It’s been almost six years since my son (through a series of scary events) was diagnosed with food allergies. For a long time, I kept getting this thought: you should write a blog post to tell people what it’s like to deal with food allergies.
I kept getting this nudge over and over, but I was so afraid of what might happen if I was really honest, if I was clear about what we helps us and causes us stress. I was sure people would think I was a complete neurotic loony-bin. I was sure I’d be written off for my completely unreal expectations. I thought we’d never be invited over for dinner again.
But (gingerly, cautiously) I wrote it. And the weirdest thing happened.
People liked it. Not just the “other allergy people” but all the people. So many kind friends, real life and many I’d never met, telling me, “thank you. Now I see.”
And really, I shouldn’t have been so afraid. You hear those stories about irate classroom mothers demanding, How in the world will I make a lunch WITHOUT PEANUT BUTTER?? But, actually, my story has been quite the opposite. I have been overwhelmed with people washing hands “just in case,” rounding up all kinds of substitutes, calling me to ask, “Is this safe for Sam?”
I have realized that while most people do not understand what it is like to have food allergies, they want to. They want to.
If you have a family member, neighbor, or friend who deals with food allergies in their home, today I’m sharing with you how you can love that family. And I want to assure you – these acts are not small to us allergy people. When you love those of us with allergies (especially if it’s our children!), when you take (extra, inconvenient) steps to keep us safe, you are showing us the best kind of love. These little things matter to us.
Here’s how to love an allergy family:
- Ask them how careful you need to be. (I know … Almost too obvious?) But when it doesn’t matter if your child only has cursory interactions with theirs in Sunday School, or they want to spend every waking moment together, begin by asking the question, “How can I keep your child safe?” (And it’s never too late, by the way!) I always feel a huge gush of relief when a friend says, “So how serious are Sam’s allergies? Should we not bring ________ around him?” This is a terrific starting point.
- Be gracious if we turn you down for social things. We have our own weird phobias and triggers that may or may not make sense to you. You may never understand why I cringe at those indoor-romping houses. (Ack! All the peanut residue everywhere!) It may not make logical sense why my heart rate accelerates when I see the words “potluck dinner.” (Why, oh why, must every casserole be smothered in cheese?) But some things, I have learned, are not worth the risk to us. Please, be kind, be gracious, be forgiving, if we feel uneasy with a particular outing and choose not to come.
- As much as you can, keep the offending foods away from us. I wish I could say this another way. I wish that I didn’t have to say it. But it is 100% true. My sister, when we get together for dinner, feeds her little ones plain chili, with no fun cheesy toppings, just to keep my Sam a little bit safer. Thank you, Jenny. All those play dates where I hear, “No, honey, we’re not having the yogurt right now. How about a banana?” I just want to cry. And say, thank you.
- Wash your hands before visiting with us. Just a very little bit of peanut butter, or flour, or melted ice cream, if it gets on the skin, can cause a reaction. (Yes, this has happened to us.) Washing hands prior to seeing us is often a simple but very effective way to keep people with allergies safe.
- Know that we may not eat the food you made (or brought), even if it seems safe to you. Many things seem safe, but may not be. I know what happens if a knife isn’t cleaned properly. I was unfortunately made aware of the fact that a carton of sorbet may have ice cream mixed it. and cause facial swelling and hives. I know that sometimes there are random, hidden names for milk. I’ve learned how to make just about anything without dairy, eggs, or nuts. There are only a small handful of people alive on this earth that I trust to feed my Sam. And that’s just the way it is.
- Help us feel normal. I know that might seem silly in light of my other unusual and special requests. But really and truly, we just want to be normal. To feel like we are like you. I love when I see Sam, and his whole Sunday school class, eating their little gluten-free pretzels. I love seeing him play soccer, run at the park, and just. be. normal. Even when it might be work, keep inviting us, working to include us. We notice, and we are grateful.