From the moment my daughter was born, I expected belly issues. Her big sister had this nursing mama on a dairy free, egg free, shellfish free diet for 5 months. I thought those would be the longest 5 moths of my life! (How could this Wisconsin girl go without her cheese?) But what I didn’t expect was that my second baby wouldn’t outgrow these issues.
That first year, I introduced these foods occasionally to see how she would do. Every time, I was met with an inconsolable baby, whose belly would swell and wouldn’t sleep. At 7 months, we were referred to a pediatric gastroenterologist after weeks of terrible diarrhea. She was diagnosed with a c.diff infection and DNA Blood work showed probable celiac disease.
At a year, the chances of her outgrowing her intolerances shrunk considerably. Then her second birthday rolled around and the chances have now shrunk to next to never. I want to cry when I realize that my baby will never know the joys of creamy ice cream. She’ll never be able to eat at a restaurant without hounding the waitress that the french fries are really, for a fact, gluten free. She’ll never be able to go to a birthday party and enjoy the cake. She will always have to be “different”.
I remind myself in moments like these that we’re lucky. Her medical issues are not life threatening. She won’t go into anaphylactic shock if her friend eats a pb&j sandwich and gives her a hug. She doesn’t need to take daily medication. She doesn’t need to poke her fingers and test her blood sugar multiple times a day. Things could be so much harder.
Yet, here I am, preparing to send her to daycare one day a week, trying not to have an anxiety attack. The thought of sending her out into the world without me is terrifying. The thought of her good natured new friends wanting to share their goldfish crackers makes me want to cry.
When I toured her daycare facility, I grilled the director, I brain stormed with her teachers and vigorously highlighted the menu showing them exactly what she can eat. I know they are prepared for her. I know they care about her and will do everything they can to ensure she isn’t exposed to dairy, gluten, eggs, shellfish or broccoli. But I also know, she will be exposed. No one is perfect. Her own grandma, who knows more about reading labels than her own dad, has accidentally exposed her. It’s not their fault, but it happens.
I know she needs to enter a world without mom eventually. She needs to make friends. She needs to play with other kids her age. She needs to learn, if she says yes to goldfish crackers, she will be sick. And she will survive. I just wish it was easier on me.
5 Tips for Sending your Allergic Child to Daycare
- Teach your child the things to avoid
My two year old knows the phrase, “That will give you a tummy ache.” She has heard me say countless times, “Does that have gluten”, “Does that have dairy” or “Does that have eggs”. And when she can fully talk, she will say the same things. I cannot hover over her forever so she will need to learn how to communicate her allergies to others.
- Educate their caregivers
Provide a typed list of ingredients to avoid. Include the “hidden” names or chemical names for the allergies that are not always straight forward and recognizable. Talk to them about the symptoms your child will have when exposed. If your child may need an EpiPen, make sure they understand the protocol for administration.
- Be part of the planning process
Help the teacher plan for your child by offering alternatives. If the kids are having a special pancake day, offer to bring in gluten free pancakes. If the project for the day is making a peanut butter bird feeder, offer to bring in a nut butter alternative. If the teacher knows you will support them, they will start to include you as they’re making their lesson plans.
- Keep a special food stash at school
As much as the teacher will try to work with you, unexpected things will come up. Surprise! Bailey brought cupcakes to celebrate the birth of her new baby brother! And then your child sits on the sidelines while her friends devour a mound of icing.
- Understand that your child will be treated differently
As much as a school tries to integrate everyone, sometimes they just can’t. Your child may sometimes have to sit at a special table or at the end of the table to avoid exposure. They may not get the end of year ice cream cup with the little wooden spoon. As hard as it is to watch your child singled out, try to remember, everyone is doing their best. It will never be perfect, but your child will be safe.