Holiday Memories or Safety? As a Food Allergy Mom I Have to Choose.

This dilemma is often real life for food allergy parents. Why does every single holiday event center around food? Even events held in traditionally food-free places, these safe spaces can become dangerous during the holidays for individuals with food allergies.

Here are a few examples:

The science museum hosted a Costume Parade for Halloween; but there was candy being handed out and eaten in a “hands-on” space.

The city does a sleigh ride to see Christmas lights and sing carols; but they will be handing out hot cocoa and cookies.

The museum is hosting a Santa and Mrs. Claus meet and greet; but there will be milk and cookies.

There is a Christmas train through miles of lights; but again, there is cocoa, candy, and pizza.

The Polar Express train, of course, serves goodies and cocoa.

I could go on and on. I get it. People love food. I love food! But it would be so nice if I wasn’t constantly having to choose between fun holiday memories and my child’s safety. For many of these, the food treats are unnecessary. In an environment like the museum, which is typically food-free, they could easily hand out stickers or inexpensive toys instead of candy. Trains and sleigh rides could have a food-free night or time slot so the one in 13 kids with food allergies could safely enjoy the activities, too. It is possible to make a little room for these kids without ruining anything for anyone else.

Josie had an allergic reaction in Goodwill the other day. She hadn’t eaten anything unsafe, but she came into contact with something that likely had food protein residue on it — she broke out in hives all around her mouth. I panicked. It stops your heart every time. Am I going to have to use the epi pen? How do I know her internal symptoms when she is only 2 and can’t self-report well? Is this going to progress to an emergency or resolve? Are we going to spend Halloween in the ER? The perimeter we keep around her is not overprotective, it is what we have to do to maintain her safety.

We went to Zoo Boo with friends and it was fun, but man did I have to be hyper vigilant. I figured the spaces were wide and open enough that we could keep our distance, and for the most part that worked, but then a kid who was eating goldfish reached out and grabbed Jo’s wrist and I had to grab her and wipe her down immediately. We went to the park the other day and there was a kid wandering around with a dripping ice cream treat. I had to keep myself physically between her and Jo, and I feel very proud of myself for not tackling the kid (only partly joking, ha!). Food allergy parents seem irrational from the outside, but it is so incredibly easy for something tragic to happen…and those tragedies happen all the time in our community.

If you are reading this and you are a holiday event planner or know one, please think about kids with food allergies when you plan. I don’t want events to be less fun for people who don’t have food allergies, I just want a few safe options for our family to participate in, too. We do work hard to create our own traditions and safe gatherings, but sometimes it is nice to venture into the world, too. I know our family is not the only one who struggles with these things. Change doesn’t happen overnight, but it starts with awareness and thinking about others.  Please, think about us.

A version of this post appeared on Our Life Is…

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