My kids have a lot of food allergies, but it doesn’t come up that often here. We’ve been living with it so long that it’s just part of our everyday lives, part of our ongoing family background. We’re in the allergy groove, so to speak.

In fact, we’re so used to living with it that I often forget that not everyone has to deal with this kind of stuff on a daily basis. The meds check before you leave the house, the epipen training runs, the warnings to kids as they leave the house to check all ingredients, wash their hands often, and alert an adult immediately if they have any symptoms. The massive bag of food you have to carry with you everywhere, the super short list of approved fast foods in your pocket based on hours of reading the ingredients on every website of every restaurant in town. You know, the usual drill.

The other day I was skiing and on the lift I had an unfortunate conversation with the lady next to me. We had been chatting about packed lunches and what our kids like to eat, and she had a story about how her kids loved egg salad sandwiches, and that’s all they would eat for two years. And then, a letter came home from the school asking if they would stop sending eggs because they had an egg-allergic child in the class.

And of course, I understand her being upset and inconvenienced. For us personally, we feel strongly that our kids need to learn to live in a dangerous world and protect themselves and we can’t ask other families to accommodate us, so we do not ask our kids’ school to limit or ban foods, although we do appreciate all the great things the staff there does to keep our particular children safe.

But it went beyond complaining about having to change her kids’ lunches when she said that she went and consulted with both a doctor and a nutritionist, and they both said (she claims) that an egg allergy is not possible. She said that both told her that if someone CLAIMS to be egg-allergic, they PERHAPS have a sensitivity, but that a true allergy to eggs is NOT POSSIBLE.

And so then I very gently told her that actually, we have an egg-allergic kid, and we’ve seen his reactions first hand and they are no mere sensitivities. And she said that maybe our son was an extremely rare case, because she had been assured by medical professionals that it was not possible.

I’m not mad about it at all – I know people who don’t live with allergies sometimes don’t have a full understanding of what’s going on. And I know it’s a bother and a pain to try to eat around us and I feel terribly about it, and so grateful to parents who go out of their way to learn about this kind of thing so they can help take care of my kids. It’s lovely, but not expected.

But this conversation has made me very thoughtful about two things: one, that I should possibly stop taking it for granted that everyone at least understands that allergies do exist, and possibly be a stronger advocate and educator on the topic of this thing that affects my kids’ lives. To make sure that people at least know that allergies are a proven medical fact, and that people aren’t out there spreading totally false information to complete strangers on chairlifts. How to do that, I’m not sure, but I’m giving it some thought.

And two, that perhaps there are other diseases and conditions out there in which I have been that woman, the one who thinks that it can’t possibly be that serious, the one who thinks maybe the symptoms are all in someone’s head, the one who thinks that working around someone else’s limitations would be too much of a bother. I can’t put my finger on any such circumstances at the moment but that’s just it – you might be being wildly insensitive without even realizing it. So I’m going to try to be a little more open minded, and a little more understanding, of physical situations that are foreign to me in the future.

9 thoughts on “Advocation

  1. I learned about this when sitting on the allergy committee at my kids’ school. There are valid opinions on both sides, for sure, and they change based on the kids’ ages, level of responsibility, etc. but the one that did bother me was the DENIAL that it was possible that certain allergies existed. In the case of our school it was a milk allergy, and there were parents saying “That’s not medically possible – it could be a sensitivity, but it’s not an allergy.” If it’s not your kid, and you’re not in the doctor’s office, zip it.

    It was like certain parents believed “allergic” parents were out to get them and, to me, this just showed a lack of empathy. I mean, would you like to be afraid about your child’s health every time they left the house? Walk a mile in somebody else’s shoes.

    What I ended up believing was that it was worth letting parents know what allergies were in the class so parents could be smart and sensitive. Not to say “Don’t send yogourt” but instead, “Consider sending yogourt in a way / container that your child is capable of eating tidily without spilling it across the desk.” If your kid can’t open a certain container at home, and the yogourt goes EVERYWHERE when they try, then please don’t send that container to school. Find another way of delivering the food in question.

    Of course, the above solution assumes that parents will be smart and sensitive when they’re alerted to other people’s challenges … 🙂

    1. Perfect! Letting people know so they can just try to do little thoughtful things is awesome. My oldest has one friend who really likes egg sandwiches in his lunch, but his mom sends him with a little tablecloth and a wipe so he can clean the table after he eats for the Captain’s sake. I love that!

