Monday, September 24, 2007

Spawntawnumous and Proud of It!

I’m spawntawnumous!

Now, before someone runs for the antibiotics, that’s a good thing. Honest.

Friday afternoon, I was keeping Kim’s kids while she and her husband took care of some appointments. It was supposed to be just for the afternoon. One of her kids asked me if they were staying for dinner, and I told her no, her mom and dad would be back before then. I handed her some Oreos for a snack.

The appointments ran long, and Kim called and asked if I could keep them a bit longer. No problem. My son and these kids consider each other siblings. They could happily move in with each other and not blink an eye. In fact, they frequently request that.

My boy is allergic to peanuts and tree nuts, but that’s all. He lives on all the normal kid food – macaroni and cheese, fish sticks, hot dogs, pasta, cheese, pizza. You know. The stuff we don’t like to think about too much as we feed it to our kids.

His best friend, the oldest of the kids we were watching, has more food allergies – nuts, peanuts, milk, eggs, fish, fresh tomatoes, etc. So I have to pay more attention to what I can feed him and how I fix it. Usually, I know ahead of time when I’m going to have him for dinner, so I can plan to have safe food on hand. But since I hadn’t been planning on this evening (and hadn’t been to the grocery store in a while), I crossed my fingers and rummaged through the freezer.

Success! I found a bag of milk-free and egg-free chicken nuggets, with enough for four hungry creatures who’d been racing around the yard all day. I rummaged through the fridge. Aha! A bag of carrots, and a can of crescent rolls – the milk-free kind. I rummaged in the pantry. Yippee! A can of mandarin oranges! I rummaged in the freezer again. Yes! Frozen fruit popsicles! Okay, so maybe I don’t get points for health and nutrition, but at least it technically qualifies as food from all the major food groups.

I called Kim and her husband to tell them I was fixing dinner for the kids, and that they should go out to dinner and enjoy a little peace and quiet.

Then I threw the chicken and crescent rolls in the oven. The smallest child, who had asked me about dinner earlier, came inside just as I was closing the oven door. She looked up at me with hope in her five-year-old eyes. “Are we having dinner here?” she asked again.

“Yes, sweetie. You sure are.”

Delight lit up her face. Then she squealed, “You’re being spawntawnumous, aren’t you?!”

Spawntawnu-what? I thought. Spawntawn… Spawn…


Over the years, as Kim and I have found safe foods that her son can eat, I’ve slowly changed my own shopping habits. Whenever there’s a milk-free and egg-free version of a food, I now try to buy it. My family doesn’t need it to be milk- and egg-free. But since I never know when I might have these kids in my house, I’ve learned that it’s easier to have the safe foods than wish I did. (I’m a slow learner, but I eventually get it.) It also eliminates accidents and mistakes.

So now I only buy milk-free margarine. (It bakes better than the milk version, anyway.) I only buy milk- and egg-free white bread. I keep the pantry and freezer stocked with milk- and egg-free fruit snacks, popsicles, cookies, salsa, chips, tortillas, hot dogs, smoked sausages, barbeque sauce, crescent rolls, toaster pastries, and crackers.

So all that extra ingredients-label reading over the years has finally paid off. By modifying my shopping habits and stocking my kitchen with “safe” snacks and foods, I have officially become…


And boy, if you could have seen the look on that little princess’s face, you’d know how proud that makes me.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Support Groups, Kim, & Other Godsends

We had our planning/kick-off meeting for the new Davis County chapter of the Utah Food Allergy Network last week. Yea! We’re off and running!

Boy, do I wish there had been a support group for food allergies when The Human Whirlwind was diagnosed with peanut and nut allergies 7 years ago. I was completely clueless. After a brief encounter with his first peanut butter sandwich raised hives on his face and made him go hoarse, I took my toddler to an allergist who said simply, “Yep, looks like he’s allergic to peanuts. He might outgrow it, but stay away from peanut butter in the meantime.”

That was it. That was the sum total of this doctor’s sage advice. I had no idea what I was in for. No idea how dangerous cross-contamination could be. No idea that a peanut allergy gives you a 35% chance that you’ll be allergic to tree nuts, too. No idea that skin contact could cause a reaction. No idea that I should be carrying an EpiPen, or even Benadryl. No idea my son could die.

