Dear mothers of kids with food allergies, Celiac disease or restricted diets,
I’ve been struggling with how to write this letter, because I know I cannot possibly understand what you go through every day. I can’t understand all the things you have to think about and worry about – things that, for me, aren’t “things” at all. Like going to a friend’s birthday party, heading out to a baseball game or eating lunch at school. For me, I only worry about the broad, sweeping safety issues and social implications. You have to worry about whether your child might accidentally ingest something that could make them very – even deathly – sick.
My kids are not ridiculously picky eaters, and yet some days I swear my youngest survives on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I don’t know what I’d do if overnight, she suddenly became allergic to nuts. Starve, maybe? Sometimes my girls like to play “Would You Rather?” As in, “Would you rather be allergic to dairy, wheat or peanuts?” It’s always a tough debate; their most common answer is: “None of the above.”
I once babysat for a little boy who was severely allergic to eggs, and that year was my introduction to “always read food labels” and “always carry an Epi-pen.” While I did take some comfort in the fact that a tiny amount of ingested egg probably wouldn’t cause him long-term harm, I still lost a lot of sleep during that time. Not as much as his mother, though, who later told me he had a violent allergic reaction following a trip to the mall where he’d had an Orange Julius. Did you know there is dried egg product in Orange Julius? Why on earth would any mother assume there is even the tiniest bit of egg product in Orange Julius? I shake my head as my heart goes out to her … and all mothers like her.
Then there was the time my friend dropped her daughter off for a playdate. I knew her daughter has Celiac, and I was prepared for a gluten-free snack and lunch. I was not prepared to learn that Play-Doh contains gluten. And even a tiny bit of Play-Doh residue left on her hands or pushed underneath a fingernail has the potential to cause a big-time reaction. It didn’t – thank God. But that lesson did show me that I live in an ignorant bubble when it comes to food sensitivities and allergies – and I will never take for granted my kids’ normal digestive systems ever again.
So moms, as we begin a new school year, I promise not to send peanut butter in my kids’ lunches. I promise to ask the teacher if any of my girls’ classmates have food allergies, and I swear I will only send in pre-approved snacks and birthday treats so that your child doesn’t feel left out. I promise I will teach empathy to my children so they understand not everyone gets to sail through life with nary a second glance at a food label. And if there’s anything else I can do, moms, to make your job easier or your kids’ load lighter, I hope that you will let me know!