My son has serious outbursts. Hitting, biting, wailing on the floor until he gets (or doesn’t get) what he wants. It reminds me of a child being possessed by an angry spirit. He definitely isn’t himself at times. The doctor recommended that we put him on a new diet to see if it helps with his anger and frustration so we started the Feingold diet. Heard of it? It means elimination of all preservatives, artificial sweeteners, dyes and salicylates (sugars found in some foods like fruits and vegetables). Elimination diets are not new to us. My daughter was born severely allergic to eggs and milk. Now we have her on a FODMAP diet (for IBS) that also eliminates sugars (unfortunately not the same sugars as the Feingold diet). My husband has severe intolerances to gluten and milk. We’ve played this game for years. Fun as it is not… I sometimes feel like I’ve got a handle on it. However, that feeling usually only lasts an hour.
Weekly I take my oldest to her allergy appointments. Because of the nature of the appointments, they recommend other children stay home. My usual babysitter (family) has not been available so I have been seeking out new friends to help watch my son while I go to the allergist with my daughter. I called a friend with a son the same age as mine. We see each other at church and at the park but I had not been in her home yet. I felt comfortable asking her to babysit. She said yes.
As I stepped into her home to drop off my son, I did a quick scan of her home. Comfortable and cute. My eyes drifted to the kitchen and alarm hit my brain. Fruit loops! On the table and chair. This would normally not have been any kind of concern for me, as I understand kids are messy (my home is often covered in crumbs), but my brain screamed “FOOD DYE!” In my mind, I saw my child playing and grabbing a fruit loop from the counter to eat. Fruit loops seem to be one of the worst foods for my kids. It changes their behavior and even the color of their bowels. I felt panic as I imagined the next week, dealing with a child who would be out of control angry, slamming doors, hitting… inconsolable. The dilemma started.
For me there is a slight shame feeling that comes with explaining food allergies. By shame I mean the fear of losing connection with that person. Will they want to be friends with us if they have to change how they do things? Do they know how to read food labels? Do they feel I am inconveniencing or belittling them? I feel bad for the trouble, but always brush it aside with the concern for safety. Safety of my children is always first, even if it means losing potential friends. I felt panic, shame, embarrassment, and concern for my child in the moment I saw fruit loops on the counter.
Deep breath. I explained my son’s intolerances. I offered a bag of acceptable snacks and casually pointed out the fruit loops. She smiled and said she understood. I walked away a little braver, but still not sure how the future will play out with this friend. Will she still want to be friends?
Finding an acceptable babysitter is always a dilemma for us. Calling the local teenager doesn’t work. For one thing, will they hold firm even when my child tries to manipulate them into getting something they shouldn’t eat. Also, do they know the signs of anaphylaxis and how to use an epi-pen? As parents of food allergy/intolerant children, we don’t get out a lot. We have to rely on family frequently. When actually getting a babysitter (non-family) our date night is short and the feeling of concern often looms. Fear seems to reside, deep within me. The fear that no matter how much I protect my children, I cannot always be there for them. The fear that they will someday have to make their own decisions. The fear that they can (and will) be hurt in their lives.
I have felt this same panic many times in my parenting life. The playgroup with kids who discarded their sippy cups of milk on the floor and my milk allergic child picks it up. The babysitter who knew my child was allergic to milk, but gave her yogurt anyways (thinking yogurt was different than milk). The time an adult used a rag (that had touched mayonnaise) to wipe my child’s face only to see it break out into hives. And it goes on. I know we will have many more accidental exposures in our lives. That is just how life works.
The babysitter fear will always be real for me. I cannot protect from it all but I am doing the best that I can. One way is taking special precaution when choosing a babysitter. A person who understands food allergies/intolerances is invaluable in my life. The mom that expresses concern and offers to modify their diet for the day so my child can be safe is a mom that is touches my heart and keeps me believing in good. And one day I won’t have to worry about babysitters. But I think I dread that day even more, because it means my child is old enough to make their own decisions. Will my child thoroughly read food labels and/or be able to say no to their friends? Will she always carry her epi-pen and be brave enough to use it?
As a mom, there will always be something to fear. *sigh*