pole. A neon yellow pole. Which left transfer all down my car. Thankfully, I didn’t lose any paint from mine, and it came off with a little elbow grease and some wax. Thanks Father-in-law!

Honestly, before my kids came along, I would have never gone to that much trouble. I don’t even know that I’d put that sort of a rush on anything for myself (evidence: I managed to put off going to the grocery store for a week because I didn’t feel like going out in the heat).

I did it mostly because I love my son and I know how much fun he’s having at preschool. But there’s a part of me that did it because I’m really looking forward to those 3 hours of alone time- something I haven’t had regularly since the Little Kidlet was born.

The allergy nightmare that isn’t mine.

The Little Kidlet has a laundry list of allergies. Yes, it means that he doesn’t dine out very often. But we’re exceptionally lucky. His reactions are only if he personally comes into contact with the allergen- so if he gets it on himself or eats it. And even then, a dose of Benadryl was done the trick to stop things from getting worse. It also means that I don’t have to force his diet on everyone.

There are plenty of people who have much worse allergies. There’s a small percentage of people with peanut allergies who become violently ill when they’re exposed to tiny particles on other people… which is the case with a Florida girl who is merely trying to go to an elementary school.

In similar cases, schools have banned peanuts entirely, but in this case they set a policy where children would have to wash their hands and rinse out their mouths with water. This is something that’s federally enforced, because her allergy counts as a disability. Confused? The government says that they will try to accommodate any disability within reason. Because there are counter-measures that would allow her to mix with students that are minimally invasive (washing hands and rinsing mouths), they have to put them in place and accept them.

But there are a lot of parents up in arms, saying that this is taking away their kids’ rights… taking away valuable school time and ruining necessary experiences, like school parties.

For anyone who’s a regular reader here, I don’t suppose it’s surprising to discover that I’m siding with the little girl and her family on this one. These parents are complaining about something that takes about 30 minutes out of their child’s day. Which might seem like a lot… but there’s a fair amount of downtime in elementary school. Getting kids to calm down at the start of the day, recess and lunch. Having the routine might actually just take the place of that time.

Now, the school didn’t ban the use of peanut products. They’re simply asking students to wash up, and to not bring in outside baked goods. Yes, birthday parties are fun- but they’re disruptive. As classes get larger, you’re likely to have 20 kids that will actually celebrate their birthdays during the year… and that’s 20 days where you’re going to lose a substantial amount of time. Yes, class parties take up a lot of time. You have to set up for them, get the kids to settle down afterwards… My second grade teacher actually said at the beginning of the year that they were just going to do a monthly party for all birthdays. Cut down on a lot of the parties, and it was still fun. And if there were months that there weren’t any birthdays, it didn’t ruin our month. We got over it pretty darn quickly.

The problem I have with this is that these parents have formed a mob, who are completely overlooking the fact that they’re talking about a child’s health. They’re telling their children that it’s okay to ostracize someone that’s different, if it makes life easier for them. (Don’t get me started on the medical professionals they’re quoting that seem to say it’s an overreaction on the school’s part. I know enough children who suffer from anaphylaxis due to food allergies to know that it is possible)

Food allergies are a part of life. People might say that they’re more prevalent these days, but the reality is that we’re simply better at detecting them. In the past, people used to just get sick and depending on the severity, die. Teaching children to understand that food allergies exist is a valuable lesson. Far too many people don’t understand how dangerous some of these allergies are, and would prefer to think that those with them are simply picky eaters or want to be difficult.

This is what our allergy problem looked like. That is a picture of the Little Kidlet when he was 5 months old (and a bonus shot of my bony knees). I nursed him when he was born, and pumped when I returned to work- determined to what I thought was best as a mother. All of a sudden, he became covered with that itchy eczema. It looked horrible, but he was still the sweetest, cuddliest baby that happened to be covered in scales (this would be our first indication that he was his big brother’s total opposite). Our pediatrician sent us to a dermatologist, who ended up sending us to an allergist… and after a blood draw determined that he was allergic to so many things that it was safer for him to simply put him on a hypoallergenic baby formula rather than put me on an elimination diet (since they’d only tested for the most common allergens, and he’d tested off the charts for all of them- they weren’t sure what else he was allergic to).

