Thursday, January 7, 2010

What to do when one child has food allergies and the other does not?

Our daughter has extreme food allergies. Besides nuts, seeds and eggs she is also highly allergic to wheat. And since we are Americans, wheat is a large part of our diet. We have had to adapt our lifestyle quite a bit since we learned of her allergies. I bought every cookbook I could get my hands on, have spent hours shopping at Whole Foods, network with many others in our situation and started this blog. I now see food in a completely different way. Eating can be dangerous, especially when eating out. But it has activated the creative portion of my brain. When I look at a menu, I really examine it. Thankfully, I have been a cook for many years and already know what foods might be toxic. Pesto, for instance is almost always made with nuts. Meatballs almost always contain wheat breadcrumbs. I love a challenge and pride myself on being able to find an alternative to almost any food Ella would like to eat.

There is a lot of baggage that comes with having food allergies. It is especially challenging to explain to a child who is only 4 and often has a difficult time understanding why others get to eat the things that she cannot. Especially, when that child is the only one in a family who is limited. I was pregnant with my son when we discovered my daughter’s allergies. We have watched him like a hawk ever since he was a newborn. I breastfed both of my children for the first year of their lives. During that time, Ella had really horrible eczema on the insides of her arms and the back of her knees. We just thought that she had sensitive skin. It never occurred to me that she might be allergic to something in my milk. Milo, thankfully, never had those problems. I ate the same foods and he never seemed to react in the way that Ella had. When we began to give him solid foods, we pretty much held back on giving him wheat until his first birthday. And when he did try it, he had no response, other than to ask for more. He is only 2 now and we still avoid nuts and seeds. Our pediatrician has suggested we wait until he turns 3 before trying these things. Over Christmas, we found him munching on a slice of fruit cake that had been made with walnuts and pecans. I panicked and ripped it out of his mouth. I barely was able to breathe for the remainder of that day, but to my great surprise, no reaction! (My sister told me that her pediatrician warned her that a reaction sometimes does not happen until the second time a food is eaten. Not sure if that is true or not, but I felt some relief, nonetheless.) We are still waiting for his third birthday, but this might be great news for him.

But maybe not so for Ella. She loves her brother, but it really bothers her that Milo gets to eat all of the things that she cannot. Often, when I make wheat-free bread I serve it to both of them. Or when we go out to Mexican restaurants we order a quesadilla made with corn tortillas and they happily share it. (He now shies away from those made with flour tortillas). But sometimes, it is impossible to find equal solutions for both. Earlier this week, we had an impromptu visit at my sister’s house. Some of us were eating garlic bread, made the traditional way. Ella’s eyes always go to the things that she cannot have and often ignores the fact that she has a plate full of options but maybe due to her human nature, she only wants what she cannot have. And then we are all subjected to an earful of whining and complaining. Nobody is more sympathetic than I am. If you have ever read my blogs before you know that I would do just about anything to take her allergies away. But I am also a parent who wants to raise a child that is respectful of others, does not complain, and is thankful that she has so many food choices. She does not suffer and I want to make her aware of that. Since she is only 4. I cannot tell her about the story that I heard on the news recently about the rising numbers of American children who are malnourished or starving. These are difficult concepts for a child of her age to grasp. Hopefully in time, she will be able to look at this situation and realize how lucky she actually is.

It eats her up that her cousins are free of allergies. But it enrages her that Milo, Gabe and I eat something that she cannot. It has gotten to the point where she reads me the riot act when I buy a normal loaf of bread. And if I do, I had better damn well have an equal solution for her. Most of the time, I am able to pull it off. But it is not easy, especially when I am working so much. There is no doubt in my mind that everyone who had a child with allergies, deals with this on some level. Often, Ella will say, “I wish Milo couldn’t eat wheat. I wish Maddie could not have nuts.” She just wants to fit in and it must be horrible to feel so isolated.

So, in answer to my own question, “What to do when one child has food allergies and the other does not?” I simply do not know. This is all stuff that we are trying to figure out as we all take this journey together. Hopefully, all of this will get easier in time. And like so many things having to do with parenting, I wish I knew!


Melissa Lalum said...

Wow! Wonderful post Heidi. I, too, now have a new appreciation of food allergies. We were vegetarians for a number of years, so we were sensitive to how people eat, but now more so. Thanks for sharing and keep the good info coming.

Anonymous said...

Great post. It is hard for kids, especially when they are young. I have only one child,a 6yr old girl, treenut and peanut allergies. Her understanding of it has gotten better now that she's older. Now as long as she has somtething equivalent, she doesn't feel as bad as she may have a year or two younger.


Nikki said...

Thank you for the heartfelt post. I can't even fathom how hard it must be for you, let alone Ella. Please let us know how best we can handle it. For instance, is it better to have her cousins eat only things that Ella can eat, or is it better not to shelter her from the fact that others eat what she cannot? The lucky thing is that Ella is so incredibly smart and you will likely be able to reason with her at an earlier age than most children.

Heidi Miller said...

Nik- Ella needs to learn that just because she has allergies she cannot control what other people eat. It is a lesson for life, in that, I hope some day she will be less self focused. Much of it is due to her age. She will get past it. Thank you for being such a wonderful, loving Auntie! She is a lucky girl to have so much support in her life!

Robert Boyle said...

Ella is such a wonderful girl and she knows, because she is a very intelligent young girl, that she cannot eat everything that other people eat. And I sing the praise of her parents who have patiently and loving instructed her, why she cannot eat the same foods. Now, having said that, one day bright day, she may conquer her allergies. Sometimes life is not fair, but it makes you a stronger person to overcome the other problems that one encounters! Love all, Father/grandfather.