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Holiday and Food Allergies... When Anxiety Replaces Joy

Allergy Friendly ThanksgivingYou know the anticipation of holiday gatherings... the family, the friends, the food... the love, the laughter, the beautiful messes... all of the imperfect perfection that is family and togetherness, memory making, and the joy and excitement that comes with it?

Well, food allergies have nearly sucked all of the joy out of my holiday gathering anticipation. 

I hesitate to share my feelings about my son's food allergies because it's just such a downer sometimes but honestly, it's just real life. It's our life, and the lives of many others. So this one's for the parents out there who can relate. 

Holiday gatherings have taken on a whole new set of emotions for me since discovering his allergies. Where there used to be only joy and excitement at the thought of getting together with family for the holidays, anxiety and fear have taken over at the thought of all the foods that threaten his life. And on holidays, that's pretty much everything on our traditional menus. 

I always bring food that he can eat, EVERYWHERE we go, so it's not a matter of whether he can eat it or not. It's the combination of the foods, kids, messes, and chaos that causes my anxiety to take over. What should be sounds of joy - kids laughing and playing and enjoying themselves while digging into turkey and gravy, pie and whipped cream, and everything in between - have become sounds that absolutely terrify me. Did the other kids wash their hands after the last thing they ate? Is there any buttery residue on the truck that he's playing with? Could anyone have accidentally touched his drink with messy hands? Is he going to make a mistake and eat something that he shouldn't? How on EARTH am I supposed to take my eyes off of him when he's surrounded by death traps?! 

And everyone tries. They really, really do. In fact there was a time when I would have trusted foods made by other people if they had assured me they were safe for him. What changed that? More awareness changed that. And awareness comes with time spent living with the child with food allergies.

I realized that someone might accidentally stick the wrong spoon in the allergy-friendly dish (because that's happened).

I realized that some people don't actually know what dairy is, and that it's not just the lactose, so lactose-free is not safe either.

I realized that cross contamination happens too easily.

I realized that someone could accidentally put a wrong ingredient in their allergy-friendly dish that's not actually safe (because I DID that to my poor sister and her family with wheat flour... talk about feeling awful and like a complete moron, especially as someone who lives with food allergies!).

I recently learned that some gluten-free flours have milk powder in them. I mean, what?! It's flour!

Sometimes I feel terrible, even guilty, for carrying around this anxiety. There are so many children out there who are truly suffering on a daily basis. I count my blessings, and I am so very thankful that my son is strong and healthy. But the fears don't dissipate when I focus on the good. They hide in a corner waiting for the perfect moment to pounce back out and attempt to push me over the edge. Sometimes they succeed, and I completely lose my sh*t (which may or may not happen in front of people). And that basically is how I envision holidays now... me shoving my anxiety in a corner until I eventually feel like I'm going to lose it, while my son is running around in the middle of a bunch of death traps. Talk about your holiday joys.

But I decided that something needs to change, so this year I'm making our own Thanksgiving meal at home with ALL allergy-safe foods. We will still go see our families (and I'll still be a nervous wreck), but I'm hoping to start a new tradition for our little family that will help bring back some of the joy in the holiday feast. It will all be gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free, and nut-free, and I am seriously SO excited about figuring out how to make a traditional style allergy-friendly Thanksgiving meal. I'll share all of the recipes that I plan to use in another post for any other allergy families out there looking for ideas (and I'll share how they turn out after I actually make them... fingers crossed it all turns out well haha!).

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