RVA heartily embraces Tiffany Glass Ferreira for her shrunken works of art, but her family embraces her as well–she keeps her son safe from his life-threatening food allergies and also finds time to see the humor in it all.
Photo by: Dean Hochman
My son’s first birthday ended with an ambulance.
He ate a cupcake, as most kids do, and had one of those bad food allergy reactions you’ve probably heard about. A nurse-friend at the party recognized his symptoms and navigated us through this first reaction. She called 911. She talked medical words to the person on the other end. The rest of the party kids went outside to look at the shiny ambulance, I sat on the floor with my son and EMTs trying to figure out what to do next.
If I could go back and talk to myself as New Food Allergy Mom, I would say:
- Relax! It’s going to be OK!
- You are not alone. With one in 12 kids currently diagnosed with a food allergy, you can just look around any room with five or more adults in their 30s and ask for a Facebook intro to the Food Allergy Mom they know. This Food Allergy Mom (or Dad) will help you find resources, chocolate, cupcake recipes, kind allergists, blogs that will make you laugh, Kyle Dine songs, facts about research, support groups, and more to make every day a little easier.
- You are going to meet a few big jerks. They are actually jerks no matter what the topic, so luckily you can identify them quickly! These people are easy to spot because they will quickly blame you for breastfeeding too short or too long, using hand sanitizer or not, eating nuts while pregnant or not eating nuts while pregnant and/or somehow knowing exactly how to prevent (or cure!) food allergies while actual medical professionals are still looking.
- PLEASE ALWAYS CARRY EPINEPHRINE. While avoiding an allergen gets the award for Most Time Spent Every Day, epinephrine is the only thing that could save a life during a reaction. It is the MVP of Food Allergy Life, although a safe cupcake is a close second.
I spent the next several years trying to figure “it” out, but “it” is a moving target. I tried to find a balance between keeping our child safe and not pissing off everyone around us. Now, I would like to quickly apologize to all the people I pissed off trying to keep that balance–maybe drawing cartoons about all the dumb things people said was not the best way to deal with New Food Allergy Mom stress. For other New Food Allergy Moms, I suggest knitting, learning to bake, or yoga. For friends and family of New Food Allergy Mom, I suggest not saying really dumb things all the time.
They’re trying to be helpful. And I’m trying not to face-palm.
Turns out, my son has more than just a nut allergy. This puts us in the weird category of having a life-threatening allergy, but not one of the famous ones. I can be found rolling my eyes in the grocery store when a product is labeled “Safe for School” and/or “Allergen Free” when it’s really just peanut free, or biting my tongue when any child-focused facility claims to be “Allergy Friendly” because they’re supposedly “Peanut Free,” and best of all, being offered “Gluten-Free” anything as a sort of catch-all. I know, they’re trying to be helpful. And I’m trying not to face-palm.
Next, I have some good news for Future Food Allergy Mom. This year, Virginia passed a bill that will require people working in restaurants to learn about life-threatening allergens. This important training is similar to safe food storage and hand-washing requirements. It’s a great start–a baseline acknowledgement that some food can kill people, sometimes.
With this new training, here’s what shouldn’t happen:
Me: “Does the smoothie contain milk?”
Server: “No. It’s made with yogurt”,
Me: “What kind of yogurt?”
Server: (reading label) “Milk.”
Me: “So there is milk in the smoothie?”
Of course, I don’t expect every restaurant to be safe. I’m totally fine with a restaurant who says outright that they have nothing available, given our needs. I just want to know, and I’d love to be able to know by simply looking at their website beforehand.
Still, it would be great to have more options, and maybe with this new restaurant training we’ll see a change.
When a Sugar Shack recently opened near me, I went straight to their website. Although they don’t list anything specific about allergens, the first doughnut I saw was a delicious looking Chocolate Peanut. Now, that’s a pretty good indicator that it’s not a safe place for people with nut allergies. Right?
But later I saw a perplexed Sugar Shack tweet in response to what was obviously an interaction they’d had with either the most Optimistic Food Allergy Person Ever or a Food Allergy Newbie who didn’t check the website, which would have helped him or her draw the same pre-visit conclusion as me:
So alas, Sugar Shack and many other places are not safe for persons with nut allergies. And that’s OK. But what if it were? What if a doughnut place made one batch of nut-free doughnuts as their first batch, then put them in a designated case? Or had one day a month that was a nut-free day?
Not yet, but a Food Allergy Mom can dream.