I still remember the first Easter that my son was 'egg-free'. He was three and a half - old enough to be aware of the other kids talking eagerly about Easter at school and young enough that a visit from the Easter bunny was still a really big deal.
I spent the several weeks leading up to that Easter in a full-blown tizzy. Easter to me was decorating eggs with my brother on the open door of my mother's dishwasher, and running down the paths at the local nature center in a herd of children looking for candy-filled plastic eggs. How was I going to 'check that box' for him - and for me! - now that eggs and candy were both on the 'no-no' list, scrapped with a heap of other allergens?
Several days of scouring Amazon later (this was before I'd even heard of Pinterest, after all!), it suddenly hit me: we didn't have to shoe-horn ourselves into the Easter traditions we knew, we could create new ones. We could change the conversation from 'what to dye in place of eggs' to 'how do we want to celebrate?'
And as I put down my sadness over losing childhood traditions, I saw the opportunity to create new ones that made more sense for a boy like him and, I realized, for the children of many of the friends we held dear. Children with allergies who, like my boy, had to watch what they ate. Children with social challenges who needed help remembering to be gentle with their peers, and with mobility impairments who needed help keeping up with their peers. Children whose parents evaluated activities and treats not just by whether their children would enjoy them but by which tweaks would be needed to ensure that their children could participate in them.
What better way, I thought, to celebrate Easter's new beginnings than by bringing our community together for a celebration where all our children's needs were "baked right into it" - no tweaks needed?
And so rather than hide from America's #1 egg holiday, we embraced it - inviting five families and their 13 small children to join us for Easter brunch. As our friends trickled in that morning, our table was filled to the very edges with treats meeting every dietary combination, from top-8 free spice flower cakes carefully decorated by my three year old to my best crack at my Grandmother's precious, honey-glazed ham. As our friends marveled at how tasty egg-free treats could be, our kids buried foam bunnies and two toddler-sized tables in feathers, glittery stickers and more.
But the real star of the morning that year was of course the Easter bunny herself. Startled to discover so many children playing so peacefully together in one home, she just happened to drop all her (plastic) eggs, scattering them throughout our backyard. Somehow, she still found the courage to wait for me by our garden gate to ask for their help in collecting them back together again. Not in a free-for-all race that the biggest and fastest children would win, but in a collaborative effort to collect them together in an homage to her special magic.
And so it was I who got the biggest treat of all that Easter morning, because I got to hold her great big, empty basket while droves of kids streaked gleefully right for me, eager to do their part to return the Easter bunny's unintended bounty. Kids who had just learned to walk, intertwined with our minor Olympians - until together they had found every last egg. And apparently the Easter bunny too was impressed with how well they looked out for each other - because she agreed to let them keep all that precious loot so long as it was divided up equally between them.
All in all, that brunch was a lot of work and by the time everyone left, I'm sure I vowed "never again." And yet, today we all still remember that brunch - we remember our friends' beautiful children sitting together at all the little craft tables we'd combined, wearing their button-down shirts & bow ties or their Easter dresses, sticking glue all over their noses and getting allergy-friendly cake all over their clothes. Most of all, we remember the sheer glee as our children streaked across the yard not against each other but with each other, and the whoop of joy they let out when the Easter bunny agreed to let them keep her plastic eggs - along with all the stickers, temporary tattoos & other candy-free treats that she'd tucked inside them.
Shortly after that first egg-free Easter, our son was tested for food allergies - and passed with flying colors. "See?", his pediatrician told me. "He doesn't have any allergies - you made it up." And so we reintroduced the eggs, along with the gluten, the soy... and it took two long years before his very real, yet atypical, reaction to these and other foods was diagnosed as a very sensitive histamine intolerance. When we did, we watched everything from a speech impediment to short-term memory loss to chronic stomach pain dissappear, and our son re-emerged from his fog wearing the bright smile he had worn as a toddler.
But I'll admit that I enjoyed those few intervening years when we were blissfully ignorant that food was the silent nemesis affecting him. I enjoyed opening up the dishwasher door to dye eggs with my son, and trying to keep up with him as he participated in those Easter egg hunts at the local nature center. I enjoyed the comfort of marking a holiday with my child the way I had always marked it as a child. I enjoyed not having to keep a watchful eye, not having to make tweaks or adjustments. Not having to focus so much on crafting inclusion.
A little over three years ago, things changed for us again when we adopted a newborn baby boy - a little one who has even more food restrictions than his brother and, as I learned through caring for him, even more than I do myself. In fact, it was only through caring for him that we began to unlock the food-triggered health mysteries affecting each of us.
As the baby's first Easter blissfully drifted toward us, it was big brother who was thinking ahead to the holiday and trying to make sure that everyone would be included. He was in kindergarten then - and very concerned with the mechanics of communicating with a bunny who came around only once a year! The night before Easter, we let him stay up late to dye eggs to leave as a gift for the Easter bunny - and his concern bubbled over.
"Mommy?," he finally asked anxiously, "How will the Easter bunny know that I have a little baby brother now? And will she know that he can't eat eggs? What if she doesn't bring him anything?" How, he was asking, would she know to make 'the tweaks'?
And so that night we stayed up even later, hiding baby toys in the back yard by flashlight "just in case" the Easter bunny didn't know to bring him anything, and waiting patiently while our little kindergartener wrote her a carefully-crafted note telling her all about his baby brother. Making tweaks. Creating a plan B.
Because, as even our five year old well-understood, Easter's not Easter unless everyone's included.
These experiences were the inspiration behind freedible's annual Easter Celebration.
Please join us in sharing recipes, stories and blog posts about the holiday and how your maintain your traditions and your custom diet needs at the same time. By bringing them, and this conversation, together in one place we can help each other find our way through food restrictions and the holidays with resources, information and community.
And please also help us to support kids with egg allergy during the great egg holiday by joining our community pin-board on Pinterest for collecting ideas for how to celebrate Easter with kids without the eggs!
Because we can't think of any way we'd rather celebrate our first Easter and Passover as a community than by focusing on how we can all celebrate it together.