Around about now, we are getting to the pointy end of the year. Halloween, End of School parties/picnics, holidays, Christmas and New Year- are all looming on the horizon (without sounding too sinister!).
So many celebrations, so much travel, a lot of distraction. So it pays to plan early so you get to enjoy the celebrations rather than feeling frazzled and stretched.
There are a couple of simple things that you can do that will see you through most celebrations and then a few specifics that we have found helpful over the last few years.
The first thing to say is that whether celebrations are at home or out of the house, it’s important to have supervision sorted. Even if you are hosting, and therefore have control over the menu, it is so common at this time of year for people to bring gifts of food, so keeping that in mind is vital in keeping your little one safe. We tend to tag team watching Caleb so that we both get a chance to unwind and chat with friends, knowing the other is keeping our little man safe.
The second thing is that you need to know at all times where your action plan and medication is. If you’re travelling, it needs to be in your hand luggage. If you’re trick or treating, style it into your costume- however you do it, you must keep it handy and keep it safe. Epipens don’t like extremes of temperature, so leaving you pens in a hot car in the middle of summer is not a good idea. Remember to have a syringe or medicine cup along with the antihistamine to make administration easy.
In terms of specific situations, here are a few of my tips (in all cases, supervision and access to medications are top of the list):
Allergies and Halloween aren’t the most ideal combination. There are some ways you can stay safe though if you do want to go trick or treating.
Your child may be happy just to get dressed up and have a wander around with everyone else without collecting treats. But if they’re not, I’d still make sure you have a really clear plan in place about what happens with those ‘treats’.
We always go as a family- 2 adults minimum and one person is ‘allocated’ Caleb – last year we had 4 adults to 3 kids!!
We dress up too so that it’s seen as a fun time for all.
I’ll buy ‘safe treats for Caleb so I can swap out unsafe. I do this with the big kids too- I only swap out a couple of treats- the rest goes back into my sister in law’s neighbourhood trick or treat pile.
We know a couple of houses who are incredibly thoughtful and inclusive- they hand out glow sticks or little miss/mr men book and stickers etc. we always love seeing them and we do the same once we get home for the families in our neighbourhood.
We head out around 4pm, so I always make sure the kids have had afternoon tea before we go.
We have our usual rules in place and we remind everyone about those rules- no eating anything unless mum has checked.
And of course, always say please and thank you- even monsters have to use their kind manners
School Picnics/end of year celebrations.
These can be tricky. They usually involve a ‘bring a plate’ style invitation, there are kids everywhere and not the degree of close supervision there would normally be at either school or a family picnic.
I always try and talk to the organisers- mainly to get a feel for what is planned. If there are ice-blocks being handed out, I make sure I bring some ‘safe’ options that our kids love (eg proud and punch or smooze). If there is a Santa coming to hand out food treats, I make sure I have something I can substitute for Caleb.
I’ll bring 2 plates usually- one savoury and one sweet. That way, even if there isn’t anything else that Caleb is able to eat, I know he won’t feel left out.
I keep a close eye on Caleb’s drink bottle and make sure he’s not sharing cups with other kids- if someone has eaten nuts for example and then drunk from a cup, sharing that cup could put him at risk of a reaction.
The final thing that makes picnics hard is that often the food isn’t all packed up quickly- it’s left for kids to run off and play and then come back for more- it means the vigilance needs to be constant.
It sounds like a lot of work, and it’s certainly not my favourite type of celebration to be honest, but the kids do love it and one of my major aims is to create ‘joyful inclusion’ for Caleb, despite his food allergies, so I just put my big girl pants on and get on with it!!
Travelling with Allergies.
I have done a video on this in which I confess ‘I am not the bravest person in the world’. Far from it! And I honestly don’t get bothered by repetition or simple options. My poor husband misses the spontaneity of choosing an exotic location and immersing himself in the local culture- especially the food. For now, we are very much sticking with places where my exposure risk assessment feels comfortable for me.
An ‘exposure risk assessment’ is just a term I use to describe the questions I ask myself to determine how likely it is that Caleb will be accidentally exposed to his allergens while we are travelling.
Things I specifically consider include:
- Will I have access to a kitchen and control of our food?
- Will we be driving or flying? (this impacts the amount of food I can bring from home)
- What are the local shops like in terms of provisions?
- What are the labelling laws in the country we are travelling to/in?
- How easily will I be able to communicate with people in restaurants regarding food allergies?
I do think about access to medical services, but we have still travelled to rural Australia, knowing it was more than an hr to the nearest hospital- not because we are rash and don’t think things through, but because I knew our risk of exposure was low and the benefit of that experience for our family outweighed the risk.
I think it is hard to ever feel completely comfortable about travelling with food allergies if you sit and think through everything that can possibly go wrong. I have always been grateful for our immunologist’s practical and ‘human’ advice. If you’re feeling stuck with how to evaluate risk for your child, ASK. Don’t stay stuck.
Christmas Parties and Christmas Day
In our culture, Christmas is so very much associated with food. I love Christmas. I love food. I have a child with severe food allergies, but I am still determined to build a legacy of abundance for my kids.
Not in terms of a million presents or ‘wanting for nothing’, instead I want them to remember making Christmas cookies together or sharing our Christmas morning traditional cinnamon scrolls. I want them to enjoy planning our meal and getting excited about food, rather than having memories of fear or worry or ‘missing out’.
One of the ways I get around this is to host parties at our house. Everything I serve is Caleb-safe, and I’m quite sure that most people aren’t aware of any restrictions. As I mentioned if there are ‘unsafe’ food gifts brought, I just put them out of the kids’ reach to reduce the risk of accidental exposure.
If we are at a family member’s house and there are food options that aren’t Caleb safe, we do have to separate him from that food. Sometimes we’ll just sit him on our lap and he’s fine, other times we will need to take him out of the house for a walk around the block if it is a food he loves and is used to eating at home, but doesn’t understand that this ‘version’ isn’t safe.
We do tend to be the ones constantly clearing tables as well- taking away finished plates, removing leftover food so that the kids can get on with playing without us worrying Caleb will find something he shouldn’t.
So there is my short version of how we get through this time of year. I’ll be sharing some of our favourite recipes over the next few months so you can see that the celebration can be just as colourful and delicious even if you’re managing food allergies in the mix.