Wednesday, February 26, 2014

It's not really the birthday cupcake.

So many responses to the mother who wrote about how unfair it is that her child can not freely share birthday cake with her class have been written.  The responses run from polite to indignant.  All of them share a theme- the difficulty present in navigating life with food allergy when met with such hostility.

It's not a legal issue.  We have a law in place already that is aimed at keeping children with disabilities safe, it allows them to have a 504 plan in their classroom.  Each plan is customized to fit the needs of the child, and allergies are very individual, so customization is necessary.  Some children need a higher level of environmental control than others, and it would be lovely to know that the village of parents involved in each classroom will work to support the health and safety of each child *as that child needs it*.  There is not a blanket policy that will work, which is true of many things in life.

The real issue here is the hostility that many of us (as allergy parents) face when we seek the accommodations needed to keep our children safe.  I, personally, try to keep the inconvenience to others as low as possible.  Most of us do.  Please, just keep in mind that if you were advocating for your child's safety you would want to be heard with an open mind and respectful attitude.  

When I advocate for my child’s safety, I am keeping your child in mind as well.  What can I do to keep the environment safe while placing the least restrictions on the other children?  What can I do to ensure that the other children will not have the trauma of watching a peer suffer an anaphylactic allergic reaction?  If I’m doing my job well, your child will never see it happen.  As a result, you all get to think I am an overprotective helicopter mom.  Yes, if I do my job well I get rewarded with a healthy child and a reputation for being a little crazy.  Good times.

The younger the child is the more controlled the environment needs to be.  This is because children have trouble understanding the full ramifications of their actions, both the allergic child and their non-allergic peers.  As the children age, we aim to transfer more responsibility to them as they can manage more.  Pretty sure most parents have that same goal in mind. The difference is that the primary danger for my child is food, which is an unavoidable part of daily life and most social interactions.  

Unless you live with a food allergy, it is difficult to understand how encompassing the impact is on daily life. These kids know they have an allergy, and they have a better handle on how to manage it than you may think.  But they are kids, and they have lapses in judgement, just like any kid.  They are in a classroom full of other children who don’t understand the danger, and who also have lapses in judgement.  The hygiene standards of most children is questionable, which only adds to the uncertainty for allergic reactions in the classroom.  My child is constantly scanning her environment for threats.  Living in this state of hyper vigilance is normal for her, but is known to produce PTSD in most people.
In addition, teachers are watching 20+ students, so may miss the more subtle signs that signal the beginning of a reaction that we moms would see at home with only our children.  Limiting the environmental dangers helps keep their job a bit simpler.

Keeping food out of the classroom, whether it be one food or all of them, doesn’t infringe on anyone’s rights.  Personal choice, religious affiliation, and other medical conditions included, limiting food in the classroom does not harm anyone.  Having it present may actually cause death for some children.  Equal education in the least restrictive environment is a right granted to each of us, and it will take cooperation and an attitude of respect to determine what the least restriction might be for each child in question.  Please, just approach the conversation with respect and an understanding that anyone not living with the condition does not fully grasp the challenges of the situation.  Allow room in your life for education, so that you may participate in the conversation with better understanding.  And know this: I’ll do everything in my power to do the same for your kiddo.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Inclusion: An elusive beast

My oldest daughter has multiple food allergies.  It was a struggle for me to transition into this lifestyle, and I vividly remember how hard it was to cook for her in the beginning.  Because of her allergies- fifteen of them- there are VERY few store bought treats that are safe for her.

Somehow, the first school we attended always did a fantastic job of planning parties that allowed her to be included in most of the treats.  I never asked them to ban her allergens from celebrations, or to make sure she could enjoy every treat.  The truth is, I thought it would be too hard for other parents to manage.  It was hard for me, I can't ask a roomful of mothers to learn it just for school parties.  I only ask that we leave peanut out of the classroom because she is contact reactive and anaphylactic.  Other than that, we roll with it.  I check ingredients at every party, and I always bring treats similar to what the rest of class will be enjoying.  (I don't bake for the whole class because I'm afraid what we eat is so different the other kids will dislike it.  She doesn't need a room of her peers telling her that her food is yucky.)  The new school is not so good at being inclusive.  There are few snacks that she can have, and she has noticed.

My youngest daughter is gluten sensitive.  Not allergic.  Not celiac.  But gluten gives her a tummy ache.  So, I kindly let her teachers know every year that she can not eat gluten.  I make it clear that it is not an allergy, and her life is not at risk, but it does make her ill.

