Starting School With a Food Allergy

Asa starting preschool this past Monday. (It’s Friday night as I’m writing this.) I have so many things to write about but I’ve honestly been putting it off because I’m a little overwhelmed and exhausted by it all.

We knew this day was coming. She turned 3 in December and the plan was to enroll her then. With COVID, we decided to delay that start date a little. We finally felt it was the right time to send her, but our nerves on the allergy front haven’t lessened at all. How could they, really? This is the first time that she has ever really been with anyone other than our parents. We have left her in church Sunday school before, and honestly, even that brings me anxiety! But this is a whole new ballgame. Dropping her off, out of our sight, with complete strangers, knowing that we can’t be there to watch her every move is completely terrifying. It’s unlike anything I can even explain. If you have children, you know the anxieties that come with the first day of school. Now take those anxieties and amplify them by 100. Maybe that can help give you a little taste of what I was feeling leading up to Monday.

We tried to be extremely prepared. We contacted the school months ago and I met with the principal to talk about our concerns. (Reminder that Asa has 3 major food allergies – milk, egg, and peanut.) That led to a conversation with the school nurse to develop an individualized health plan to go over what to do in case of an emergency. We agreed that Asa’s EpiPen would stay in her backpack with her in the classroom at all times so that it would be readily available in case it was needed. We agreed that 911 as well as my husband and I would be called immediately if they even suspected she had been in contact with an allergen. We went over the snack list and agreed that we could send in our own snacks from home just to control exactly what she could have. She would be given soy milk instead of normal milk in the classroom. We sent over her allergy plan from her allergist. I even took time to label her EpiPen cases clearly with her allergens. We felt as prepared as we possibly could be, but the anxiety and fear was still there.

I bought her EpiPen cases from PracMedic and labeled them with her allergies myself using vinyl and my Cricut 🙂

Monday came and Asa was SO excited to start school. She had been wearing her backpack around the house for at least a week and was so excited that she was going to school just like her big sissy. She couldn’t wait to use her new water bottle and go meet her new teacher. She was excited and filled with hope. We were excited but also filled with fear. I tried to occupy my brain by making her a shirt for her first day. She wore it proudly and looked adorable when we dropped her off for her first day.

Our big girl on her first day!

After dropping her off with tears in our eyes, my husband and I both started saying that we still felt slightly unsettled. While developing her health plan with the school we had asked about having all of the kids hands/mouths washed or wiped down after snack time to ensure that no allergens were left on them after they ate and drank. We were told that wasn’t really feasible. It wasn’t sitting well with us.

I posted on Facebook about Asa’s first day of school and asked for people to be praying for our anxieties and for her to be safe. A fellow allergy mom reached out to me and asked if we had a 504 in place. My response was basically, “A 50-what?” I had no idea what a 504 was. A 504 for food allergies is essentially a kind of written management plan that is very commonly used for several kind of disabilities or health conditions including food allergies. More information on them can be found here. She advised that we work on one immediately as they are legally binding and are more official than the individuated health plan we had already created (which was still a great first step).

I immediately started looking up information. I also posted in a local group on Facebook to try to find other food allergy parents in our school district who already had 504s for their children to see if they would share their experiences with me. I was in the luck! I had one of them immediately message me and then ask if she could call me. She talked to me like we had known each other for years. The food allergy community is amazing. Once you have a child with food allergies – you just get it. You understand the struggles, the fears, the constant worry, and you just empathize in a way that makes you want to help others. She told me that part of her child’s 504 includes his classmates washing their hands after they eat every single time. (That was funny since we were told that wasn’t feasible.) She armed me with a lot of great information.

I reached out to the principal, the school nurse, and Asa’s teacher immediately. We set up a meeting to discuss a 504 and talk about our concerns. In the meeting with them, I started by saying that I didn’t ask to have this meeting because I thought they were doing a horrible job. I was actually really impressed with the way our district handles food allergies and think that they are leaps and bounds above other school districts in this matter. I thanked them for their help so far. I then told them that they needed to understand that one small accident could lead to my child’s death. I explained that it’s hard for me to feel confident leaving Asa in anyone’s care when I don’t even fully trust myself. I have to double and triple check every single thing I give to her because I never know when I manufacturer that I trust is going to change their recipe or change their factory and make it unsafe for my daughter. I am constantly concerned that one little slip up could result in an anaphylactic reaction. I also explained that in her 3 years of life we have had to use an EpiPen 2 times. I said that the last thing that I wanted was for a teacher or a staff member to have to administer an EpiPen to her. It’s stressful and scary and I didn’t want them to have to go through that. I tried to be firm and blunt but understanding and caring in my delivery.

