Monday, March 9, 2009

Bubble Mama?

This week, my husband and I were accused of putting B in a bubble (figuratively, of course).

It all started with a trip that we're not sure we should take. To Mexico (olé!). They felt that we were being too cautious by leaning towards not taking her on a family trip there in the Fall (to a place I might add that the US has advised traveling to certain parts of, but that's another issue).

"You know," they said, "you can't put her in a bubble her whole life!".

This isn't the first time we've been told by these people that we are overreacting when it comes to her peanut allergy, that she will grow out of this, that she can't react to (fill in the blank - sharing utensils, people double dipping into her safe snacks, etc.). They also get annoyed when I call ahead to a restaurant to ask about food prep and menu items or actually (gasp!) read the labels on food that they've bought (which in many cases have BIG 'MAY CONTAIN' warnings - sigh).

Is it bad that I wanted to reach through the phone and kick them when we heard this AGAIN? Yeah, probably huh? Don't worry - I have excellent restraint. You would have been proud!

So back to the issue at hand. Bubbles. And avoiding them.

So let's see: A) not traveling to a place where we don't speak the language that B) has foods where peanuts are in many sauces and C) where the closest hospital is over 20 minutes away by car and D) that our doctor wasn't too jazzed about us taking her there in the first place isn't exactly living in a bubble. Isn't that just being cautious since B's only 4 and might not exactly know what the onset of anaphylaxis feels like?!? Oh, and since we aren't bilingual I might not be able to communicate this to the EMTs who finally do arrive??

Is it terrible that I want her to be a bit older before we undertake a journey like this? We've done Maui (a 6 hour plane trip) and managed with flying colors, but the language thing with Mexico just plain makes us nervous - is that a crime? Well, to them it kind of is.

These are people that live in another state so our relationship with them is pretty inconsequential. They see us for short spurts during the course of the year so we end up just rolling our eyes at them and thanking the mighty G that they aren't around ALL the time when they make dumb remarks like this.

But not this time - what they said really unnerved me. Why was I so offended by that remark (and so defensive)?

It got me to wondering - Geez, do we put B in a bubble without even realizing it?

Wait a minute! I think I was SO offended because we are trying our damnedest NOT to put her in a bubble! Is this living in a bubble?:
  • B goes to a school that is not only not nut free, they do all sorts of projects with food in the classroom (and we have plans in place that have successfully kept her safe at the same time including her in ALL activities)
  • B takes extracurricular classes (with other kids some of whom have likely eaten a PB&J prior, not washed their hands (they ARE kids) and touched equipment, drank out of water fountains, and the place has a vending machine that has LOTS of peanut treats)
  • B goes to (many) birthday parties in homes and other places that are definitely not peanut free
  • B eats out alot with us and she eats restaurant food, not food we've brought with us (uh hello? if that's NOT not living in a bubble, I don't know what is)
Heck, the only thing she doesn't do is make PBJ's for all her friends. For crying out loud, where's the bubble in all of this?

We're trying our hardest to expose our peanut allergic daughter to life: teaching her how to react if peanuts are around, teaching her to ask questions, not to eat anything that isn't approved by a trusted adult (usually us), she's even learning how to read the word peanut!

And you know what? Those folks who judged us - they were idiots. I'm embarrassed that I let them under my skin (again). But I'm sharing this with you so you know you aren't alone if you also have relatives and friends telling you that you're overreacting or being overly cautious. Articles of late certainly don't help. We're all just overreacting, right? We can't win.

When you don't know what the next reaction might be, you're not overreacting in doing your best to keep your child safe.

You can't ever judge a parent of allergic kids unless you've walked in our shoes (now if an allergic parent were to say something to me about being overbearing, then THAT would be another matter). We're not crazy - there are plenty of other parents just like us out there. Just this week, Pete Wells of the NY Times wrote a piece about his child's allergies and how he accommodates successfully for his sweet tooth.

So no, we're not putting little B in a bubble - we're just giving her a helmet and elbow pads to deal with the bumpy road ahead. And we're doing just fine.

Bubble indeed.


p.s. I need to say I'm sorry to you all for my lack of posts. Where have I been these last few weeks?!?! I wish I had some exciting tale of traveling off to Maui or something, but the truth is, I've been running on that hamster wheel called life!


Dorm Mom said...

Yes! Thank you!

People who don't walk in the shoes of a FA just don't understand. Though I'm sure I do bubble my son a bit, because at 3 he's still not very good at understanding not eating certain foods and doesn't ask the questions.