  2. I like how you came to the conclusion that you – and we all, really – could be more open minded and understanding about things. I know that I have learned more about anxiety and depression from friends – I have neither of those conditions, and understanding what they go through opens my eyes to what it is like to be a person who does suffer from those conditions.

    That said, though, I kind of disagree with this: “And I know it’s a bother and a pain to try to eat around us and I feel terribly about it…” Because while it might be slightly more inconvenient for non-allergic people to accommodate allergic people, I do not think you should feel terribly about it. We live in a society that is supposed to look out for other people. If my kid can’t have PB&J at school because your kid might die from exposure to it, I do not think that is actually a terrible inconvenience on my part. I think that my kids can just eat something else. So, I think you shouldn’t feel badly about doing what you need to do for your kids.

    Also? That woman sounds like a douche. There are NO cases of egg allergies? ORILLY. This reminds me of a conversation I had with a woman; I mentioned my friend’s daughter has Celiac and is also allergic to corn, and this woman argued with me. “She can’t be allergic to corn, there’s no gluten in corn!” The idea that someone could have TWO SEPARATE ALLERGIC CONDITIONS seemed absolutely impossible.

    Well, now that I’ve written a novel I shall close. But I think this post shows your very lovely nature and good heart, in that you didn’t push that woman off the lift 🙂

    1. Aw, thanks for the compliment. But also thanks for considering the food thing no big deal – trust me, you are not the majority!

  3. My 12yo niece has a severe egg allergy and had been hospitalized a few times because of it. But as she got older, my sister (her mom) and their naturopath started teaching my niece how to live in the world with people who eat food that she is allergic to. She is 12…soon to be in highschool. This transition and learning that other people will not always adjust their own life around someone’s allergies was a hard learning curve for a child who came from schools where huge lists of forbidden foods were the norm. So it’s tricky, this allergy thing, isn’t it.

    I’m happy to say that my niece has adjusted. She may have reactions in the future, but is better equipped now to handle whatever may be than she was when she was 8, or something, you know?

    But it’s tricky. Support and understanding is the key here from both sides.

    1. Fascinating about the naturopath – I wouldn’t have thought of one as a place to learn about how to live with allergies, but that does make sense. I will think about that!

  4. It is not something we talk about a lot, but Mike has a severe shellfish allergy. I realize you are discussing children with allergies, but the same kind of attitude prevails to a certain degree for us. People question if we really can’t eat at certain restaurants, for example. We’ve had friends show up at our place for potlucks with shrimp rings. They ask if shellfish allergies include things like crab etc. People are always looking for sympathy/empathy/understanding for their issues, but often have a hard time returning the favour I have found.

    1. I hear you. When we do find someone who is allergy aware and makes special food or brings over special food, I almost cry I’m so moved. I never expect anyone to really understand but when people do make the effort it’s so lovely. Hope you find a tribe of empathetic friends soon!

  5. Zhu

    I’m lucky, Mark has no allergy (that we know of!). And Feng and I don’t have special diets, we eat everything. The whole food allergy thing was completely new to me, such allergies are not as widespread in France (mind you, neither are peanut butter or peanut products). I do have to remind myself not to give Mark food with allergens for school and it does take training. I don’t mind though. Same goes with religious dietary practices. The first time I participated in a pot luck at Mark’s daycare, I wanted to bring ham and cheese croissants (all good, no nuts!). I changed my plans after I discovered 75% of the kids in his class don’t eat pork. I mean, Mark can eat an entire pork at home if he wants too, I’m not going to bring food no one eats at school! It’s just commonsense.

    I’m mostly wondering where do you draw the line re. not bringing foods with allergens. For instance, I wouldn’t give Mark a PB&J sandwich, but I can’t guarantee the spring rolls that I buy in Chinatown don’t have a bit of sesame oil for instance.

    As a foreigner (well, not really anymore, but you know what I mean…!) it is weird to see rules being put in place to accommodate people with sensitivities or health issues. This is very North American, many countries don’t have such policies. For instance, banning scents in workplaces… such policy would never be respected in France!

Comments are closed.