Our oldest has a number of food allergies—dairy, eggs, tree nuts, and peanuts. They’re legit allergies—we do annual skin tests and blood work. Once we thought she might be up for eggs in baked goods based on the tests, so we did a food challenge.
A food challenge is where you’re advised to bring something made with exactly the allergen being challenged (in our case, muffins made with eggs), they weigh it, then give it to you over a period of time while waiting for a reaction. In short, it’s a few hours of playing Candy Land with your kid, watching them eat pieces after pieces of muffins waiting to see if their bodies flip out.
At the end of the day, no. She’s still allergic to all of that. Allergies often—and they hoped it would—go away by age 5. As we approach age 8, the blood work indicates she is more allergic to nuts than before.
Initially, it was a badge of honor. She got to wear the special allergy bracelet to school, despite an uniform code disallowing jewelry. But, as the year go on, it is no longer a good thing to be different. She’s the weird one in class. She’s the one that just wants to be a kid, yet always has to be mindful of whether that thing will set her off on, at best, a day or so of feeling crummy.
Hell, even when in the hospital for an asthma attack, she wouldn’t go to a Christmas Eve dinner for kids and families in the hospital without her hospital tray of food because she was afraid they wouldn’t have anything for her to eat if she didn’t bring food she knew to be safe. And that was only after asking me multiple times if the hospital understood her allergies.
As hard as it is to have five kids 7 and under, as hard as it is to have two-year-old twins, the most painful part of fatherhood for me so far is seeing O struggle with this. A classmate’s birthday is this weekend, so there is a pizza party at school for him tomorrow. This is great! It’s such a sweet thing for his family to bring pizza and ice cream for the class. Everyone can celebrate—it isn’t excluding any of the kids who can’t attend a party over the weekend. I’m happy they’re doing something for the class. But, O can’t eat any of it.
I’m tired too. Yes, I could enquire about where they’re getting it, if from the one place in town we know has a dairy-free cheese option, could they add on a pizza that she could eat, or where are they getting the ice cream from. If Amy’s Ice Cream, they have ices that are dairy-free, etc, etc. Pipe dream, it would be from the all-vegan Sweet Ritual, which is the ice cream version of Vanessa’s Que Bueno Bakery. But I’m tired. And O needs to accept that life sucks and sometimes she just can’t have what everyone else is having. I have to pick my battles.
What I wouldn’t give to take this burden off of her. I mean, it’s stupid on one hand. Children are literally being blown up—or seeing their parents blown up—in Syria right now. She lives in a beautiful house in a picturesque neighborhood in a city where the biggest issues are traffic and if the State will override the city’s ban against plastic bags. On the other hand, I am more and more aware that this is an ever-present thing on her mind.
She’s 7. She should be able just to eat pizza with her classmates. Or eat at a holiday dinner in a hospital. Or be able to eat ice cream without care. Enjoy tacos, or pizza, or eating anywhere without needing to call a manager, explain specifics, reiterate those specifics—grilled in butter does violate a dairy allergy—and hope the cook and manager understood each other (this is why we stick to the places we know). But alas, she’s telling me at bedtime, teary-eyed, again, that she doesn’t understand why her body hates her.
So yes, in the end, I just want her to feel normal. I want her to be able to be able to walk into a situation and not have to play through her mind how to handle it with her allergies. I want to take away her self-doubt, her feelings of isolation, and her realization that she will never fit into her peer group.
There isn’t a damn thing I can do that does anything more than mitigate things a tad. And that’s the hardest thing of fatherhood so far.