Not one teacher has tried to accommodate my little one's restriction.  Not. One.

Recently the little one was crying because the class was rewarded with yet another treat she could not enjoy.  She wanted to know why there couldn't be gluten free treats in the class, because gluten free is so easy to find.  I gently tried to explain that some people don't understand how important it is for her to avoid gluten, because it doesn't hurt her.  Her response? Written all over her face, shining out from her sad eyes: 'But it does hurt. It hurts my feelings.'

Both of my children are touched when another child or another mother makes a point to bring in a treat that they can enjoy.  When someone's actions say "You are noticed. And you are worth including."

It does hurt to have food in the classroom.  It hurts their self esteem.  That sense of being worth being kept safe, of being valued as an equal, and of being worth including.

Reaction or not, children are paying attention to the message we send by excluding the outliers.  The children with diabetes, celiac, allergies, and religious beliefs that impact their diet choices.

The message is that the minority is not worth including.  That their needs are less important, and therefore not worth accommodating. It hurts everyone in the classroom, not just my children.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Menu Plan Monday

Just looking at my calendar this week is making me tired!  Every day is loaded with activity, so meals this week will be planned with the best of intention- but you and I both know that I have a few quick options tucked in the freezer if I have a hiccup in my day.  Here's hoping your week goes smoothly- and that everyone gets a few warmer days to help us all hold on till spring!

Breakfast: bacon and sauteed veggies
Lunch: brats
Dinner: baked fish of the day, green beans, corn on the cob

Breakfast: italian lentils and veggies
Lunch: sunbutter and apples
Dinner: white bean turkey chili, spinach berry salad

Breakfast: turkey sausage, cinnamon roasted butternut squash
Lunch: chili
Dinner: beef burgers, roasted cauliflower and sweet potatoes

Breakfast: beef sausage, green smoothies
Lunch: beef dogs
Dinner: lentil soup

Breakfast: cream of buckwheat
Lunch: lentil soup
Dinner: crock pot pulled pork, mashed potatoes, raspberry applesauce

Breakfast: bacon, pancakes
Lunch: pulled pork
Dinner: battered fish, carrot salad, brussels sprouts

Breakfast: black bean sweet potato saute
Lunch: fish sticks
Dinner: turkey enchiladas, peas, spiced peaches

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Menu Plan Monday

Sorry for the late post people, but a migraine prevented me from properly thinking yesterday.  So meal planning and grocery shopping both happened today.  That's life, sometimes you just have to roll with it.

Monday (Yes, we already ate it.  But just so you know...)
Breakfast: mini beef burgers and veggie saute
Lunch: beef dogs
Dinner: lentil soup

Breakfast: bean and veggie saute
Lunch: sunbutter and apples
Dinner: italian sausage, peppers and onions, peas, raspberry applesauce

Breakfast: pork sausage, potato and veggie saute
Lunch: italian sausage OR pepperoni
Dinner: fish tacos, corn cake

Breakfast: pumpkin muffins and green smoothie
Lunch: sunbutter and jelly
Dinner: turkey pot pie

Breakfast: turkey sausage, berries, green smoothie
Lunch:  turkey meatballs
Diner: pepper steak over quinoa, roasted sweet potatoes

Breakfast: cream of buckwheat
Lunch: pepper steak
Dinner: two bean chili, berry spinach salad

Breakfast: pancakes
Lunch: lentil dahl
Dinner: broiled catch of the day, roasted root veggies, spiced peaches

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Why an Allergy Mentor?

What is a mentor?

mentor   \ˈmen-ˌtȯr, -tər\nounone who teaches or gives help and advice to a less experienced personverbto guide people in a way that allows them to maximize their potential, develop their knowledge and skill set, and improve their performance

I am an Allergy Mentor.  Not a coach.  I think the difference is really important.  But most people look at me quizzically if I introduce myself as such.  I never get a puzzled look if I say I’m an allergy coach.

Let’s talk about the difference I see.  I see a mentor as someone who has lived in a situation, who has gained knowledge and experience in walking through the challenges, and who wants to offer the benefit of their journey to someone else.

I see a coach as someone who has studied the situation and who has a strong intellectual understanding of it.  That person knows how the game should be played, and can offer suggestions and guidance on what play will be effective.