ChupieandJ'smama said...

We get that kind of comment from certain family members. And they live close by and deal with it more frequently than your people and should know better. People don't like to be "inconvenienced" in any way and when they are, they lash out. They want what they want. We really try not to put J. in a bubble and with his wheat allergy and now that he's older (I admit that he totally lived in a bubble for the first 2 years of his life and that the bubble was padded and bullet proof), I really don't think that I do. Hell, I've taken the kid to Chuck E Cheese's (shudder). But like you've said, it's a helmet and elbow pads and just being cautious. And no one will truly get it until they live it. It's just a fact of life. No one truly gets poverty until they live it. No one truly gets cancer until they live it. You did the right thing. You know you did.

Jennifer B said...

Oh, you are right on! Don't judge till you've walked a mile in those shoes. People who do are just ignorant, and I am sure I am ignorant on other issues even though I try my best. You have the right attitude, we have to do what we feel is right for us and our children. In the end, it's you (and me!) who are responsible for our kids.

Nicole said...

My son is two and is allergic to tree nuts. My husband is from India, and we went to visit. We went through many of the obstacles you described--quite successfully, I might add--BUT my husband speaks the language. I don't know how we would have done it or how I would have felt comfortable going if I wasn't assured that someone could fluently communicate our concerns.

I had prepared with extra Epipens in case there was a delay in getting medical care, but in reality the best thing to do is prevent an issue, and that was done through communication. Not only that, but my husband and his family have an excellent idea how WHAT foods typically contain tree nuts, so we simply avoided those altogether. You wouldn't be able to do that, either, unless you had an extensive knowledge of Mexican cuisine.

Frankly, I think you're doing the right thing. It's too bad you have to justify yourselves to ignorant people like that. Really upsetting.

As an aside, I've been to three places that were the victims of terrorist attacks: Bombay, Jaipur, and Istanbul (Turkey). I am not at all afraid of such things, and I took my kids there with no problems. Still, I wouldn't go to Mexico right now. Period.

Pez said...

Thanks for a great post!

We would love to go on a beach vacation right now but our options are limited (Florida or Hawaii) due to the language barrier thing. You are right that this is a really big issue.

We have been accused of the same bubble thing too. Especially when we talk about being able to find an affordable vacation at this time of the year! Lots of great deals to Mexico...but we don't speak the language so that is out!

Like B, our kids go to public school, take extra-curricular activities and go to birthday parties all because we plan ahead and ask a lot of questions. So where's the bubble?!

Sean said...

Don't forget the flip side of this. If you're lucky enough to have friends and relatives who try to understand, do their best to help you, and don't say dumb things like this... don't forget to say thanks.

So far I haven't had to deal with these sorts of comments, at least from anyone that mattered. It's easy to take this stuff for granted.

Following Him said...

I have severe FAs and would love a piece of your family/friends who are giving you grief. No parent can ever be so careful and cautious! Seriously...Mexico is whole new world of fear and questions. Stick to your gut and let other think without you. Seriously...people who don't have an allergy don't get it!

Anonymous said...

HI there, long time reader and lurker :) I am commenting because my situation is similar. 4 year old little boy allergic to peanuts/tree nuts. He does all the same kinds of "risky" activities, parties, school, restaurants, etc. With that said my parents just moved to Costa Rica and as much as we want to visit it is just not safe yet. Many countries outside of the US do not have the same labeling laws and we are obviously concerned about that and, at 4 he is not in a place to be able to say "something is happening to me". We will go eventually, and probably in the next few years but not until he can say definitively that he is having a reaction. Bubble? I hardly think so.

Jenny said...

We constantly agonize about travel decisions--it's only natural when you rely on eating out so much when you travel. I've read your blog for a while now and you've never seemed to be placing your child in a "bubble."

I get stupid comments like this too from time to time and while they irritate me, I'm not changing. Knock on wood, my daughter has been keeping safe and healthy while living a normal life--I attribute that to caution and common sense. Some may call it a bubble, but I wouldn't.

Travel is a BIG deal when you have a nut allergy. Period. Keep on doing what you're doing. What kind of parent would you be if you minimized the seriousness of your daughter's nut allergy and she suffered the consequences? That's the question to ask the "bubble people" as I'll call them. You're obviously doing a great job--and those of us reading this blog understand what you're going through. Keep up the good work! :)

Pam said...

Great post! One of our main jobs as parents is keep our children safe/alive. It's just so hard when we are judged for it.

