Food Allergies and the First Grade

Posted by Carly Morgan

“Food allergies and the first grade.” That title sounds like it would be a good children’s book, right? All about how some poor kid is nervous about all the things that could happen at school but then the class bands together and everything turns out all right in the end?

Five more weeks until school starts.

There’s no reason for me to think anything terrible is going to happen with Eva’s allergies at school this year. Unlike our complete meltdown-fail two years ago, we have done this before. Eva made it through a whole year of half-day Kindergarten without a single overnight hospital admission and even though there were a few bumps in the road, we learned a lot and Eva proved to be about 90% reliable in the taking-care-of-herself department.

Plus, now that she’s gotten into a gifted program, she won’t be in a typical public school setting with thirty other kids and one overstretched teacher. She’ll be in a smaller setting with more supervision, more support, etc. We’ve already met everyone and we’re due to have a meeting before school starts and we can get everything in place and I should really calm down.

If it was just school, I think I’d be ok. Been there, done that, minimal medical intervention needed.

But…lunch.

Eva is so excited to have lunch at school. She’s completely zeroed in on school lunchtime as being the highlight of getting older. She draws pictures of fantasy lunch boxes and scours the coupon mailers for foods that look like they’d be good to take to school. And she’s pinky sworn crossed her heart that she won’t sit with anyone eating a PB&J.

Allergy kids eat lunch at school all the time. There are allergy-free tables and signs and hand-washing practices. And Eva will be wearing her Epi-pen and we’ll have the emergency plan in place.

A little boy died from his food allergy on June 28 after a classmate gave him cheese. Or, to be more specific, he either “flicked” it on him, put it down his shirt, or snuck it into his sandwich (depending on which news story you read). The boy died. The other boy got arrested. It’s all very sad. And I shouldn’t read the stories because they don’t help, but I did and these was this one article where a parent defended it all saying that the boys were just playing and it was nobody’s fault. And I just…

Don’t do that. You don’t have to point at this thirteen year old boy who made a terrible mistake and yell, “Murderer!” but don’t make it small because there might be other kids who can hear you. Other parents who also feel better inside if they can shrug and throw up their hands like “hey, what can you do?” as if having food allergies meant that kid was doomed and it was just a matter of time.

There’s lots you can do but the core job you have is to take it seriously. Everything starts there. Even if you don’t know what to do about someone else’s food allergy, if you take it seriously you’ll at least know to ask or err waaaaaaay on the side of caution. And I get it – sometimes kids are punks and they don’t know the difference between funny teasing and not-funny teasing, but I will tell you that Calvin once joked that he was going to “get” Eva with some peanut butter and we Shut. That. S#%@. Down.

If there’s a kid in your world this school year that has a food allergy, have the conversation at home and try to hedge the feelings of frustration if class treats are restricted or hands need to be washed more often. Explain that it isn’t something anyone wants to have and remind your kids that they only have to be careful for a few hours while their classmate has to be careful all the time. Just have the talk, even if it seems silly and obvious, because somewhere there’s a boy who is now due to appear in court because another boy died and I really, really, really wish someone had had that talk with him.

In the meantime, we will prepare ourselves, take precautions, and trust in the kindness of others. And breathe. We’ll breathe.

15 Things I’ve Learned in Four Years of Food Allergies

Posted by Carly Morgan

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It’s been four years to the day since we found out that Eva has severe allergies. I still remember that first allergy test – the three hour wait, the red welts, the nurse trying to show me how to use an Epi pen. I came home and filled bags up with all the food in the house that wasn’t safe to give our kid and when I was done I felt like someone needed to come in and reassure me that I was just being overdramatic and making a big show because surely that was too much stuff. I had bagged up 80% of whatever we had in the kitchen and we ended up with nothing but things like rice and mustard and baking soda. It couldn’t be that serious.

The next day we spent $300 on medication and put our cats up for adoption.

That feels like a really long time ago. I’m also happy that it no longer feels like the sky is falling, which is how everything felt for the first three months or so. Eva has allergies. She’s severely allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, sunflower, shellfish, and animal dander. And it’s fine. We manage.

15 things I’ve learned about food allergies in the last four years:

