Snow Skiing Rescued Us From the Food Allergy Winter Blues

Snow Skiing Rescued Us From the Food Allergy Winter Blues

Winter is a tough season for our food allergy family.  Coming off the heels of multiple food-centered celebrations, we are literally exhausted.  Tremendous planning, safe proofing, and stress are all a part of the holiday season.  We traveled through Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s with flying (allergic reaction-free) colors only to land at two upcoming food-centered celebrations: Superbowl Sunday and Valentine’s Day.  With only a few weeks of breathing room between the two seasons, our family needed a break!

My amazing extended family invited us to go snow skiing.  I grew up skiing every year but it had been over twenty years since I’d hit the slopes.  None of my four children had ever been before.  With ages ranging from 4 to 16 years old,  they were all eager to learn to ski and snowboard.  I was a little apprehensive at first, as I always am when we encounter a new and unfamiliar environment in which I have to assess the dangers for my son with severe food allergies, but we were up for the adventure.  And we needed it.

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Between private snow boarding lessons for the oldest and ski school for the younger three, they all took to it quickly!  The lovely thing about ski school was that they fed them nothing.  NOTHING.  That is heavenly music to a food allergy mom’s ears.  Just heavenly.  I didn’t have to worry about what they were feeding my son or what the other children were eating that my son may be allergic to.  I almost cried when they told me there was no food served.  I was able to ski the slopes, only worrying about the normal parent stuff but not the food allergy stuff!  Of coarse, I was never more than a few minutes away from their location, but on this day, I was not hovering.

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Thank you Appalachian Ski School for handing the children back to their parents for a one and a half hour break for lunch.  Thank you for starting ski school at 10 am.  Thank you for ending ski school at 3:30 pm.  Thank you for arranging the day so that parents could feed their children snacks and lunch so that you did not need to.  Praise God my son could learn to ski without the usual worry about food.  And I could ski too.  I treasured every second.  It was relaxing and exhilarating all at the same time.  You food allergy parents out there know what I mean.

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My children learned a skill that will stick with them for life.  They learned it together.  They learned it safely.  We were all able to appreciate the beauty of God’s artwork and the natural playground He created for us.  Now that’s a family vacation!  We all needed a little break.  It was just the refreshment necessary to keep us pushing forward.

“For they refreshed my spirit and yours also.  Such men deserve recognition.”    1 Corinthians 16:18 

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Accommodating Food Allergies: Why Is It So Hard?

Accommodating Food Allergies: Why Is It So Hard?

Forcing a person in a wheelchair to either walk up the steps or not attend the special event they came for seems cruel, right?  If someone is in a wheelchair, they probably can’t climb up the steps to the front door.  So what do we do?  We build a ramp so they can safely enter the building and be included with everyone else, despite their inability to walk up the steps.

So why is it so hard for those with food allergies to receive some type of  accommodation and support?  Is it a lack of understanding, knowledge, or empathy?  Is it because we, as humans, don’t want to step out of our comfort zones?  Is it because food allergies are not recognized as serious?

People with food allergies so often walk into an event without any protective measures in place for them.  All around them, people are consuming their allergens, dropping crumbs, and cross-contaminating “safe” food with “unsafe” food.  People with food allergies, including helpless young children, are offered little to no protection from the public.  How many children and adults with food allergies have to die before people wake up and stand up for them?

Should they stop going to school, church, playgrounds, restaurants, museums?  Should they stop going to public venues or events?  These are choices that families with food allergies are forced to make everyday.  It seems cruel to exclude them completely because of their life-threatening allergies to food.  It also seems cruel, in my opinion, to expose them to those foods that can take their lives.  Unfortunately, until the public is more aware of and sympathetic to food allergies, many children and adults (even entire families) are excluded from public events.

Prior to the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, the accommodations were not always present for those in wheelchairs.  It literally took an act of Congress to ensure people with deficits, disabilities, and special needs were not discriminated against.  Almost thirty years later, it seems inconceivable that there is any public building in the United States that does not have accommodations for Americans with Disabilities.  My sincere hope and prayer is that someday people with food allergies can also be included in such a way that their safety is at the forefront of people’s minds.  If it takes an act of Congress, so be it.

In your own communities, I urge you to educate yourself on the food allergy epidemic that continues to take countless lives each year.  I beg you to find ways to support and include those with food allergies safely.  No kind deed goes unnoticed.

“And the King will answer them, ” Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”  Matthew 25:40

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The Isolation of Food Allergies

The Isolation of Food Allergies

Food allergies isolate children and their families.  That’s the truth.  It’s painful, difficult and defeating all in the same moment.  Those are pretty powerful emotions for a child or adult to feel in one concentrated burst, often daily.  Children with food allergies have a difficult time participating in all the activities that other children take for granted.  Fun childhood experiences like trick or treating, birthday parties, summer camps, Easter egg hunts, Vacation Bible School, and pizza parties at school are not carefree fun for children with food allergies.

