It was a classroom party. There was a sign-up sheet taped to the door, inviting parents to bring various items. You know the drill: plates, napkins, cups, juice boxes.
Scribbled at the top of the page was a little note: “No dairy products please.”
I smiled, because I knew that note was there on account of my son. My sweet toddler.
I volunteered to bring treat bags and headed for the door.
But, I didn’t make it far before I heard it. A woman signing the sheet (napkins, for those who wonder) scoffed and muttered under her breath: “Wonder how long that fad will last.”
My heart fell to my feet. I could barely see straight. All I could think was: Fad? FAD?
I have an (unfortunate) tendency to go the heck off on people when they cross me. It’s something I’m working to improve, and that day I took the higher road. I walked away.
But, this momma bear is angry. Because Mrs. Napkin Bringer, you couldn’t be more wrong. Oh, how I wish my child’s life-threatening food allergies were just a fad. I wish I could decide that he can start drinking milk or eating eggs. Do you know how much easier my life would be?
According to Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE), a food allergy reaction sends someone to the ER every three minutes.
And, an estimated 15 million Americans have food allergies.
Look, I don’t like being that person. I don’t find enjoyment in sending food back or asking for menu modifications. In fact, I typically feel pretty embarrassed. I don’t enjoy buying cartons of almond milk every time I turn around, and I certainly don’t look forward to cooking separate dinners when I can’t work around the allergens.
Here’s the thing, Mrs. Napkins: I didn’t say anything to you because I was giving you some credit.
See, I never realized how serious food allergies can be until I was thrown into this world. I didn’t know that if I eat a handful of mixed nuts and unknowingly get on the elevator with a peanut allergy sufferer, it could be a life-threatening event for that person. I tend to believe people are just naïve to these facts. You don’t know what you don’t know, right?
Take my son’s condition, for example. Milk and eggs can literally kill him. And they’re in everything. You can’t hide from butter, folks. You can’t even see it after it melts, which is especially dangerous. Egg can be found in many condiments, like mayo. Oh, and those deli meat slicers in grocery stores – they’re often used to cut cheese and meat, making them deadly for some people. And, don’t forget about flu shots – they have egg in ’em!
Yes, at a certain point children need with food allergies need to learn how to monitor themselves. They should be able to decide what they can or can’t eat, and know how to avoid certain foods. But, my son is a BABY. He is busy saying the word “no” on repeat and throwing himself on the aisles of Target. He can’t be expected to control his allergies.
Listen. I’m not trying to complain or make it seem like my life is soooo hard (although, dairy-free cheese is like $6 a teaspoon, so there is certainly some struggle happening).
No, my goal is simple: I just want you to take food allergies seriously. Don’t be a bully, okay? Don’t raise your kids to be bullies, either.
There’s a statistic from FARE that I find especially impactful: 1/3 of children with food allergies are bullied because of their allergy. Admittedly, I’m pre-disposed to become emotional at the drop of a hat, but this statistic makes me cry buckets. I just can’t imagine my sweet little boy – that blondie with the crooked smile, bright eyes, and amazing sense of humor – being bullied because he can’t drink milk without dying.
So, Napkins, I just have to ask:
When my toddler’s eyes start to swell shut, his breathing turns to wheezes, and hives cover his tiny body… will you still call this a fad?
When he’s gasping for air, and doesn’t understand what’s happening, will it be a fad then?
What about when his throat closes up, his body goes limp, and someone has to shove a needle the size of a pencil into his chubby little thigh… fad?
I guess the answer to your question is pretty simple. The “fad” will end when it takes someone’s life. You can help make sure it won’t be my son’s.