Tuesday, October 14, 2008

How We Are United as a Family.

There are countless reports that tell you that eating dinner each night with your family builds more than a foundation for nutrition in kids. The benefit that we personally see is our daughter blossoming as we interact with her. There is nothing better to me than hearing my 4 year old ask me, "So Mom, how was your day?". And I tell her and -gasp- we talk about it. She is included in all our dinner conversations. She loves it and we love it. She's included!

It really got me thinking - the family dinner table is really the one place where you should feel the most at home, the most included, the most safe, and the least vulnerable. And that concept translates to peanut allergy (believe it or not). I think all allergic parents strive for our children to be included. I know the place to start is at home. Bear with me while I ramble a bit...

I get questions from newly diagnosed families about once a week, overwhelmed and wondering where they should start to deal with peanut allergy? I always tell them the same thing. First, get an epipen and benadryl for every conceivable place your child will be.

Second? Clean out your house. Remove all items that contain peanuts, peanut butter, tree nuts, etc. And while you're at it, remove any items with 'may contain' or 'manufactured on' warnings. Many people don't want to (which is unconceivable to me). Too severe for you to fathom? I don't think so.

By eliminating peanuts and tree nuts from our home, Bella is free to eat anything from the fridge (well within reason obviously), grab a snack from her snack drawer, or heck, get a kiss from mom without worrying about a reaction. To the very best of my knowledge, there is nothing she could ingest (foodwise) that will send us running for the epipen. She thinks about her allergy enough while she's at school, I don't want her to be on guard at home. At home, she's free to be SAFE.

Mark and I, for the most part, don't eat nuts (and definitely not peanuts), and definitely not in the house (we can't - they aren't there!). Once she couldn't have nuts, we were done with them as well. We're a unified front. Folks have tried to bring foods into our house that are off limits (pecan pie for example one holiday - I know - can you believe it?) and the box wasn't even opened (I'm sure they thought I was so rude, but I don't care). If Bella can't have it, then WE don't have it. At home, we've just removed peanut allergy from the equation (which isn't to say we aren't very aware of it).

There will be enough times where she'll be excluded because of peanut allergy in school or after-school activities (harsh, but true - sorry). That's out of my control. But in our home, B will always be as safe as possible and included when it comes to food. There wont be anything like "you can't have this because it has nuts - but oh, everyone else around the table can." Why on earth would you do that to a child? Tough love? Well, that kind of stinks when you're 4 and have little in the way of reasoning to guide you. I tell you what though. I'll keep them out of my house even when she's 24 if she's still allergic. I'm always going to try to protect her.

But this way of dealing in your home with food allergies can't be the case with many of you. I know some of you have kids with multiple food allergies that you really can't eliminate entirely from your home, especially if you have other children. Do you make the same dinner for everyone? Separate utensils? How do you keep your kids from causing a reaction in your allergic kids? I only have one little food (I never thought I would think of peanuts as one little food when B was first diagnosed) - that's nothing compared to some of you guys.

How do you ensure that your child doesn't constantly feel different due to their allergies? How do you all handle this?

Whew. Do I have a talent for tangents or what?


Pez said...

Shortly after we found out my son was allergic to peanuts, we banned them from our house but still allowed some tree nut occasionally.

When my youngest developed an allergy to walnuts, pecans and brazil nuts, we banned those but we still bring almonds and pistachios in the house - oh, and nutella (hazelnut and chocolate). We felt that it was important to show our kids that we did not need to be afraid of things that will not hurt us (the nuts my kids are not allergic to).

I know this would not work for everyone but it is what works for us.

Jennifer B said...

Gee, I am not sure how or if my son feels different b/c of his allergies. We'll have to talk about that when he's a little older. But we don't have any peanuts or tree nuts (or their derivatives) in the house at all. That way, everything is safe for him. And if we get my non-allergic son a special "may contains" snack, we always balance it by getting my PA son a special safe treat. Plus I am constantly trying to find new safe treats and we all enjoy trying them. In a way, it has opened the door to tastier, healthier food for us all. It is easy to live peanut-free, nut-free at home. It's school that will probably be the challenge. For now, preschool and home are A-OK for him, thank goodness! Very accommodating and he is just loving it all.

Marjorie said...

We didn't clear the house of peanuts until DD had a cross-contamination reaction from something she got and ingested away from home (about a year a half after her diagnosis). That reaction was enough to make me swear off peanuts.