They always have to be on alert, keeping their guard up for whatever their poison is: peanuts, tree nuts, dairy, egg, soy, fish, shellfish, wheat and a myriad of other foods.

Be aware that what is an American classic treat, ice cream, could be death for some.  We consider our allergens poison because we know they can kill us.  It’s hard to get excited about an ice cream party when ice cream is your worst nightmare.  Seeing your siblings get excited to have the food that could kill you is a lonely place to be.

And it’s not just the person with food allergies that feels isolated.  It’s the entire family.  It’s the Mom or Dad of a food allergy child that has to be persistent and aggressive to keep her/his child safe, often to the point of losing friends or being shunned because we are a little “crazy about food allergies.”  It’s also the brother or sister of a food allergy child that unfortunately has to skip events, sacrificially, because it’s not safe for the entire family.  Who wants to leave their sibling behind, sad and left out, while you go enjoy the party?  It’s also the grandparents that have to constantly be alert when their food allergic grandchild is around, upsetting some because of the restrictions that must be in place for the child.  Traditions sometimes have to be broken: “Sorry, can’t have boiled peanuts this year at our gathering!”

There is a constant, underlying level of anxiety present when you have food allergies.  Social norms are not the norm for us. We are different.  We are mocked.  We are bullied.  We are talked about.  How could you not have anxiety when the same food that the world is in love with could kill you?  The same food that parties are planned around causes a violent reaction in your body with just a trace.  You give up so much that others take for granted.  There’s no denying the loneliness of food allergies.  So many people just don’t understand and don’t even care to.

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But don’t give up hope just yet!  There are people that care, that want to help.  Cherish them, thank them, return their kindness every chance you get.  There are angels that were once bound by food allergies that are now free from that pain and are watching over us.  Food allergy kids and adults are resilient.  They live through tough days and still smile.  They appreciate small acts of kindness with more depth than many.  When so many people ignore their plight, the one that shows concern erases away the ones that don’t.  It’s the kind of “special” one feels when Jesus leaves the 99 to recover you, the one lost sheep.

Loved, important, wanted.

 

“What do you think?  If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray?  And if he finds it, truly I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray.  So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.”  Matthew 18:12-14

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Navigating Minefields

Navigating Minefields

Imagine you walk into a room at one of your favorite places, maybe a restaurant in which you’ve enjoyed many meals or a park at which you’ve spent many afternoons daydreaming.  You notice that this time your favorite place is different.  Something feels off…it feels dangerous.  You look around trying to identify what is different.  You can’t tell at first but soon you start to see it…a minefield of explosives.

Most people would run in the other direction.  You’d have to be crazy to walk into a minefield, right?

Yet, this is exactly what those with food allergies face every time they go to a public place.  A minefield.

Now, imagine that it’s not you walking into your favorite place that is now so extremely dangerous…but it’s your child.  Your sweet, innocent child that is not prepared to identify dangerous situations as an adult would.

Think of this place as a park with a playground.  What was once a place to have fun and “be a kid” is now filled with explosives for your food allergic child.  Innocent, unaware children are walking around eating a PB&J sandwich, wiping it off their face and then touching the slide that your child is about to go down.  Never-mind that there is a picnic table nearby, the parent isn’t paying attention and the child is roaming around eating.  Another child is running around with their sippy cup of milk, dripping it on the playground equipment.  Your child has a life-threatening allergy to all of these foods that are now all over the playground.  This place is no longer fun.  It is dangerous.

Do you steal your child’s experiences of “being a kid” to keep them safe?  Do you take them to the minefield and hope for the best?  How do you handle this situation?  It’s one that food allergy families face daily.

Until you come face to face with the fact that the same food that is considered healthy for some will in fact kill your child, you might not be able to imagine the dangers present in everyday life.

Until you’ve had to witness your child struggle to breath, scratch their tongue vigorously with both hands, look into your eyes with a primal fear, vomit and go limp….all from one bite or drink of the wrong food, you might not understand why it’s so important to prevent exposure.  Until you’ve feared that one epi-pen jr isn’t enough to stop the anaphylactic response in your child, you might not understand why it’s so important to prevent exposure.  Until the hospital nurse has told you they have called the chaplain to come speak to you, you might not understand why it’s so important to prevent exposure.

Let me explain this clearly: it is CRUCIAL to prevent exposure.

Each anaphylactic response can become more rapid and deadly with each occurrence.  It’s as if the body’s response gets stronger each time.  The best way to prevent quicker, stronger anaphylaxis is to avoid exposure altogether.  It’s not as simple as just giving an epi-pen.  Sometimes they don’t work.  Sometimes it’s too late to stop the anaphylactic shock.  Sometimes the child does not see the other side of anaphylaxis.  It is a sobering truth that many need to hear.

“Love your neighbor as yourself.” Matthew 22:39

Food allergies have become a punchline to some, a weapon to bullies and death to it’s victims.  More concern, love and sympathy for each other would make all of our burdens easier to bear.  And maybe just a little safer for those who need to be loved and protected.