(And chances are that if you took your child to Mexico and your child had an allergic reaction, those same family members would be judgemental about your parenting and the choises you made...)

Anonymous said...

You are right on. When my daughter was diagnosed with her treenut/peanut allergies, I called the allergist to ask a few questions:

Me: I'm trying to find the line between careful and paranoid.

Allergist: Honey, there IS NO SUCH THING AS PARANOID when you're dealing with nut allergies.

Jane Anne said...

I appreciate the emotion in your post. You should feel the way you do. How you handle those emotions is what matters. My desire is to educate as many of my friends and family as much as possible. It is such a slow process! I loved your helmet and pads analogy. It made me think about putting a kid on a rollar coaster without buckling them in. Who would do that?! You are just being responsible parent. You cannot overreact when your child has a peanut allergy or other serious food allergy. All it takes is one time, unfortunatly (Maybe you should pass this on to your friends - in the kindest way possible, of course - Football Player Died After Allergic Reaction).

Cheryl said...

It goes without saying that you are totally in the right here. My 2 year old is allergic to peanuts (we only found out 3 months ago when we tried PB for the first time) and I'm terrified to even get on a plane to anywhere with him. So you're doing fantastic. I wouldn't be caught dead going to Mexico with my son - not when they're still so young, the language barrier, not knowing what's in the food. You are completely sound and I thank you for showing us we all are!

alison@surefoodsliving said...

Great post on many levels!
I want to say that we do take our peanut allergic (and other nut-allergic) 4 year old to Mexico. But I speak fluent Spanish. That doesn't mean I'm not nervous about it though. I also have printed allergy cards in Spanish and information for paramedics written in Spanish because if anything were to happen, I'm not sure I would be able to say the right thing in an emergency. Maybe those precautions would make you feel more at ease.
We also stay in a condo with a kitchen, so we can bring or buy food to cook breakfast and lunch -- it saves money and is safer of course.
But, don't go anywhere if you are not comfortable -- what kind of vacation is it going to be if you can't relax?

Candice said...

Yeah, I'm new to this whole allergy thing. You read my blog so you know I found out when Graham had a severe reaction to eggs and we ended up in emergency. Well, when I told some of my 'friends' about it and said I was bummed out. I got, "Why??!" In a snotty voice. "I know tons of kids with allergies, he'll be fine." Umm, okay so I'm not supposed to be bummed that I just learned my kid has a life-threatening condition (that just threatened his life a few days ago)?? Alrighty then.

People are so dumb. They don't realize what you have to go through to keep your child safe. If you do what you need to do they think you're over-reacting. That's because people still think of allergies as itchy, watery eyes...not a closed airway and a dead child.

Sorry, I just took over your comment section to rant. I'm just saying, I'm new to this, yet I experience the same thing already. Oh, and I'm all the way in South Africa away from my family and I still get it...over email. Lucky me!

Connie said...

My theory? Their responses to your justifiable and natural caution is directly related to their inability to accept and cope with the reality and severity of your child's allergy.

By sticking their heads-in-the-sand, they don't have to accept the truth, which is frightening, and life-changing.

Telling you you're overprotective is one way they reinforce their disbelief, and lets *them* stay in *their safe bubble*, away from the reality of food allergies.

KmCaCFamilyof5 said...

OH can I relate, if I had a quarter for every time someone said I'm overreacting, being over protective, or "she'll eventually outgrow it" I'd be rich and on my way to Maui right now =) It is very frustrating!

I was curious to hear your reaction to the recent newspaper articles, news reports, etc about the possible "cure" to peanut allergies by giving the allergic child peanuts?

Christina Henry said...

Well... wow, do I understand this post! We travel extensively in the summers through Mexico with our 8 year old peanut-allergic son. I was terrified at first, had a written translation of his allergy and food precautions that I would hand to the wait staff. It took me a while but I actually feel very safe with his allergy there. We stay away from any desserts (obviously) and mole sauces. But the chips, beef, beans, tortillas and salsa have always been ok for us. Peeled fruit are fine as well. I would be terrified if I traveled to a different country but I feel ok in Mexico.

Did I say I felt safe in Mexico? No, I meant I felt safe with my son eating there. I wouldn't travel there right now. This will be our first summer NOT traveling there, geez... with the government warnings and all... it doesn't sound like the best idea. I know the odds are in our favor that we will be fine but we're sitting this one out. We're going to the Dominican Replublic instead, we'll see how that goes!