Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Food Allergies Make the Cover

The cover of Newsweek that is. Can't say I care for the picture. It's a little weird with a girl wearing a gas mask and holding a peanut butter sandwich and some milk. But the article seems good and informative. Too many times news articles don't do a good job of describing food allergies.

Here it is in case you don't plan on buying Newsweek this week: Fear and Allergies in the Lunchroom.

I don't think for people who have kids with food allergies it is anything enlightening but for those dealing with us FAMs (Food Allergy Moms) it is informative.

Who's the FAM in your life?

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Mommys With Guitars

This is for my sister and mother.

I've been taking guitar lessons since last January so be kind with your criticism.

See how much my kids love my guitar playing. What's that Owen said? Oh, yeah. STOP!

Food Allergy Challenge of the Day

Make 50-60 sugar cookies for Max's class Halloween party along with orange, black and white frosting.

It's 9:48 pm and I am just finishing up.

Can I add expert baker to my resume?

Monday, October 29, 2007

Preemptive Mommy

We went to a great Halloween event tonight. A fun wooded trail with snakes, owls, scarecrows, a litter bug, a wood fairy, talking tree and bat. Very fun, nature loving Halloween goodness.

At the end of the trail the Great Pumpkin was giving out "treats" to all the good children. I quickly pulled Max away thinking it was candy or the like. He actually gave me an "Oh, man." which is unlike him. He generally takes these things in stride.

Turns out I was preemptive. They were handing out trinkets; stamps, clappers, etc.

Silly Mommy.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

In Memoriam

Tomorrow (Thursday, Oct. 25) the Today Show will feature the story Emily Vander Meulen and her death from anaphylactic shock caused by her food allergy.

When I tell people that my children have food allergies I don't think they always realize how serious food allergies can be. If I said my child had diabetes people would think "Medical condition, requires extra care, can be fatal." But with food allergies, I feel they think "So, a few hives? A runny nose? What's the big deal?"

The big deal is the 150-200 deaths from anaphylaxis caused by food allergies that occur every year.

So when you see me hovering over my children eating at a gathering or when I frantically run across a room to grab something out of Owen's hand, these are the stories that are running through my head:

In memoriam:

Sabrina Shannon

Nathan Walters

Chris Clements

Alex Baptist

And so many more....

After looking over all those stories again, I feel very sober. I won't take you here very often, to the really sad place of food allergies. It's just what was going through my head today.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Food Allergy Challenge of the Day

When I dropped Max off this morning for school the director of the school said Max's teacher wanted to speak to me regarding a snack being served in the afternoon so could I please go down to the classroom. Max would of course prefer that I always walk him to the classroom so he was happy.

Max's teacher told me that it was "alumni" day. Kids from the elementary school would be visiting their old classrooms and then they would have an ice cream social. Was there any safe ice cream Max could have? I suggested Tuffutti and told her she could find it at Safeway. I offered to go buy it myself. She then asked about sprinkles. I said Max loved sprinkles (he really does and would sneak them out of the drawer where I keep such supplies if I let him.) However, last time I looked for sprinkles at Safeway I found the CakeMate brand all had allergy warnings on them (May contain trace amounts...). So I was on the way to Target anyway and told her I would find something there and bring it in. The only sprinkles Target had were in Haloween colors. They had a Target label but the small print told me they were made by Wilton. I believe Wilton is okay? There were no allergy warnings. Ingredients looked fine.

On the way to school I also stopped at Whole Foods and bought Tufutti Ice Cream in Chocolate and Vanilla. All were delievered to school and Max enjoyed the ice cream social with some of his classmates from last year. (He attends a Montessori school which has classes of mixed age groups.)

This is all quite boring I realize. It's just that while I was doing all this I thought "It's a good thing I am a stay-at-home Mom, otherwise this would have been a hectic activity to get safe items to my son's school at the last minute." The teacher could have given me a heads up last week or even sent an email this weekend. I'll cut her some slack because I do really like her.

PS I used "so" way too many times in the post. Need to work on my writing style.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Pizza Friday is a County Wide Thing

A few weeks ago I went to the first meeting of the Food Allergy Support Group of Northern Virginia. Kudos to Allison and Jane for getting a support group going. If you are looking for a support group in the Northern Virginia area please check out the yahoo group. They are also working on getting a website up.

