by Carrie Saum
This post was made possible by our sister site, Our Stable Table.
My son, E, has a rare, severe food allergy called FPIES. (I’ve written about it here). Holidays and family gatherings are chock full of well-meaning parents and aunts and uncles and cousins who want to help us keep E safe, but just don’t always know how. Or remember how.
Last Fourth of July, Echo was a busy little guy. He explores and inspects everything. No speck of dust goes unnoticed by him. At the time, we struggled to keep him safe while he picked up every crumb from the floor. It terrified Lance and me. During this time, we visited my family in another state. We prepped them, lectured them, and conducted a family meeting within the first ten minutes of arrival. E needed us to help him be safe. Everyone agreed E’s safety was important and they would help.
My brother was watching TV in the living room a few minutes after our family meeting. He put a can of root beer down on the side table, not thinking about tiny baby hands that find everything they’re not supposed to have in mere nanoseconds. E raced over to the shiny can, grabbed it and pulled it down immediately, dousing himself in sticky caramel colored corn syrup. I freaked out. My brother felt terrible. We immediately hosed E down and scrubbed the soda off of him from head to toe. We held our breath for the next several hours to see if he would react to the corn syrup. (He didn’t.)
In spite of everyone’s best intentions and total agreement to make the holiday and visit safe for E, he still managed to find the chinks in our armor. He wasn’t being naughty, and my brother wasn’t being negligent. Its just part of navigating life and holidays with kids who require extra care.
In our case, this is really important and for some children, it is a life and death concern. But it doesn’t matter if your child has a full-blown allergy, slight sensitivity, or you just don’t want them eating certain things. This is your kid. Your boundaries are important, especially when you are making choices to keep your child safe or healthy.
Here are a few ways to bring a little sanity during to your holiday season, and navigate gatherings when your kid has a restricted diet or you’re just not ready for them to have certain foods introduced to their systems just yet.
1. Prepare. E-mail or text every friend and family member attending the holiday gathering a few days in advance. In clear and concise terms, share what your child needs to enjoy a safe holiday. For example, “Hi Loved Ones! Just a quick reminder that Buddy is allergic to Red Dye # 5, and throws up when he eats foods containing this dye. PLEASE DON’T FEED HIM ANYTHING AT ALL without my permission first, otherwise we could end up celebrating in the Emergency Room instead of around the table with you. If you want to know more about his allergy, please read (link), or give me a call. Thank you so much for helping us keep our guy safe! Also, it would be a huge help to us if you would be willing to keep an eye out for stray food ”.
2. Enlist help. When getting together with friends or family that may not be familiar with the guidelines you have for food when it comes to your child(ren), have a family meeting early in the gathering and ask them to be guardian angels. My eight year old niece, Sav, saw E reaching for the soda and alerted us to what was happening the second before it happened. She gave us a half-second head start, which is all we needed to ensure E didn’t get his fingers in his mouth. She appointed herself as his guardian angel and for the rest of the holiday weekend, she alerted us when he found a stray french fry and gently took it from him while explaining to him how it could hurt him if he ate it. Sav felt important and E had the added benefit of another person watching out for him. Plus, he followed her around like she hung the moon and they formed a very special bond.
3. Babywear. Wear your baby or toddler as much as possible. The easiest way to keep your kiddo safe is to keep them close. If they like being worn and are small enough, wear them. Trade off with your partner, or another trusted family member. I know it’s not ideal and many littles won’t love this for the duration. But even if it’s just for 30 minutes, it’s 30 minutes you don’t have to worry about their safety. It reduces your anxiety, which will reduce theirs in turn. You can also take that opportunity to scope out gathering for potential problems.
4. Be firm. Don’t be afraid of hurting people’s feelings. My sweet mom, (who would never intentionally do ANYTHING to harm her grandson), once gave E a coffee can to play with. She forgot to wash it out. He had the lid off and was shoulder deep in Folgers remnants before I could even process what he had. I instantly became upset with her, and although I regret the level of reaction now, I don’t regret reacting. I apologized to her later for my tone, but not for reacting. She can’t be cavalier with food, and although I never believed that was her intention, I was ready to stay somewhere else if it meant my son would be safe. I told her this with as much kindness and clarity as possible. I know it hurt her feelings, and it made me sad knowing I hurt her. But her feelings were secondary to my son’s health. Even people who love our kiddos don’t always connect with the vigilance required for FPIES and other allergies and health concerns. Although I never WANT to hurt anyone’s feelings, and typically find a kind way to state (or restate) boundaries, sometimes it happens and I try to work it out with the offended party pretty quickly.
5. Party later. Celebrate in your own way. When all else fails, stay vigilant during your festivities. Then crack open a bottle of wine or martini shaker when you get home after the kids are asleep. If you don’t drink, it’s no problem! You can still mix up a relaxing mocktail. My favorite? Kombucha Christmas Cosmo. Don’t worry, you don’t have to come up with a recipe on your own, you can find this easy recipe and more at OurStableTable.com.