This summer was a hard one. I’m glad it’s come to a close in a lot of ways, but looking forward I know that it’s only going to get harder. Next up is Halloween, then Dilan’s birthday and Christmas. After that it’s Valentine’s Day, then Easter and before we know it the sun will be back and it will be summer again. Most people look forward to all of these things, we definitely do in a lot of ways. Each holiday and new season brings its own excitement and fun, but we have much more to consider than most. Because along with each celebration there is worry and stress; along with each party there is searching and planning; along with each event there is guilt and heartache. That’s because with every Christmas, birthday, Easter and Halloween, and all the fun traditions and festivities that go with each, for us there are food allergies.
When they are babies it doesn’t feel so hard to manage. They don’t notice what everyone around them is doing, they stay in one easy-to-keep-an-eye-on place, and they are content with the alternatives offered to them. It becomes trickier as they start to move and you become anxious every time you visit somewhere new, for fear they’ll find something they shouldn’t on the floor. For most people small children putting everything they find into their mouth is amusing, for us it’s potentially deadly. You begin to discover alternatives for treats other children might be eating; you actively avoid situations and environments that could cause issues. I avoided all soft plays bar one for over a year, because it just wasn’t worth the risk. You eventually find places you feel comfortable, your family and friends create safe spaces for your child (and you love them for it!) and again things feel manageable. Then you reach the stage we reached this summer. The point where your child has become so aware of their allergies, and how different they sometimes are, that it breaks your heart.
This summer, on a particularly hot day, we visited the local park. It has a lovely water feature in the middle and it was absolutely packed with children. As school let out for the day an ice cream van appeared just outside and a huge queue formed behind it. Very quickly the park looked very different to me. Instead of seeing happy children playing and enjoying a cold treat, I saw hazards and danger everywhere. We made our way to the ice cream van and I felt confident that Dil would be happy with an ice lolly as an alternative. As we reached the front of the queue he selected a flavour and I asked to see the ingredients. I’m aware that people often think I’m crazy for asking to check the ingredients of things that ‘definitely won’t contain milk’ but, fortunately in this instance, I know better. The flavour he had chosen did contain milk and as I tried to explain this to him he broke down into tears. He wanted that ice lolly. He can usually have ice lollies. He couldn’t understand why I was telling him he couldn’t have this ice lolly. Even thinking back to it now makes my heart ache. Trying to explain to him that it would make him poorly so he needed to chose another. Apologising to him over and over again, telling him I knew how sad he must be and how hard it was. I felt a lot of anger that day. Anger at the ice lolly – why do they need to add milk?! Anger at myself for bringing him into this situation, anger at our circumstances – why a dairy allergy, why him, why us? No amount of safe alternatives or distractions could console him, and it made me realise that we may have much more of this to come.
So yes, I’m glad the summer is over. I’m glad the ice cream van won’t be stopping outside my house anymore, and I’m glad that I won’t have to check the park for melting mini milks for a while. But here comes Halloween, and that throws up so many more problems for us. This year will be the first that Dil will really be aware of Halloween, which has always been my very favourite holiday. This year I would’ve loved to take him properly trick or treating for the first time. He would absolutely love the idea of knocking on all our neighbour’s doors, greeting them all in a scary costume and being given a little treat. But of course, most of our neighbours will be giving out things he can’t eat, and it’s not worth the risk or the upset letting him collect things that we’ll most likely have to take away.
Every day now I’m reminded that the older he gets the more aware of it all he becomes, and the more difficult it’s going to become. Every time we visit a shop and he picks up something new, he hands it to me to check and asks if it has milk in it. And every time I feel such a mix of feelings. I’m proud of him for checking, but it absolutely breaks my heart that it’s something he even has to consider.
Halloween will be so much fun, because I will make sure of it. I will make sure he has safe treats, even if I have to give them to my neighbours in advance for them to hand back to him. And as Christmas rolls around I will make sure he has a safe advent calendar and a selection box, and we will start our own allergy friendly festive traditions. I am always hopeful that he will eventually out grow his food allergies, but until he does we will continue our dairy free life the best way we can. I will always be grateful to family and friends who go out of their way to make sure my little boy doesn’t feel that he is missing out, or that he is different from every one else, but I know I can’t protect him from those feelings forever.
How do you cope with food allergies around each holiday? Do you participate in the Teal Pumpkin Project during Halloween? Have you seen any other good ideas to make it safe and fun for allergy kids? Let me know in the comments. I’ll be featuring some more recipes and Halloween inspiration soon!
Photography by Mr. Adam Robertson
Need more ideas? Check out some of these summer activities with the kids [AD]