They were so incredibly helpful. When we brought up the hand washing this time, they didn’t bat an eye. In fact, they took it a step further and said that it may be better to just remove the allergens from the classroom altogether. (YES, PLEASE!) They are writing up her 504 right now and we will have it completed in the next couple of weeks. With the 504, it will follow her throughout the district as she moves up in grades but will be adjusted every year based on her needs, so we will have these meetings yearly.

I wanted to write all of this out because I thought it was important information for others to have. I know that we are all in various stages of our food allergy journeys. Maybe you aren’t even a food allergy parent, but you are reading this to be informed, and if you are – thank you! Seriously, from the bottom of my heart, thank you. When I posted in the Facebook group asking for allergy parents who have made a 504, I had several people comment telling me “504s aren’t for allergies” or “just talk to a principal”. Many people were immediately dismissive of me for absolutely no reason. It was incredibly disheartening. Along with that, I had a lot of allergy parents come to my defense and offer their support and help. I hope that this blog if one of those resources to those of you fighting this fight. I know the fears you face every day because I face them too.

I have still been spending this week thinking of even more ways to keep Asa safer. I added more visuals to her backpack to remind people of her allergies.

I don’t think that will ever stop. I’ll probably always be innovating new ways to make her allergies more known so that she is safer at school. For now though, she made it through week 1 and I feel more empowered after advocating for her and using my voice to speak up! I’m also super thankful to the food allergy mom who called me even when she didn’t know me because she encouraged me to do just that! (Shoutout Kristin!) And special thanks to Sarah who is always a huge support for me and messaged me about the 504 in the first place!! You’re a rockstar!! If you have questions about anything I mentioned in this blog, please don’t hesitate to reach out! Or if you just want to vent or talk, I’m here for that too.

Blow after blow…

Two years ago yesterday we had to administer our first epipen. I had just gotten home from work. My husband had tried peanut butter with Asa for the first time and it had seemed to go well! Hours had gone by with no reaction. But soon after I got home, I noticed a hive. We kept looking and more just kept appearing. We were so confused. It had been hours! Surely this wasn’t an allergy, right? Wrong.

The hives continued and just kept getting worse. We called 911 because we were worried about her breathing and hoped they’d come check her. On their way to our house, the hives started covering her body. We decided not to risk it. I had to put my practice to the test and administer the first EpiPen I’ve even done (unfortunately not my last). I was scared, but honestly, my adrenaline took over in that moment, and I just did what I knew I needed to do to protect and save my daughter.

Thankfully, we gave the Epi in time and Asa was able to get all the help she needed. We followed up with the hospital and they monitored her for a few hours. They told us that delayed reactions can indeed happen. We were so sad and discouraged. The milk allergy was already hard enough and we were still trying to figure out how to navigate life with food allergies. Now we had to add in another one? Was there anything left for her to even eat? How would we manage a household with two major food allergies in it? How could we protect her?

We didn’t know that just a few months later we’d have to tag on another allergy – egg – and would have to once again administer an EpiPen. We felt like we just kept getting hit with blow after blow.

I know that some of you are reading this and think that it feels all too familiar. I know my family isn’t alone. It’s ok to be sad. It’s ok to mourn the “normal” life that others get to enjoy while yours is filled with anxiety and worry 24/7. It’s ok to be scared and overwhelmed. It was those feelings that led me to start this blog and my social media pages to begin with. I needed an outlet for my own feelings, and I needed a community that understood what I was going through. I needed support and I wanted to provide support to others.

We have since learned to cope and have become so much more knowledgable. We discovered that, yes, there were plenty of food lefts for her to eat! We just needed to educate ourselves (and others) a bit more. I hope that you read this and know that there are others that understand your struggle. If you ever have any questions, or just need someone to vent to, feel free to reach out! I’m always more than happy to talk!

It’s been a year already?

How is that even possible? It’s been exactly one year since I decided that I needed to start this website. I remember what sparked me to start it was a very close encounter with an allergy at Thanksgiving dinner last year (see my blog on that here). We were still pretty new to our food allergy journey and I was constantly being shocked and surprised by the places I was finding allergies hiding in the things I assumed would be safe. It was then that I realized I wasn’t the only person fighting this fight. There were countless others like me, trying to keep their kids safe in a very scary and anxiety-filled world.