The difference is subtle.  As a mentor, I’ve been there.  My understanding is more than intellectual.  I can empathize, or sympathize, and relate with personal insight.  No standing on the outside offering coaching.  Standing right here in the game, offering you a hand to pull you toward your goal.

With allergies, I feel this is a massive advantage.  I know that when I talk to someone in the allergy community, the connection over shared experiences is instant.  The emotions, the struggles, the daily life… we are speaking a shared language.  There is no intellectualizing.  There is understanding.

If you are new to the world of food allergies, I know it can feel overwhelming.  I also know there are other allergy moms and dads out there who get it, and who want to help you.  I want to make your transition into this world easier than mine was.  Reach out, find a mentor.  The buoyancy that comes from sharing your struggle with someone who has walked the same path is worth reaching for, and can save your sanity.

If you need a mentor, speak up.  If you want to be a mentor, reach out.  The world works better when we can lean on each other.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Eczema Relief

So, my daughter has battled eczema since the day she was born 11 years ago.  We learned early that her eczema virtually disappears when her diet is free of her allergens.  As she got older she developed more allergies, and food sensitivities as well.  These all make her eczema flare.  She also developed more typical eczema triggers- winter cold dry air.

I've seen dermatologists and allergists both for help in controlling the eczema.  Amazingly, the information they gave me was almost identical.  Either my allergist is amazing, or allergists deal with enough eczema that they have learned the drill as well.

I hate to rely on topical steroid creams and ointments, as the long term side effects are not good.  At all.  So I thought I would share some the the more natural ways we combat skin symptoms when eczema flares up at our house:

Epsom salt bath- I just learned about this.  The healing benefits of epsom salts cover many bases for eczema flares.  They relieve itch, help broken skin to heal more rapidly, and kill pathogens on the skin's surface.  Awesome!  Use one cup per bathtub for adults, 1/2 cup for children.  Use with water that is hot for best results (I know, hot water has always been discouraged for eczema!), and soak for 15-30 minutes depending on the tolerance of your skin.  My daughter stays on the 15 minute side.

Baking soda bath- This provides temporary relief from itching. 2 Tablespoons in her bath works well for temporary itch reprieve.  Be careful, as too much will actually further dry your skin!

Apple cider vinegar bath-  balances the skin's natural pH, provides mild antiseptic benefit to reduce pathogens on the skin's surface.  Add 1/3-2/3 cup per bath. It doesn't smell wonderful, so feel free to add a few drops of essential oil to make it more tolerable.

Chamomile extract- I have my daughter add this to her bath for the soothing effect on her psyche and her skin.  It can be used in combination with any of the above.  We get a food grade extract, and add 4 dropperfuls per bath.

Apricot kernel oil- When my daughter's skin is open from scratching and cracking, even the mildest lotions sting.  If it hurts, she is reluctant to use it.  We found that apricot kernel oil is extremely moisturizing without any stinging!  My favorite way to use it is to apply it to her hands right before bed, then cover with cotton gloves or socks.  Incredible improvement by morning!

These are our go-to natural relief methods, but I'm learning more every day.  Please tell me what works to help ease eczema symptoms at your house!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Monday Menu Plan

How is it Monday again already?  Time is flying by, and it seems the only time I update my blog lately is menu planning.  It's a fact of life, I do it every week, so I might as well share.  Hopefully there is some small benefit for you as well.

Breakfast: white bean and veggie saute
Lunch: sunbutter and apples
Dinner: turkey, herb roasted potatoes, pan seared brussels sprouts, applesauce

Breakfast: turkey sausage and veggie saute
Lunch: turkey slices
Dinner: beef vegetable soup, berry spinach salad

Breakfast: sausage spiced beef and veggie hash
Lunch: leftover soup
Dinner: black bean enchiladas, corn on the cob, peas

Breakfast: pumpkin muffins, green smoothie
Lunch: sunbutter and jelly
Dinner: Eggplant lasagna with italian sausage, green beans

Breakfast: bacon, cinnamon roasted squash
Lunch: pork breakfast sausage
Dinner: broiled (fish of the day), fried cabbage, roasted beets, spiced peaches

Breakfast: cream of buckwheat
Lunch: fish sticks
Dinner: spaghetti with meat sauce (turkey), broccoli

Breakfast: turkey sausage and pancakes
Lunch: turkey burgers
Dinner: rouladen, mashed potatoes, honey glazed carrots