  • It’s not as hard to eat around food allergies as you think it would be. Once you get used to cooking the basics at home, you have a lot of control over what your family eats.
  • Food allergies can be expensive but they don’t have to be. If we bought Eva all the high-end nut-free snack products and specialty items at Whole Foods, the rest of us wouldn’t eat. Making accommodations by subbing in fresh fruit and homemade dessert is a cheaper fix and not all that inconvenient once you get used to it.
  • You will have more people who try to protect your kid than people who fight you on it. For every complaint I’ve ever gotten from someone who doesn’t want to deal with Eva’s restrictions, I have twenty people who have gone out of their way to ask about safe foods, wipe their kids’ hands, and provide non-edible birthday treats.
  • Eva isn’t the only kid out there with severe allergies. The popularity of the teal pumpkin project this Halloween just underlines how many kids are walking around with their Epi pens.
  • Advocacy can get uncomfortable but parents are the first line of defense for allergy kids. After Eva’s first preschool gave her peanut butter, we accepted their apology and sent her back for the rest of the year even though we never felt as safe. Looking back, I wasn’t prepared to stand up for her and I’m so mad that I kept her in that dangerous situation for so long.
  • People will try but they don’t know. Eva’s exposures to allergens have mostly been from people who think something is safe because they don’t know better. There are things that she’s allergic to that you’d never flag if you weren’t looking (cumin, potato chips, dried fruit, etc.) and using dry napkins or hand sanitizer doesn’t remove nut residue from hands or tables. I so appreciate the effort but we also double check everything.
  • Other kids aren’t mean about it at this age. We’ve heard a lot of horror stories about food allergy bullying, but we’ve never encountered anything like that first hand.
  • Just because she’s been around something before doesn’t mean she won’t react to it next time. This seems to be especially true of animal dander. That stuff just sneaks up to get her.
  • As terrifying as using the Epi pen is, it’s much worse to realize you need it and you aren’t sure if you have one on hand.
  • Not being invited to birthday parties just stinks even if you think you’re protecting someone else’s kid. Trust the parents to make accommodations or bow out if the party won’t be safe. I’m firmly in the camp of including everyone now that we’ve experienced the whole-class-except-Eva guest list a few times over.
  • Cracked skin from eczema leads to a higher chance of allergic reactions which can lead to illness/asthma which can increase skin cracks. Breaking the cycle with aggressive skin care saves a lot of stress in the long run.
  • There are summer camps just for kids with food allergies to bond in a safe atmosphere away from parents who feel like they have to hover 24/7.
  • If there’s an activity, sports team, or classmate’s parents who just refuses to make any kind of accommodation (or starts showing up with PB granola bars to make a point), sever that tie. It might be disappointing for your kid but in the long run, that’s not a relationship you guys needed anyway.
  • If your school won’t accommodate your kid, that’s illegal. Any school that receives federal money (all public schools and most private schools) have to provide reasonable accommodations for any student with a medical condition like food allergies. You can set up a 504 plan to determine what those accommodations will be. (Granted, you might have to fight like hell to keep that thing enforced, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how on board most teachers are. They don’t want to kill your kid!)
  • Living with severe food allergies gives your kid a good base to understand things like empathy, disability, independence, responsibility, and how their body systems work together. It’s not all bad!

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Allergy Week: Eva’s 5th Skin Test and Getting Ready for Kindergarten

Posted by Carly Morgan

Kindergarten + food allergies = holy smokes am I tired.

On a cheerful note, five years of freaking out about allergies actually made this one of our easiest back-to-school seasons yet because we sort of know the drill by now. Before Eva goes to school we need to have meetings with her teachers, a doctor’s appointment to go over her heath plan and check her meds, and we need to stock both Eva and her classroom with whatever she’ll need to stay safe.

Not too hard to do but a little exhausting, especially when you have another starting preschool for the first time and a third in your tummy dropping your sugar levels and kicking your kidneys.

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Eva’s doctor’s appointment to do her skin test went really well. We’ve switched to a new allergist, making this our third since her diagnosis, because we’d heard great things about a new-ish clinic and it was more convenient all around. I feel like it will be a good switch because we liked her doctor and we covered a lot of things in the appointment that we hadn’t ever talked about before. Not all of it was positive (did you know people don’t really have a chance of growing out of shellfish allergies?) but at least a couple of her more minor allergies seem to be getting a little better so it wasn’t all bad news.

She’s still at the ceiling limits for nut allergies and we’ve now hit the point where she would have gotten a little better if she was going to grow out of them so we’re hanging our hats on someone finding a cure or a treatment or a something to make things a little easier. Sadly, the whole allergy community took a kick to the shins recently when the prices for Epi pens skyrocketed. It’s not an optional thing to have up-to-date pens so I guess we’re all just going to have to hope someone notices how badly we’re being skewered. Did you know we spent more on Eva meds last year than we spent on a week at Disney World? At least we had it, though, and didn’t have to pick between meds or groceries…

As for school, we had a bit of a panic attack when we found out that Eva’s teacher quit over the summer but we’ve been in contact with the new teacher and had a good meeting covering all of her needs. I always feel like I’m dropping an overwhelming bomb when I show up with Eva’s meds and papers but she handled it well and we have our fingers crossed tight for an uneventful year.

Finally, Eva has been getting used to wearing her Epi pack since she’s doing a not-so-traditional school program where she won’t just be in one classroom all day. Instead of moving the meds around, we’re going to keep a pack of Epi pens in the front office and Eva will wear a pack on her belt so she has them with her always. It’s a bit of a pain because the Epi pack is not small and Eva is small so she’s basically wearing a big brick to school but in theory it will be less noticeable once the weather gets colder and clothes get bulkier.