DD is also allergic to treenuts, sesame, and soy. We have sesame products in the house and soy, too. I have only ever known her to react to peanuts. But she knows the allergens (sesame crackers, hummus, soy sauce) are off limits for her. She is a tremendously picky eater, so I doubt it really bothers her, she doesn't want to eat most of what is in the house.

It may be harder in some ways for my DD because she wasn't diagnosed with an allergy until she was nearly 6 so she had to give up things she had eaten before (lots of products on shared equipment, etc). She used to eat birthday cake and at potlucks, go to ice cream parlors and bakeries - we gave it all up because of the cross-contamination risk.

How do I handle this? mostly I feel guilty. But that goes with being a mom. As to how to make her not feel constantly different - well, she's not the only kid with allergies, some have harsher/broader/more severe allergies. Some kids are diabetic and have to inject themselves every day. That sort of thing - on the whole, we're pretty lucky.

But I also validate her feelings that, yes, having a food allergy really stinks. When she's disappointed, yeah, that stinks, but we want to keep you safe. And is it really worth throwing up for hours and going the the ER? No.

Amy said...

We got the diagnosis when my daughter was 13 months. After the confirmation diagnosis from the allergist I cleared the house of everything within 24 hours. I totally agree with you. Everything in the house is safe. If she, now 4, gets out of bed at 4 am and uses the stepladder to get something out of my highest cabinet, she is still safe. I worry enough when she is out in the world. Home is as safe as I can make it.

Tara said...

Gabi, our home is like yours. Everything here is safe for Ava to eat. When we found out she was allergis to peanuts, it was as if we were all allergis (and I was a big PB eater in the day!). But nothing is more important than my darling's safety. Having a safe home is one of the best gifts we can give our PA kids, I think!

Allergy Mom said...

I'm glad you wrote this, because I've been thinking about posting something similar on my blog.

My son is allergic to 7 foods, peanuts, shellfish, eggs, cows milk, goats milk, beef, and lamb. His RAST scores are highest for peanuts and shellfish, so our home is completely free of those two, plus almost all tree nuts, due to cross contamination. (I do have a secret chocolate stash.)

I thought about eliminating all the allergens from our home, but decided against it. The kitchen is gated off, and I do have eggs and dairy products in there.

There are two reasons, besides my husband's and my tastes. The first is cost. Feeding my child is unbelievably expensive. The second isn't tough love, but rather normalizing dealing with allergies. He's had years of practice for sitting at the school lunch table.

Maybe I better write my own post after all!

Cherie said...

For the most part we are peanut free (and egg free) in our house for our allergic son. We don't keep any kind of nuts or eggs or foods containing those in the house (even though he is not allergic to tree nuts). The only allergenic food we allow in our house is occasional takeaway Chinese food (without nuts). We do this because its not being cooked in our pans with our utensils, we eat it in its disposable packaging with disposable utensils and then throw it all out to an outside bin (which he can't access) and wash our hands and face, brush our teeth. We used to wait until he had gone to bed to eat it but occasionally we now eat it in front of him because he's not upset by it, he's inquisitve and interested to watch us "eating nuts and eggs that make me sick" (he's 3 1/2). And thats the key for us, he's not upset by it, has no desire to eat it himself and he seems to see it like he views a glass of wine: a curiosity but he just knows its not for him to touch. But everyone does what they are comfortable with and more importantly, what keeps the kids safe. We have never had an accident at home (only one trip to the ER since diagnosis involving cross contamination at a restaurant...). A bit off track but we had a cousin of my husbands from the UK staying with us and she was fully aware of the allergy, that we didn't bring nuts into the house. We went out and while we were gone she had obviously had a craving for some candied nuts that she had purchased at some point. She had dropped one on the rug and later that week, after she was gone, I found him running his little cars around an obstacle...he was carefully circling a candied PEANUT. ARRHH!!! There was no accident but that was by luck and were we ever angry!

Jane Anne said...

My house is peanut free. Occassionally I will buy some plain M&Ms, individually wrapped, for my older son (7). My PA son (5) understands he cannot eat them. It is easiest to avoid peanut products and products with the warnings. That way, I know he is safe at our house.

As far as how do I ensure my son does not constantly feel different because of his allergy... I don't think its possible. I work hard to provide alternatives (take a homemade cup cake to a birthday party, keep Dum-Dums in the car in case we need a candy alternative, etc.). He is constantly faced with having to have a different food. But, it's okay with him. He realizes it is keeping him safe. He does not want to have to use his Epipen and does not mind being different because of that. He will lament that he wishes that he wasn't allergic to peanuts. I just have to agree with him and go on managing it.