One small fortune later (even with insurance covering the bulk of the cost), he cleared up, and we’ve been very lucky. He’s had a few cases of hives where we weren’t entirely sure what was the cause. I caught him eating french bread several months back and we gave him Benadryl and stared at him for hours. We’re lucky. He can be around people who eat the things he’s allergic to, and he’s fine. He’s even had fries from places where I know now that cross-contamination could be an issue… and hasn’t had much of a problem. We’re exceptionally lucky.

However, I completely understand where the parents of this little girl are coming from. They don’t want her to be isolated. They’d like her to have a somewhat normal school experience- with friends, teachers and playgrounds. They don’t want her to be so afraid of her allergy that she doesn’t want to get outside and live her life.

A lot of arguments I’ve seen in favor of the other parents is that she’ll have to face this eventually. True. But keep in mind, this is a kid! No matter how much you try to educate a little kid about allergies and the effects on them… it’s still hard for them to govern it themselves without support. Why not give her a developmental hand and let her have a bit of normalcy because yes, the rest of her life will likely be filled with asking whether or not there are nuts in a dish or if there are nuts used in various kitchens. Flights will have to be picked based on who has banned peanuts from their flights. Let the little girl be healthy enough to get to the point where she can take care of herself, and not come out some damaged little girl who feels like nobody wants her around and that she has to live in a bubble because people are inconsiderate.

As I see it, a lot of the problems I see in our country right now are all related to not caring about anyone other than ourselves. Most politicians care more about their careers and protecting their donors than they do about their constituents. Parents care more about themselves than their children. And those parents who do care about their children, seem to think that only their child matters in this world. We’ve become so self-serving that it almost seems like we’re unable to be compassionate.

They aren’t asking the entire town to ban peanuts. They’re simply asking children to rinse their mouths out with water and wash their hands. In the grand scheme of the world… that really isn’t very much to ask.

Allergy Etiquette.

I have a 3 year old son with major allergies. At roughly 2 months, he had severe eczema and when it didn’t start to clear up, we went through a series of doctors and at 6 months he was diagnosed with severe allergies to: soy, dairy, peanuts, wheat and eggs.

While society has become better about food allergies- many restaurants list allergens, food labels are more clear than ever and schools in general are more understanding. But every so often, I see public comments that remind me how little people really understand about food allergies- especially severe ones.

Last month, Chicago Tribune’s “Ask Amy” column shared this letter and response:

Dear Amy: Recently I threw a baby shower luncheon for my sister-in-law. One guest called to tell me that she is a vegetarian, and another guest called to “inform me” that she is on a strict gluten-free diet. I didn’t mind their giving me this information, but what upset me was their “you need to accommodate me” attitude. I didn’t know either lady, and neither offered to bring a dish that would suit her needs. It took a lot of extra work for me to make the dishes to satisfy their diets.

My mother-in-law told me that I should have stuck to my original menu and let the “special” guests worry about their own needs. What do you think is proper?

— Hostess Who Gave the Mostest

Dear Hostess: Sometimes you just can’t win. If guests with special diets can’t consume the offerings at a meal, hosts feel frustrated and wish they had been informed ahead of time.

If people contact you before an event informing you of their special dietary needs, it is kind of you to extend your generosity by trying to provide whatever food they can eat.

You could easily cover both the vegetarian and the gluten-free diet by providing a vegetable and a fruit salad.

I agree with you that preparing for special diets stretches your hospitality; you might have prompted these women to adjust their attitudes and also assist you by asking, “Could you give me some suggestions about specific dishes you can eat?”

If a suggestion is beyond your ability to provide, you should be honest and say so.

While this is fairly sound advice, there’s a problem. My mother’s a vegetarian, and quite often she’s shown up to family parties to discover that the only thing she can eat is the plain green salad when there’s quite the spread elsewhere. Or maybe a crudite platter. When we were planning my wedding, it was shocking how many places felt satisfied to serve a vegetarian guest a sad plate of vegetables as their entree. And while she does eat seafood, quite often people will prepare them with bacon and sort of expect her to pick around the bacon.

The easiest solution for a hostess is to say that they’re not familiar with cooking that sort of cuisine, and ask if it would be possible for them to bring their own entree. And say, “I understand it’s asking a bit of you, but I’m just not familiar with it and don’t want you to wind up only being able to have the side salad.” For most people, the honesty would be appreciated.