I hope that this page has helped you in some way – whether it was just by letting you know that you aren’t alone, or giving you allergy-friendly recipes and fun recommendations, or letting you know about things to avoid. This page has been major therapy for me. It’s helped me find a community of people. Between all of my social media platforms, I have found a group of of people – my people – who really understand the daily struggles of being a food allergy parent.

I’m going to keep on trucking, and I hope that you’ll stick along for the ride!

In honor of our one year anniversary, here’s an updated photo of me and my little food allergy warrior! She is the reason I fight every day and I will never stop being her advocate!

Me and my mini me

Teal Pumpkin Project – Supporting Kids with Food Allergies During Halloween

I’ve had several people reach out to me asking about the Teal Pumpkin Project – either about what it is, or about how to support it. So let me address both!

The Teal Pumpkin Project was started as a way to show solidarity and support to those that live with food allergies – specifically during Halloween. Teal is the color for food allergies, so having a teal pumpkin outside your house is an indicator that you have non-food treats for trick-or-treaters! It can also be used to signify that your child HAS food allergies if you let them carry a teal pumpkin or bag. You can find out more information about the Teal Pumpkin Project here. On the website, you can even sign up to take the pledge and receive a free certificate that you can hang in your window to show that you have non-food treats for kids!

Over the years, the idea of the teal pumpkins have become widely accepted and you can now find the teal plastic pumpkins just about anywhere! You can find them at Target here or at Walmart here. You can also find more decorative teal pumpkins if you search their websites! Target even has these awesome bags for kids with food allergies to carry as their trick-or-treat bags! One of my best friends picked them up for my daughter!

Adorable little Food Allergy bags! You can find these in “Bullseye’s Playground” at Target! (Commonly referred to as the dollar section.) These are just $1!

My husband and I are working a “Spooktacular Walk” in a neighboring town in a few weeks and decided that our table will be completely allergy-friendly. We are going to use a teal table cloth to cover our table, and will only be handing out non-candy items to the kids. It’s so important to be inclusive during the holidays – and Halloween is no exception. I can’t tell you how much it means to me when I see that someone has thought about Asa and other kids like her by including non-food items to keep her safe! One incident of cross-contamination could send her into anaphylactic shock, so the holidays can be scary and nerve wracking for those of us with food allergies. Anything you can do to help put parents like me at ease means more than you know!

Hopefully by now, I’ve convinced you to offer more than just candy for the trick-or-treaters who may come by your house. Now you may be wondering what the heck you should get instead of Snickers or Hersheys bars. Well, I’m here to help! Here are some ideas along with some links for easy purchasing if you’d like. 🤗

By no means does this list cover everything, but hopefully it will at least spark some ideas for you!

If you are bound and determined to still offer food treats, consider a few brands that are known for being allergy friendly with the Top 8 allergens. However, it’s important to remember that people can be allergic to things outside of those top 8, and it’s still incredibly important to read ingredients and do your research! Some ideas are:

  • Dum Dums suckers – Visit their website here for allergy info.
  • Enjoy Life brand candies – Visit their website here to see their options and allergy info! (You can now find these at some retail stores and grocery stores!)
  • Pez – Visit their website here for allergy information.
  • YumEarth candies – Visit their website here for allergy information. (Please note that their candy corn contains eggs but the rest of their products are free of the Top 8!!!)

I hope that this has helped some of you! And thanks for being inclusive for my kiddo and others like her! 😍

Adorable Kids Book About Food Allergies!

We found another super cute book about food allergies! It’s based on an episode of Daniel Tiger where Daniel finds out that he is allergic to peaches.

It’s a super cute book that all of my children enjoyed. It also includes cute little rules to follow if you have food allergies. The rules are:

  1. Don’t eat the food that you’re allergic to.
  2. If you don’t feel well, tell a grown-up.
  3. Ask before you eat something new to make sure you are not allergic.

The book can be found on Amazon for only $3.99! Here is the link: Daniel Has An Allergy.

Advice for new food allergy parents!

A couple weeks ago, I went to my social media platforms and asked for people to send me what their advice for new food allergy parents would be!

I had over a dozen people send me their advice. I wanted to make sure to share them all on the website as well because we got some really great ones! Which one resinates with you the most?

Food Allergy Education Resources

May is Food Allergy Awareness Month and May 10-16 was Food Allergy Awareness Week. In honor of that, I worked hard over the last couple of months to create some food allergy education resources!

As a food allergy mom, I’ve seen the need for creative ways to explain food allergies to kids. So, I decided to create an educational activity book geared towards kids ages 3-8. It helps explain food allergies through interactive, printable pages that can be used at home or in school! 

