Food allergies are decidedly not all hugs and rainbows. There's the constant label scouring, digging tossed packages out of the garbage to double (okay quadruple) check ingredient lists, and many declined play dates and birthday parties. There are expensive EpiPen prescriptions to fill, Benadryl to buy, more health forms to fill out than we ever knew existed, and yeah, fairly constant worry. The food allergy road is a long and winding one with twists and turns we never saw coming. But you know what? Here's the secret. It's not an all together bad journey.
See, we've walked down the other road too, the one full of wide-eyed resentment and eye rolls. The one with menacing threats uttered by anonymous trolls. We've met fellow travelers who can't bear to admit that food allergies exist, let alone modify their behavior to accommodate one. But enough about that road. The path of misunderstandings, mistakes, and mean-spiritedness exists everywhere, whether we're talking about food allergies or grooming hamsters. Let's not take that road.
For a minute anyway, let's focus instead on the good. There are things that give our family and the ever-growing numbers of other families directly affected by food allergies cause to celebrate. Because I'm telling you right now, it's not all bad.
20 Reasons We're Thankful for Food Allergies
1. We know who our friends are. Unsolicited safe play date snacks appear without a word. Birthday party fruit kebabs appear in place of cupcakes at school celebrations. UPS delivers exquisite vegan nut-free cookies to our doorstep at holiday time. Ladies' night wine drinking is at times accompanied by practice EpiPen injections in fruit. Babysitters volunteer to man the non-allergic troops so we can focus at specialist appointments. That's Friendship with a capital F.
2. Better vacations. Fancy hotel rooms are great. Spacious rental houses with full kitchens and swimming pools are so much better. Often cheaper too.
3. Less crappy junk food. We bypass entire aisles of the grocery store saving countless empty calories, cavities and hours.
4. Rock star organizational skills. Okay, maybe it's slightly more roadie than rock star, but we can pack a week's worth of allergy-safe road trip meals into a single suitcase...with one hand tied behind our backs.
5. Compassionate, confident kids. Kids who deal with food allergies recognize that differences don't make us "different". They care about other kids. They'll speak up to keep themselves, their siblings, friends, and classmates safe. And that. Is. Awesome.
6. Smart, label-savvy kids. Casein means milk. Albumin means egg. Just ask a kid with food allergies. They know.
8. We're tight with teachers and school staff. We are often the ones chaperoning field trips, organizing school parties, manning the lunchroom, and attending the PTO meetings. Our kids' well-being depends on it. You're welcome.
9. More home cooked meals. And much, much less last minute drive-through or take-out.
10. The ability to help in an emergency. We carry EpiPens and Benadryl everywhere. Some anaphylactic reactions occur in people who didn't even know they had an allergy. If you or your child starts hiving up and gasping for air at the park, you're going to be very happy to see us.
11. Amazing supportive, online communities and blogs. Check out the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network, freedible, Food Allergy Mama, Gluten Is My B!tch, Don't Feed My Monkeys, Keeley McGuire, or AllergyEats to name a few.
12. Close relationships with doctors. Our pediatricians know our kids. I mean, they really, really know our kids. So do our allergists, GI teams, ENTs, pharmacists, and school nurses.
13. Openness to new foods. Millet, quinoa, chia, flaxseed, carob, nutritional yeast...and some kids won't eat broccoli?!
15. Flexibility and tolerance. Life skills, baby. Kids with allergies are used to being told that what they want and what's good for them is not always the same thing. They are able to move on with their lives even while their classmates eat cupcakes. Besides, they know we probably have better ones in the freezer at home.
16. Perspective. Some kids love peanut butter. Some of us love peanut butter too! You know what, though? It's not going to kill us not to have it right this minute. We're really just happy to be here, alive and healthy and everything. You won't often find us sweating the small stuff.
17. Ever-present knowledge that food does not equal fun. Playing sports, learning an instrument, telling jokes, art projects, road trips, friends, dancing, water balloons, flower gardens, reading books, gathering worms, science experiments, balancing contests, blowing bubbles, spelling bees, bouncy houses, sidewalk chalk, volunteering at animal shelters, writing letters and so much more - all fun. No food required.
19. Scientific contribution. One of these days, thanks to the participation of the many food allergy sufferers who are enrolled currently in clinical trials, we're going to figure out precisely why food allergies are skyrocketing and what can be done. In the end, our condition and cooperation might just lead to a safer food supply for all of us.
20. Empathy. Families with food allergies are painstakingly aware that we don't truly know anyone else's unique story but our own. In spite of, or perhaps because of it, we feel deeply for each and every other health and parenting struggle we witness. We won't jump to conclusions or cast judgment because we know all too well that life doesn't always turn out like we expected. And we're all in this together.