What I did have was a brand-new acquaintance named Kim. She’d also just found out her kid was allergic – to far more foods than my son, in fact. And she, fortunately, had visited a better allergist, who took the time to tell her more information. Kim sat with me at play-dates over the next few weeks, and while we watched our kids take random stabs at learning concepts like “sharing” and “waiting turns” and “not eating electrical cords,” she told me what she’d learned about food allergies from the internet, books, and her doctor.

Slowly, it began to sink in, and I realized that I had to research this condition myself and not rely on one doctor’s off-the-cuff “I’m-too-busy-to-talk-to-a-silly-mom” pat answers. After an accidental exposure to peanut-flavored chocolate on an ice cream cone sent us flying to the ER (with Kim and her kids following behind me with her EipPen, just in case), I found a new doctor and new determination to learn everything I could to keep my boy safe.

Kim was my one-person support group, at a time when I desperately needed one. Between us, we’ve spent 7 years learning, sharing, exploring, baking, and teaching our way to a safer world for our kids.

I can’t even imagine how hard those years would have been if I’d been the only parent I knew with a food-allergic kid. As silly as it sounds, just having someone to get giddy with over the discovery of allergen-free chocolate chips is a godsend.

So that’s why Kim and I are starting up our group here in Layton – because I know there are a whole lot of parents out there who are dealing with this, too. Some have just learned that their kids are allergic, and they’re going through the angry, shocked, despairing, disbelieving, overwhelmed stage of this. Other parents have been dealing with it for a few years now, and they have lots of great ideas, advice, and suggestions that they’d love to share with the newer parents.

So I am excited about starting up this new Davis County group. We’re going to have speakers, discussions, recipe exchanges, holiday tips – we’ve already got meeting topics lined up clear ‘til spring. So if you know anyone in the Davis County, Utah, area who could use a hand in the food allergy fight, let them know we’re out here, on the second Wednesday of every month. See our website ( for details.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Finding My Inner Mama Bear

Today starts week 4 of third grade. According to my son the human whirlwind, life has devolved into pure misery. The shiny new school supplies are all scuffed, torn, or lost. The thrill at seeing friends again has paled. His teacher, while he likes her, apparently uses an evil-genius tractor beam to glue their eyeballs to their papers. (Hooray for her!)

On the plus side, he’s practicing his math skills by calculating how many more days are left until summer vacation.

I’m counting the days, too. I know it seems crazy, but I actually like having him around. I’m one of those few parents who really doesn’t look forward to the school year. Now that he’s eight, he’s capable of entertaining himself for whole minutes at a time. Seriously. And he’s a lot of fun.

But I’m getting used to the routine, so I’m adjusting. Getting all the “beginning of the year” tasks out of the way helps, too. For instance, at the end of the first day of school, my friend Kim and I sat down with his teachers and did “the talk” – where we explained about out sons’ food allergies, how serious they are, how to use an EpiPen, how to keep the classroom environment safe, and so on.

It’s always intimidating to talk to teachers. There’s that nagging little worry that they might not take the allergies seriously, or that they might be one of those rare people who thinks people with food allergies are just control-freak weirdos who are trying to get attention. (Well, I might be, but that’s a different story.) But more importantly, even though I’ve been an adult for … oh… a couple of years now (but who’s counting?), I still have this ingrained fear that the teacher might send me to the principal’s office! Fortunately, his teachers were interested, concerned, and very receptive. And the only punishment they exacted on us was to ask us to come into the class and explain food allergies to the kids.

So the next morning, Kim and I stood in front of 25 third-graders and tried to make food allergies sound serious enough to pay attention to, but not so scary that they wouldn’t talk to our kids anymore. The amazing thing about kids is that they actually care. (Handing out erasers helped.) They paid attention, and they offered to tell us about all their relatives and friends who also have allergies. There’s even a third boy in the class who’s nut-allergic, too. (Three in one class?!)

