Tricks and Treats
For those living under a rock, Halloween is next week. According to the National Retail Federation, Halloween is the second-biggest decorating holiday of the year after Christmas. Not surprising then to see vacant storefronts turning into specialty stores painted orange and black, only to be painted red and green on November 1. Americans love Halloween. We love trick or treating for candy, having parties, decorating our houses, and dressing up in costume.
For a parent of a food allergic child, Halloween means something else altogether. It means mine-fields that have to be navigated. Practices that have to be maintained. Precautions that need to be taken.
It’s been four years since we found out about Little IT’s allergy. In that time, we have worked tirelessly, aided by the support of the Food Allergy and Anaphalxis Network and great resources like Food Allergies For Dummies, to educate ourselves and others about how to manage her allergy. No sharing foods or snacks, she can only eat stuff that we know is safe, etc etc. For the most part, she feels “normal”, no different from any other kid. But there’s something about Halloween that causes angst.
Last night was a great example. Little IT’s girl scout troop held a Halloween party. There was a cake served at the party that came with a label that said “may contain peanuts or tree nuts.” Personally, it seems like a legal warning, with very little chance of contamination. But part of our allergy management plan is to avoid foods like that, both for her own safety, and to train her and others to read allergy labels. I had stepped away from the party momentarily to pick up dinner for IT Boy. When I returned, she had a piece of cake in front of her that I had to remove. That got her very upset. I had two options for her as substitutes – little black and white cookies, and Hostess Cupcakes. She looked like she was going to cry and said she wanted nothing. The other girls immediately raised their hands saying they would prefer the cupcakes to the cake. One sweetheart volunteered to “test” the cake to see if it seemed nutty (if only that worked). But, no, Little IT would not be consoled.
Truth be told, she was a bit worked up from the incident and the excitement of the party. I took her aside and told her that the cupcakes were the same ones she always begged me for. She replied that she didn’t like the chocolate icing. I told her I would give her 2 cupcakes and she didn’t have to eat the icing on either of them, which seemed to pacify her. Another girl who has celiac saw the cupcakes and wanted one. Her mom said it would be a waste because she can only eat the icing. I countered with the knowledge that Sarah is only eating the bottom, so why shouldn’t she be able to just eat the icing? Then other girls started going for the cupcakes, and I had to tell them they were just for the girls with food allergies.
So, what did we do wrong there? Well, first off, even though I was at the party, I needed to tell the other parents to NOT give my kid food unless I’m okaying it. If I hadn’t been staying, I would have talked to a trusted friend to have her do the maintenance. I had originally planned to bake my own cupcakes, but this week has been really hectic and I never got the chance. The rule at school is that if someone brings in something that she doesn’t know is 100% safe, she says no thanks, tells me when she comes home from school, and we give her a special treat. The thought of the special treat is usually enough to curb the disappointment when she cannot partake in a group celebration. But last night, for the first time, I got the feeling that she was perfectly ok with letting her guard down, and that scared the hell out of me.
I’m not going trick or treating with her this year, as I have a prior commitment that evening. A very good friend is, and I know she won’t let her eat anything on the route, which is a smart idea whether you are allergic or not. When she does bring the candy home, we sort through it into good stuff and questionable/definitely not good stuff. Years ago, I came up with the idea of buying back the not good stuff from her, and then matching the dollar amount of purchase to give to FAAN or Unicef. It has worked out pretty well so far, and the looks on the faces of parents when Little IT yells, “I’ve got some great stuff in here to sell to you, Mom,” is priceless. I hope I can continue to maintain the excitement of the holiday for her, while at the same time keeping her safe and making sure she’s like all the other kids.