Honestly, I offer to bring food for my son when we’re invited somewhere (and even when we dine out at a restaurant I’m not familiar with). It’s ridiculous for me to assume that someone could easily accommodate his needs. But that’s me.

Then there’s dining out. Consider these two tweets posted by Chef Rick Bayless (@rick_bayless).

While I find myself constantly frustrated by attitudes of chefs against alternative diets (quite often allergens are hidden in foods, and it’s not unusual to find meat items hidden in dishes that seem vegetarian), I have to say that I’m proud of Rick Bayless for his attitude. He was extremely right in being honest with the guest in saying that because they use peanuts in many dishes that the entire kitchen was likely contaminated.

The guest on the other hand… I can’t think of a single person with a severe food allergy who would take this attitude. Or to insist that a restaurant have epi-pens on hand. I have to assume that this was someone who was hoping to shake him down for some money, and not just your average person with allergies.

My son’s allergic to soy. I wouldn’t dream of taking him to an Asian restaurant, or expect that somehow they would be able to make their dishes without soy (granted, he’s allergic to many other foods, but I’m trying to simplify my point). When I pick a restaurant to eat at with my mom, I usually see if they have a menu posted on their website and ask her if there’s anything that looks good to her. And after the Thanksgiving 2007 debacle (where she was brought a minestrone soup that was made in beef stock), I usually call to make sure that what appears to be a vegetarian dish is actually vegetarian.

…Now I’m getting sidetracked. This was going to be about etiquette. I propose that those of us with allergies/special diets (or who care for those with them) follow a few simple rules.

1. When invited to a party with a meal, call well in advance to make sure that the host/hostess is aware of your food limitations. If you have several, it might be difficult for the host to accommodate you. Be prepared to offer to bring a dish or two that you can enjoy.

2. When dining out, be prepared to ask questions about the dishes. So it might be wise to avoid cuisines that feature a lot of your allergens, and wise to contact the restaurant well in advance with questions. And be prepared for chefs to not understand food allergies/special diets.

3. Be patient. While you’ve learned all about your diet/allergies… it’s not always common knowledge. Many people seem to confuse allergies with a dislike of the food, and don’t understand that there are serious reactions. And most people believe that gluten-free means you can’t eat anything at all.

Any thoughts? Things you would want to add to the list – or things you disagree with? I know I don’t speak much about the Little Kidlet’s allergies, but it’s a big part of our life… and something that I’d like to hear about from you.

Living with allergies

My youngest son is 2 3/4 years old. When he was 6 months old, he was diagnosed with a long list of allergies. We had started to suspect that something was wrong when he was about 3 months old, suddenly he was covered with eczema.

Our pediatrician urged us to try basic remedies- to change to hypo-allergenic lotions, and bath him more frequently. Nothing changed. She referred us to a dermatologist who put us on better lotions and had us eliminate fragranced items. When he didn’t get much better, she referred us to an allergist.

He was 6 months old by that time, and two years later, it sometimes amazes me that it’s the same kid. Sure, he can’t have dairy, wheat, soy, peanut or eggs. But there are plenty of things that he can eat- especially in his toddler mindset where he only eats a handful of foods. Tortilla chips? Fresh fruit? Turkey meatballs? He loves them.

His skin is clear. Unbelievably clear. His feet are a little scaly- after 2 1/2 years of scratching, it’s become a habit of his to scratch when he’s tired. But it’s clear. He can run around in grass barefoot and not have to be wiped down afterwards (he used to get itchy while in the yard). He can play with the in-laws cats and not need a bath afterwards.

We used to have to give him a daily dose of allergy medicine, and now we only use it for the occasional allergic reaction.

He hasn’t outgrown all his food allergies. He had some eggs at Thanksgiving last year and started to break out in hives. He had some crackers with soy and broke out in hives. He has some regular crackers (wheat and soy) and broke out in hives. But we haven’t found any new allergies, and he’s living quite happily with the food restrictions we have. I couldn’t ask for more.

Has it been easy? No. When he was a baby he had a hypoallergenic formula that we could only get from a medical supply company. His allergies eliminate most premade meals, forcing me to make things. We have to bring foods to restaurants for him, since I’m never sure what might have crossed paths with something that seems safe. We still travel with Benadryl and epi-pens everywhere. But it isn’t impossible.

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