Allergy Alert*

Well, I didn’t go to work today.

Last night I had every intention to. We had a friend come over for dinner, and after my crazy children went to bed I went into an intense work-prep mode. We are lucky to have someone come into our home to watch P while I’m at work, so I wanted to make sure things were sort of tidy for her. I did a quick blitz, then realized it was 9pm and I still needed to make lunches, prep backpacks, clean the kitchen and shower. I went upstairs to power through my list, but M took one look at my already stressed out face and encouraged me to just breathe. He then told me just to book the day off and start Thursday, when I’ve already been booked at a school I know (and love), rather than stressing about being up early and ready for a call that may or may not come.

I am married to a good man.

So, we went downstairs and I booked it off. He then helped me make the kids lunches and tidy the kitchen because he is wonderful. As I was digging through S’s backpack for her lunch bag, I realized I hadn’t checked her “zippy” for mail from the school that day. There was a letter sent home from her school about severe allergies in her classroom. I’m not going to lie, as I read it my jaw dropped in disbelief.

We’re used to the no nuts rule–most schools around us don’t even allow the substitute butters because they can so easily be mistaken. So hard as it is, nuts have long been off the table. I’m okay with that. But as “peas, beans, sesame and legumes” sunk in, I realized I send a ton of those things all the time. It’s a big part of what constitutes the “healthy” part of her lunch. I actually had to look up what is included in a legume or bean allergy, and it’s a long list:

Chickpeas, lentils, kidney beans and other dried beans, peanuts, soya, lupin, green beans, green peas, and fenugreek.

So no more hummus, chili, edamame, snap peas, cooked peas or brown beans. In the grand scheme of things, it’s not huge. Except I’m already restricted in what I can send her, and these are things that I can count on S eating willingly, that I know she loves and is happy eating.

A little over a year ago, we began noticing that S was having reactions to foods. It started after one Hallowe’en. One of our kind neighbours handed out BIG chocolate bars to the kids. When I was little that was the dream, and S was so excited to find one in her bag. We wouldn’t normally allow her to eat so much sugar in one sitting, but it was after Hallowe’en and sometimes you’ve just got to relax a little. Within 3o minutes of eating the chocolate bar, she started complaining that her stomach hurt. I thought it was from eating junk food, but she had really violent stomach cramps and was crying and almost doubling over in pain. She ended up in the bathroom with horrible diarrhea for a long time until her body calmed down. I hoped it was a one off, but we started noticing similar reactions whenever she ate large amounts of chocolate–all types: milk, dark, semi-sweet, it didn’t matter.

So, much to her dismay, we started cutting it out of her diet to see if it helped. Having a Daddy who also can’t eat most chocolate helped her not feel so alone, but having a “treat” suddenly became much less exciting. When you think about it, chocolate is on almost everything.

We noticed an improvement once she stopped eating, so we hoped that was it… but last spring she began complaining of a sore stomach quite a bit. Sometimes it was just a sore stomach, but other times she would have the horrible cramps and all that comes with them. M is extremely lactose intolerant and it runs all through his family, so I immediately suspected that dairy might be the culprit. I began eliminating dairy from her diet over the summer, and booked an appointment with our family doctor to see if we could get to the bottom of what’s going on. It involved a full check up and bloodwork, and an update on S’s growth.

It’s no secret that our children are built differently. H is two years younger than his sister, but already weighs more than she does. He has always ridden the 90th-100th percentile for his height and weight. S, on the other hand, has always been thin. She’s very active and eats pretty well, but she doesn’t gain weight easily. We updated her growth curve at her last appointment, and while she is still growing in height, her weight gain is not where it should be. Now I know it’s all a numbers game and she is happy and healthy and that’s what matters.

But, I do find it a little concerning that her weight curve has dropped almost 25% at each milestone. My doctor told me that she isn’t concerned yet, but that we really need to help her get a bit of meat on her bones. Guess what the first thing is that people recommend for weight gain? Dairy products. We can’t go that route, so we’re trying to be creative with nuts, healthy fats, eggs, protein, beans, carbs, etc. We’ll get there. I’m not freaking out about it, but sometimes when I can see her ribs on her back my inner mommy panics a teeny bit.

So, when it came time to start packing lunches this fall, I had to scratch my head a bit. I want to send her good, filling lunches that she will actually eat. It’s one thing to pack food in a lunch, it’s another for a kid to actually eat it. Last year she loved bagels with cream cheese, English muffin pizzas, veggies with dip, cheese strings, yogurt, and a ton of other snack products that all have dairy hidden in them. She seems to be able to tolerate small amounts of dairy or chocolate sporadically, but I’m trying to control it… and I can’t have her having an episode at school. So, I’ve been sending her hummus and chips, beans and hotdogs, turkey sandwiches with snap peas, or leftovers that have peas in them (it’s one of her favourite vegetables). I was literally preparing her a lunch of chips and hummus when I found the allergy notice in her bag.

I just got a bit overwhelmed last night when it felt like I was going to have to start over again, and find her new things she can eat that are 1) safe for her, and 2) safe for her friends around her. I can’t begin to imagine what it’s like to live in a home where the allergy is just always there, something to always be on alert for. I understand a little in that I’ve seen food literally hurt my child, but I’m grateful that for us, it’s not life threatening.

Gone are the days of peanut butter and jam sandwiches, zoodles, flakies and chocolate chip cookies… I’m always worried that she won’t be allowed to eat the treats or snacks I send her because they won’t be considered “healthy” enough. They just don’t understand that I’m trying to help my beautiful girl gain a bit of weight, and she already can’t eat most of the prepared foods out there. Thankfully Pinterest is a thing now and there are lots of ideas, it’s just.. I don’t know.

Sometimes it all just feels a little too much.

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