Parties, shared lunches:
All most children want is to be included, and a child with allergies is no different. I was desperate for my son to not be excluded from things due to his allergies. Luckily, this problem hasn’t arisen, I suspect because in today’s society allergies are so common and because I work hard to be approachable and open to other parents about his allergies.
The first year or 2 of parties were stressful. And that was despite me having AMAZING friends that bent over backwards to have as much “James friendly” (as we all called it) food as possible. But imagine toddler parties with food on the floor… watching your child like a hawk, watching hands with cheezel fingers dip into all the other foods and contaminate them. I loved that party hosts made such an effort to include him by adding foods that he could have. But we quickly learned that the safest and least stressful way forward was for him to have a party lunchbox that we took full of things and together we added safe items from the party table. He was taught to eat from his box. This was a survival skill that would stick with him for years. But, let me tell you the most beautiful sight is the smile he would give when I would tell him one of my amazing friends had made the birthday cake “James friendly.” Sometimes it’s the simple things and it would bring tears to my eyes! As he got older he was invited to parties of children where we didn’t know the parents as well. My priority in these situations was to communicate to the other parents that the important thing for James was that he was invited, not the food. We packed lunchboxes of food and had treats ready for alternative party game prizes. I was always “on guard” and James always went to a party with a full belly to minimise the chance of him grabbing unsafe food. We would decorate a cupcake together for party time which he loved. We figured out what worked!
Then came school food experiences and celebrations…
I can still vividly see James as a Reception child screaming NO!!! As other children kindly tried to give him easter eggs. We had talked about taking them politely and I would swap them (like with party bags). But in his mind it was unsafe to accept what he is anaphylactic too. I had thought this impolite until his very wise teacher said it’s fine to say no and gave him the words “thank you for thinking of me but I won’t take the easter egg.” And why should he accept it for the sake of politeness (a big learning for me). I am amazed at the resilience, maturity and independence that he has developed in 3 short years.” I cannot even begin to tell you the stress and anxiety I felt over his first shared lunch at school!!!! It was like sending your child to cross a main road without supervision (despite the teacher watching like a hawk). I worked with the teacher about having a red (don’t eat) and green (ok to eat) table. I sent him with his lunchbox full of yummy things. Some amazing mums had asked what they could make to include him but I knew chances are he would only eat from his lunchbox (how he had been taught and how he felt safe). I admit I made my husband take him to school that day. My anxiety was too much and I didn’t want to make my son anxious. I will admit that I cried at work when his gorgeous teacher sent me a photo of James eating from his box with a massive smile on his face. I will admit that I am crying now over this memory (embarrassing because I am in a cafe)!! But as I look back on that shared lunch and the many other similar experiences he has had since (school involves alot of food experiences) again I am amazed at the resilience, maturity and independence that he has developed in 3 short years. We have learnt to let James take the lead on how he feels comfortable managing a situation and brainstorm with him the best ways to keep him safe that he feels comfortable with. We work as a team with his teachers and have learnt that open communication is ESSENTIAL and so powerful to helping keep James safe. We have learnt that sometimes we need to step away and trust that (through our teaching to them) his teachers will help him navigate his way through school food experiences.
School Camp is next year for us and though I am nervous (as is my son) I am confident that as a team our family and the school will make it work! Boy am I thankful for our school choice they are AMAZING!!
Stay tuned to this series to learn about the logistical challenges that holidays and eating out can present…..