The next week, I DID get sent to the principal. Actually, I asked for it. Signed up for it, in fact. Every year, I ask the principal if I can come speak to the teachers in her staff meeting to tell them about food allergies and demonstrate the EpiPen. So there I was, with my wonderful friend Kim riding shotgun once more, telling the teachers that statistically, one kid in every class could have severe food allergies, what to watch for, and how to respond.

The fun part is always demonstrating the EpiPen. I scan the room and look for the one or two teachers whose eyes get really wide and panicked-looking. Then I talk directly to them, gently, and walk them through it. I know if I can get them to calm down and accept that it’s just a tool, just a little needle, and a simple thing to do when the alternative could be watching a child die in front of them, then the rest of the teachers will get it, too. It seems to work.

Of course, the trick is doing all these talks and demonstrations every year without passing out myself. But the thing about having a kid with allergies is… you get over yourself. The mama bear in you knows that you can’t be a shrinking violet anymore, and you’ve got to protect that child of yours no matter how squeamish you are about speaking up. You find strength you never knew you had.

Grrr. Hear me roar. Or, come to the staff meeting and watch me demonstrate an EpiPen. Your choice.

The best part is, it’s done. Whew! I don’t have to get sent to the principal’s office again.

Until next year.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Lunch Variety, Schmariety

Recently, I was looking at a web site that talked about “bento box” school lunches. The idea is interesting – basically, you use a lunch box with lots of little compartments for different types of food. Supposedly, having mini compartments for mini portions of fun finger foods makes lunch more interesting, so kids eat it. Some suggestions included sandwiches cut into cookie-cutter shapes, veggies with dips, and wraps cut into 1-inch lengths and stabbed through with fancy toothpicks.

It’s a good idea, but it would be wasted on my son (aside from the fact that arming him with fancy toothpicks out of my sight shows questionable judgment).

School lunch at my house consists of three options:

1. Pasta with non-dairy margarine in a thermos
2. Salami sandwich (dry)
3. Sunbutter sandwich (SunGold Foods’ Sunbutter is a peanut butter look-alike that’s made from sunflower seeds. I swear it tastes and feels like the real thing, and it’s completely nut-free. Their web site is, and I promise they don’t know me from Adam, so this isn’t a paid endorsement! But if you’re missing peanut butter in your house, even your non-allergic picky Aunt Freida will love this stuff.)

Of those three options, my son really only wants the noodles. The other two are the emergency “I forgot to buy more pasta” options.

Variety is just not important to some kids. We adults have a hard time accepting that, the same way we insist our child needs a sweater if we happen to be chilly ourselves.

Although my son is only allergic to peanuts and tree nuts, the main reason the selection is so limited is because his best friend is allergic to milk and eggs, in addition to peanuts and tree nuts. My son and his buddy sit together at the “allergy table” at school, and my boy refuses to eat anything at school that might make his friend sick. So that eliminates all cheese, which is his primary staple at home – he’s the only 8-year-old I know who stops at the cheese table at the grocery store and begs for mozzarella balls, brie, gouda, and bleu cheese – yes, he actually likes bleu cheese! It also eliminates most breads. But we have found one brand of milk-free and egg-free bread and a couple of brands of egg-free pasta, so we can do sandwiches and pasta.

He likes grilled meats, such as chicken, pork chops, and steak, but not if they’re cold and sliced on a sandwich. He also hates all sandwich meats except for salami. I used to pack a veggie or fruit in his lunch, but he refuses to waste time eating them, because he wants to get outside and enjoy his recess. So I stopped wasting perfectly good carrots and bananas. I figure the pasta will get him through the afternoon, at least until he gets home and I can feed him something healthier.

So all those great ideas for bento-box variety simply won’t fit into my son’s little mental compartments. The only variety he cares about is the shape of the pasta he picks each week.

Fortunately for me, he views lunch as fuel, not as an event. So while I worry that he’s sick of the same old thing, he isn’t yet. And until he complains, I guess I won’t waste time or energy trying to force more variety into his lunch box. And I sure won’t spend $30 on a cute little compartmentalized Japanese-inspired bento box lunch pail (although my son would think that was WAY cool).

That leaves me extra time to worry about introducing more variety on the dinner table, right?