The first meeting featured a speaker: Penny McConnell the Director of Nutrition Services for Fairfax County Public Schools. And I have to say if your child is attending Fairfax County Public Schools they are receiving a nutritious and kid friendly lunch. It was evident that Ms. McConnell has worked hard at creating a menu of nutritious options, no trans fats and yes they have worked on being allergy conscious. There are a number of things I felt they were doing right:

1. Menus as well as ingredient lists for all foods are posted on the Fairfax County Public schools website along with other nutritional information.

2. Peanut butter sandwiches are no longer made on site. Instead they come pre-wrapped. They did this to prevent cross-contamination of other food being served in the cafeteria. *There is a caveat to this, see below.

There were a number of things that raised my eyebrows:

1. It sounded to me that children who forget to bring lunch or lunch money are provided lunch by the PTA. Though this is handled in a number of ways (one parent said her PTA footed the bill, then asked the parents to reimburse); for most schools this means the PTA buys a big tub of peanut butter and bread and a peanut butter sandwich is made for the kid which defeats the purpose of the pre-packaged Smuckers sandwiches. Ms. McConnell says she tries to discourage this but this is what the culture currently is.

2. One person commented that the children at her local school wash the tables at the end of each lunch session. From a Montessori perspective I can understand this; making children responsible for cleaning up after themselves, making them accountable is not a bad thing in itself. The parent expressed that it made her nervous because she felt an adult would do a better job in cleaning the tables than a child. This is true. What most people don't realize it that allergens are not like germs. They are not "killed" by bleach or other cleaning agents because they are not alive in the way germs are. Allergens need to be washed away with soap and water.
3. The school system had been approached by a religious organizations regarding pork products on the school menu and have eradicated "most" pork products including gelatin. Not to be disrespectful of religions that refrain from pork products but I found it a little odd that they won't serve a prepackaged jello cup because it might cross contaminate other food but they will continue to serve peanut butter even though the cross contamination from that could kill someone.

4. Nutrition Services is just in charge of what is SERVED and have probably done what they can to minimize a reaction. When it came down to the discussion of hand washing, washing tables, or anything that that had to be dealt with on site, Ms. McConnell said it was up to the school. In her own words she said "The principal is the QUEEN of the school." Fairfax County Public Schools do have guidelines as well as responsibilities checklists for everyone from the administrator to the student. Also the food allergic child would need to set up an IHCP (Individual Health Care Plan) with the school nurse. (Interestingly enough when I toured our local public school none of these things were brought up, even though I asked about food allergy procedures) However, when it comes to setting up a nut free table or having students wash hands after eating, it is up to the principal. In other words if the principal doesn't think your child warrants a safe place to eat she doesn't have to provide one.

5. There was a provision on one web page of the public schools which I found interesting. Here is the quote:

"Students with milk allergies require a statement from a recognized medical authority. It is not necessary for a new statement to be secured each year. In these cases, fruit juice will be offered as a substitute."

So if you have a milk allergy you better have proof. Do they think parents make up allergies? Why is milk the only one you need a statement for? I just found it quirky.

I know I am being a little snide with all this and have decided not to pursue public school for Max in any case. Our decision for this has less to do with food allergies and more to do with what kind of learning environment he needs right now. I realize I am lucky enough to be able to make that kind of decision. So please, criticize my criticism, I probably deserve someone pushing back on me a little.

Oh yeah, and every Friday at all Fairfax County Public Schools, they serve pizza. It is apparently a popular thing here. So tell me, does your school have Pizza Friday? I guess I shouldn't be surprised, in Wisconsin they serve fish on Fridays. Thoses darn Catholics.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

A Weekend Away

We are heading out tomorrow for a woody adventure, a cabin by a lake in the quiet Maryland mountains. As you can imagine, traveling with food allergy kids is an adventure in itself.

We don't dine out. Ever. (okay the occasional McDonalds but that is it) Eating out with the number of allergies we have is too complicated and the few times we have tried, I have still had tiny panic attacks with each bite my child takes. It is too nerve wracking and honestly too risky.