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I admit that my new worry is that the Epi pack and her silver med bracelet are going to make her stand out as some kind of target among her new classmates but I’m really hoping the kids are too little for those kind of differences to matter. Kindergarten kids are pretty flexible about that kind of stuff, right? I guess worse case scenario she’ll just be that different kid that turns into a teachable moment about accepting people but I kind of hope that nobody notices or they think she’s just accessorized.

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We opted out of doing a lunch program this year but I’d love to hear how you’re preparing to send your allergy kid to school, esp if they’ll be eating! Separate lunch tables? Labeled lunch box? No accommodations beyond meds? I’m really curious in case we decide we want to switch it up…

Functional Mom Gear: PacaPod Diaper Bag for Allergy Parents

Posted by Carly Morgan

Allergy parent reality – No matter how big your kids get, you’re probably going to need to carry a big bag with you. In addition to emergency medication (which is a little bulky on its own), I currently carry safe snacks for the kids, diapers and wipes for Calvin (not often needed but just in case), and a few other mom things. For this reason, I rarely carry a little bag. I’m a big bag mom.

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This one is the Jura diaper bag (part of the Yummy Mummy line from PacaPod) and it’s currently meeting all of our different needs in a very smart way. Tons of diaper bag companies make bags that have lots of small pockets, special compartments, and little time-savers but I got excited about this one at the ABC Kids Expo because I immediately saw the possibilities for allergy families.

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PacaPod diaper bags have two small pods that fit into the diaper bag and are designed to make organizing baby’s life a little easier. One is a diaper pod that comes with a changing bad and a little nappy bag and the other is an insulated pod designed for bottles and other feeding gear. Since we’re past bottles, I jumped on the chance to use that insulated pod to hold Eva’s allergy medication. The insulation protects her meds from rough treatment and from major changes in temperature which could break down the medicine and make it less effective in an emergency. Believe me, even being careful we’ve accidentally left the bag in the car or in the sun a few times and even walking around in the frigid winter air I get a little worried about it. It’s nice to have everything safe and protected in a convenient place!

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We’re still using the other pod to hold diapers and wipes but I think we’re rapidly approaching a point where even the emergency stash won’t be necessary. Since the pod is removable I could pull it out and just have open space for things like toys and extra shirts (still very necessary in our household for some reason) or I might use it to hold my DSLR since I do take it with us a lot and it would be nice to be able to get to it so easily. I’ve also thought about buying an extra insulated food pod to use for hot/cold Eva safe foods. It would be nice to worry less about finding safe lunch when we’re out!

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They make fanny packs and things like that for kids to carry their own medication and Eva does use a little Epi pen belt occasionally, but right now she’s in that sweet spot of being responsible and not being responsible. She’s responsible about not putting things in her mouth, keeping her hands clean, and noticing symptoms but I think she’s a little young to carry her medication on her. Plus, like I mentioned before, the meds aren’t the whole Eva kit and caboodle. So, I’m going to be a big bag mom for a while most likely. No complaints. Between the cute smart bag, the fairly healthy kids, and the fact that we’ve found ways to go out safely at all despite Eva’s challenges, I’m a happy camper.

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Allergy-Safe Holiday Party: Make Toys for the Animal Shelter

Posted by Carly Morgan

Make animal toys for the animal shelterEvery year my parents have a holiday open house. Traditionally, they’ve provided blank cookies and decorating materials and everyone has decorated cookies to take home while also bringing cookies to trade. It’s a big fun cookie extravaganza and we used to really enjoy it before Eva was diagnosed, but since we found out about her allergies it’s turned into a bit of a stressful event where we usually just pop our heads in and then leave.

This year, my stepmom changed things up a bit and made it allergy-friendly, which was awesome. Instead of decorating cookies, she set up two different stations where people could make cat and dog toys to be donated to the animal shelter. Isn’t that a great idea?

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One station had fabric, stuffing, and catnip to be easily turned into cat toys and the other station had towels to be cut up and braided for dog toys. There was also a hot cocoa bar and some wine and cookies, but the allergy risk was way down compared to prior years so we were able to hang out for a long time stress-free and chat with people while we worked on our toys. And yes, Calvin is holding pinking shears but I swear we had our eye on him!

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I love this idea for an allergy-safe holiday party! If you want to do something similar, here are some links to tutorials for easy and inexpensive animal toys:

Three Easy DIY Cat Toys
4 Do-It-Yourself Cat Toys You Can Make for Cheap
44 Really Cool Homemade DIY Dog Toys Your Dog Will Love
DIY dog toy: three ways
37 Homemade Dog Toys Made by DIY Pet Owners

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