Saturday, December 29, 2012

The 13th Day of Christmas with Food Allergies

Does having food allergies in the family make you bitter?

I'm digging really deep for gratefulness this year. I have no problem when it comes to my nuclear family. I am so grateful for the gift of my husband and children, and for this time over the Christmas holidays to see at least a little of them.

But I also feel that, every year around this time, I need to get away from the getaway because my extended family can be so frickin' NUTS.

The thing is, I don't even have it as bad as most of you. One side of my family is just great about the allergies. My own sister and mother are fantastic. But my brother and sister-in-law don't believe in the allergies, so they (subtly) don't support them.

This year, when I asked about ingredients and what they were serving, my brother aggressively declared that he "pretty much" knew what my son could eat so I didn't need to check everything. But then, inevitably, came the email: "can he have soy protein isolate?" Nope. He can't. Tell me how I trust anything after that email.

We get to their house and there's a list of all the things they think are safe for my son. Bean dip is the first item on the list. Nope...still allergic to beans. Seventeen years he's been allergic to beans. They've been given lists of the allergens, we've talked through it numerous times...but they can't or won't remember, so everything he puts in his mouth, the entire night, is suspect.

When I ask about labels, I'm pointed to the garbage. There's nothing that says Christmas like poking through the garbage for a half hour.

We do have ways around this. My mother understands the situation and always ensures she brings a few things so my son has some choice. My husband (who somehow seems less bat-shit to them than me) questions them about ingredients for the things we think may be safe. My son knows to stick with the items that have simple and as-vetted-as-possible ingredients. BUT...everything he puts in his mouth, all Christmas Eve long, is really a crap-shoot. It's hard to relax and enjoy the holiday, knowing that there's a real possibility of going to the ER.

I actually started this column last January because of the stress from Christmas. When I go back and read that first post, I was even more wigged out and angry than I am now. I know that talking about it (and writing about it) does help some to defuse the stress and resentment, but it's also like constantly licking the wound, over and over.

I want to be grateful. I do try to look at the other side, which is that they're doing their best, even though their best is dangerous and half-assed. But there's a little voice in my head that says they're not doing their best: they're acting out their passive-aggressive judgments about me and my kid. They're screwing up ingredients, not because they're not capable, but because they really don't believe it and want to see what will happen. They're willing to play Russian roulette with my kid.

Family is so important. We've held it together for 17 years now, Christmas after Christmas. Through crazy, behind-the-scenes review of ingredients and sheer dumb luck, we've never had a problem. But I remind myself that it also means they're taking more care about ingredients than it may appear on the surface because he's never had a problem. 

So, during these 12 days of Christmas, I am praying for the grace to be grateful. To see the good instead of the bitter. I'm only four days in. By the 13th day of Christmas, I hope to be back in the Christmas spirit.

Just in time for the next (last) round of FAHF-2 food challenges.

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  1. My daughter is allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, coconut and carrageenan.

    My mom invited us over for Christmas dinner. When I pressed her what food was going to be there, she said, "Oh, everything is safe. I got turkey, ham, mashed potatoes and pecan pie".

    Christmas or Thanksgiving get-togethers will never happen with any of our extended family. We just gave up.

  2. We provide all the food my daughter eats, even now that she is 12. With my side of the family we host all the holiday meals and they very graciously eat them (and I'm serious about that, because some people turn their noses up at the rather different textures and flavors you get with our allergy cooking). When we go to the in-laws we bring her food. It's what works for us since her allergen list is pretty long and also because I can't take the stress of directing people about ingredients and cross contamination.

  3. I totally hear you! My mom makes fantastic fudge every year - and makes some without nuts - but then puts it in the same tin with the fudge that does have nuts! She is somehow the one that doesn't get it - bought candy that wasn't nut free and still passed it out to the rest of the kids at Thanksgiving, making my kid feel left out when she could have just not passed it out. Most of the rest of my family is pretty good - but one would think that the grandmother of the allergic child would be more aware.

  4. I found your blog through a suggestion from a friend on facebook (my three year old son has is ana to peanuts). I wanted to say that I really enjoyed your two posts about allergy testing... and I can definitely relate to this christmas post. I look forward to having the time to read through the entirety of your site... thanks for writing about your thoughts and experiences (in advance).

  5. I can relate, although my family has gotten better over the years. I think my son's eczema, being so visual, unfortunately helped a lot. I wish there was some sort of website that described anaphylaxis (the swelling lips, welts, etc) more visually that we could share with people. Telling family and friends that my daughter's throat could swell, and so on, doesn't seem to get the point across.

  6. Thanks, Liz! Appreciate the feedback.

    Feliza, they're not for the faint-of-heart, but there are actually a few videos on Youtube that show graphic reactions:

    This is a good one that explains what it is:

  7. It is so calming to read someone else go through the same things. We decided to visit with family 2 weeks before the holidays just to avoid the "food drama". My daughter was sad to leave and wanted to go back again for the holidays but there would have been (and was) too much food and I hate to feel like a party popper. My stand is that if they want us they will figure a way to include my daughter, if not we are not wanted. Would we invite someone over who is either vegetarian or vegan and serve only meat? Why the discrepancy for food allergies??

  8. I left my son (10y.o) with my mom last summer for a few days. He's had a milk allergy his entire life. What does she give him? Sherbert! I said mom did you even look at the label? You HAVE to read every label. I am trusting you with my child's life. He's not going this summer. - Kathy


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