So we will cook each meal, which takes a little planning. Here's the menu:
Day 1
Dinner - Hobo dinners cooked over the open fire - wrap up some hamburger, potatoes other veges of your choice, add a little oil, salt and pepper - dinner camping style.
Dessert - S'mores - safe graham crackers, marshmellows and chocolate bars. The chocolate bars I have to make myself. I melted down some dairy free chocolate chips and poured them into a mold tonight. They are hardening as I type. If I had really planned in advance I could have ordered some candy bars from Amanda's Own.
Day 2
Breakfast - Pancakes and sausage - I will package up the dry ingredients in a baggy with the recipe. Mix dry and wet together in the morning. Voila! Pancakes.
Lunch - Sandwiches. Not very exciting but it's something everyone will eat.
Dinner - We will have have to grab something at a local store to grill.
Day 3
Breakfast - Banana muffins and bacon - Again I need to package up the dry ingredients tonight. Who doesn't love bacon?
Lunch - Sandwiches again
Dinner - home again home again jiggety jig.

Of course I will pack a little contraband cheese and crackers for David and I to enjoy after the munchkins are in bed. Not to mention the three bottles of wine. Hot tub here I come!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Shopping Carts

When Max was first diagnosed with food allergies I was obsessive about grocery carts. I was the strange Mom with the toddler tucked under one arm thoroughly wiping down every part of the cart which my child was going to touch. Max was very contact reactive as a toddler. Once at a Starbucks he picked up a muffin wrapper and put it to his face; everywhere it touched he broke out in hives. He would also just get random hives, leaving me to scratch my head as to where he had been, what he had touched. At five he has mostly grown out of this. However, when he was one, grocery carts were approached as if they were ticking bombs. Owen's Mom (that would again be me) is much less obsessive about wiping down the cart and he just gets plopped down in the seat and handed a graham cracker.

However, I am on grocery carts for another reason all together today, nothing of which has to do with food allergies. When we first moved to Northern Virginia I was perplexed by the grocery store parking lot etiquette. Wheeling the shopping cart out to the car seemed discouraged. Large barriers are placed around the entrance of the store though at some you could take the cart off to the side and out to the parking lot that way, however no one else seemed to be doing this. I was left to ponder whether I would be making a grocery store faux pas if I actually wheeled the cart to my car. So what was a mother with two small children and a week's worth of groceries to do? It seemed I was to fetch my car (taking my kids with me) and drive up to the front of the store where I had left my loaded cart and some minimum wage worker would help me load my groceries into the car. Sometimes if they weren't busy and you didn't have a lot of groceries the worker would actually take your groceries to the car. Which left me to ponder "Do I tip them?" It all seemed very odd to me.

A year later it still makes me a little nervous to park my cart full of expensive groceries in front of the Whole Foods as I carry my toddler to the car and strap him in. Perhaps it's because had I done this in Durham, NC (our last place of residence) there was a good chance I wouldn't see my groceries again.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Venting and Resentment

After last weeks post, two other Moms attending the same picnic contacted me to see if my kids could eat what they were planning on bringing. You know they probably could have and I appreciate the effort others make to help my kids be included and safe. I generally don't let my kids have food other people make because of cross-contamination but feel both these Moms would have been careful even in that respect. Thank you for trying.

It makes me feel terribly guilty when people go out of their way for us, which is just my mid-western nature I think. My resentment doesn't stem from believing other people should do something different. It stems from not wanting this to be my situation at all. Can I resent food allergies in general? Is that wasted energy? It is not something I can change, just something I can manage. That reminds me of something I saw on Oprah once (everyone groan). Someone's book had a quote something to the effect of "Life isn't fixed, life is something that is managed." Maybe it was Dr. Phil.

In any case, I need to get back to a place of acceptance regarding our situation. I think as with any loss there is a grieving process. Denial, anger, grief, acceptance. When Max was first diagnosed I went through this and came out pretty strong, feeling very capable of dealing with his food allergies. When he didn't outgrow milk last year I feel I fell back into that grieving process. I became really frustrated and the result was this blog. I need to work myself back to a place where I feel okay with our situation.

With that said the real reason I have a hard time letting kids eat off a pot luck is again, cross-contamination. A safe dish sitting next to a dish containing peanuts can easily be cross-contaminated if spoons are accidentally traded or a stray teaspoon of the dish falls into the other while being transferred to a plate. A dish with cashews ended up sitting right next to the bars I made. Maybe nothing would happen.

My husband is sometimes my own worst enemy; he chowed down on the cashew dish, scooping it up with tortilla chips fried in peanut oil. He did wash his hands afterwards. When I am at events like this, surrounded by allergens, my chest tightens and my breathing becomes quicker. It is the beginning of panic and I have learned to suppress it. Nothing has happened yet, I am learning all of our limits.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Pot Luck

I was thinking about the egg-milk-nut free dessert I was taking to an event this weekend and felt a twinge of resentment. I can't say this is the first time I have felt this way. For a long time we avoided any events involving food (which left us out a lot) but as Max got into preschool avoiding events was not as easy. Max thrives at parties. He loves having tons of other kids and adults around to interact with. He is not attending events for the food; he NEEDS the social interaction.

At first I always brought my completley safe and dare I say delicious dish with a smile on my face. I even felt a little bit like a show off, as if to say "See all the great things I can create without milk, egg, or nuts?" But as the events increase and so do the needs of my two children and husband, my smile has waned. I am taking a dish to pass as well as packing a full meal for my two kids. Granted my husband and I generally eat what others bring but I am still needing to pack a complete nutritious meal for my kids, of which they will probably not eat much. Sometimes I feel "put out."

This kind of self-pitying isn't pretty. People don't like to hear the "oh poor me's." Even among other food allergy parents, self-pity is met with opposition. On one of the online groups I used to belong to (Parents Of Food Allergy Kids); parents allowing themselves or their children to feel sorry for themselves is taboo and is met with harsh criticism by other members. (I no longer belong to this group as I always felt "put in my place" after posting.) A vent posted on a listserve group I subscribe to was met with another member's reply that "venting was not constructive."

So, I guess there are two things at work here. One: How do you deal with social events involving food? How do you feel about it? And Two: How much self-pity, venting, resentment, negative feelings in general do you allow in regards to your child's food allergies? Is any amount healthy?

Friday, October 5, 2007

Pizza Friday

He came home with an empty lunch box. I will have to assume he ate the "pizza" as well as the two oatmeal cookies.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Peanuts on the Floor

Someone from one of the online support groups I peruse recently posted about seeing a new restaurant in her area. The sign read "Jimmy Mac's Roadhouse - Steaks - Crabcakes - Peanuts on the Floor". She was taken aback by the "Peanuts on the Floor" and mentioned that besides the allergy issues (definitely not taking her kids there) that she found it unsanitary.

It reminded me of something I looked forward to every year when I was a kid. We lived in a really small town (think itty bitty). There was a couple grocery stores, a couple bars, post office, library and one all-purpose hardware store. Jack Robinson's Hardware Store. Every December the whole town geared up for Christmas. There were crafts displays and goings on at the community hall. I remember the Christmas pageants we elementary school kids prepared and performed at the hall, a trek down the hill from the old brick school building. Norman Rockwell kind of stuff. (You can still find it in a small town called Ontario, WI). But what I really looked forward to was going to Jack Robinson's Hardware Store to crack peanuts out of the shell and throw them on his concrete floor. That was his thing. Every year around Christmas you could eat peanuts at Jack Robinson's and drop the shells. He said it was good for the floor.

What a bizarre thought for me now. For the parent of a peanut allergic kid, this is an absolute nightmare. But Jack Robinson could do that back in the 1970's (aging myself here) because though there were people allergic to peanuts then, I don't think there was anywhere near the number of food allergic children as there is now. I certainly didn't know any people in Ontario, WI allergic to peanuts.

Times have changed. The number of children allergic to peanuts doubled in a five year period. There is no cure. Ontario, WI is a dying town due to death of the family farm and any other type of industry settling in rural Wisconsin. And Jack Robinson's Hardware store closed many years ago.

They still throw one hell of a fourth of July party though, complete with kiddie parades, local talent contest, polka band and fireworks. Max got to have his first cotton candy there this summer. I didn't see anyone selling peanuts.