If you have a child with food allergies and are looking for a way to educate other kids about those allergies, this if for you! If you are looking for a way to teach your child about food allergies so they can better support their friends, this is also for you!

The activity book is available through my Etsy shop here.

It’s only $5.50 and $1 of every activity book purchased will be donated to Food Allergy Research & Education to support food allergy research!

Each order contains a 6-page activity book that you can print as many times as you’d like once you have purchased it! I used the book with my kindergarten daughter and she loved it! It was great to teach her more about her sister’s allergies but also to teach her about other food allergies as well. I hope it’s as useful for some of you as it is for us!

The second thing I created is a food allergy coloring book just for kids with food allergies! It contains a page specific to each of the top 8 allergies. It covers the very basics of what it means to have a food allergy and gives them coloring pages to talk through it! It’s available to purchase from my Etsy shop here for only $3. 

These were truly a labor of love for me and I would be extremely grateful if you would consider using it with your own children! Every kid who knows about food allergies is a kid that can help keep my daughter safe! ❤️❤️

Staying Positive During a Pandemic

If you’re like me, these last few weeks have had a lot of ups and downs. I stopped working three weeks ago when the major retailer I work for decided to close their stores. Thankfully, they are still paying all of us, so that’s one major headache that I haven’t had to encounter. But the stress, anxiety, and worry that came along with stay-at-home orders, rising COVID-19 numbers, and working from home were all there.

We have 3 kids at home – a 6-year-old, a 2-year-old, and an 8-month-old. The 6 year old in in kindergarten, so when schools shut down, teaching from home became our new normal. I still breastfeed my 8-month-old which means that he is tied to my hip about 10 out of the 24 hours of the day (aka the entire time he’s awake). The 2-year-old is independent and needy all at the same time. She is so strong-willed and she’s also my allergy kiddo. She’s also potty training. My house is chaotic. Just the three of them cooped up in the house creates some stress. But the things outside the house create even more.

Will my family stay safe through this pandemic? Am I making the right choices to help keep them safe? Am I doing enough to disinfect everything that we have delivered? Am I being over the top if I wipe down every single thing that enters our house? Am I not being protective enough if I don’t wipe every single thing down or leave it in the garage for days as I keep seeing people suggest? What provides less risk – having our groceries delivered by a stranger or having my husband run out to grab what we need? Will the store have all of the allergy-friendly foods that my daughter desperately needs? When will I go back to work? Will my daughter get to finish her first year of school in her actual school building or will we be finishing the school year at home? Did I just hear someone sneeze? What does that mean? Where is my thermometer? Am I paying enough attention to the kids and providing them with enough activities to keep them entertained? Am I taking care of myself during this and giving myself the breaks I need? Am I still being a good wife to my husband? How did I forget to add that to my grocery list? Am I a good enough mom to survive this?

These questions and others like it have been running through my head constantly these last few weeks. I struggle with anxiety as it is, so this pandemic has only amplified that. I really thought I was doing well until I realized that my old friend insomnia had come back for a visit. Suddenly I was having a hard time falling asleep and sometimes an even harder time staying asleep (although my 8-month-old doesn’t really help that! haha!). I had to re-frame my thoughts – and fast – if I wanted to come out of this pandemic with all of my hair.

The truth is, there are a lot of things I can’t control right now. That’s where anxiety stems from – the unseen. But the other truth is that there are still things I can control. There are things we can all do to stay positive. I can choose joy. Here are some of the things that I’ve been making myself do. Hopefully they will help you too!

  1. Focus on the time you get to spend with your family.
    • This time is invaluable. Outside of maternity leave, I have NEVER gotten this much time to spend with my kids or my husband. As a working mom, I feel like I’m constantly missing things. But in these last 3 weeks, I have put my kids to bed every single night. I’ve been there when they woke up every morning. I’ve eaten dinner with them nightly. I’ve played with them, read to them, cooked for them, and cuddled with them. I’ve been there. And that is enough!
  2. Go back to the basics.
    • The other night we had one of the most fun moments I think we’ve ever had as a family. My husband lit the fire pit, we roasted marshmallows, and then we played a good ole’ fashioned game of tag. The laughter of my two girls and the deep, winded breaths of my husband and me did so much good for my soul. It was so simple. All we were doing was running around our yard looking like crazy people. But it was so much fun. Kids don’t need elaborate games for playtime. They don’t need your latest find on Pinterest (although those can be totally fun too!). They just need you to be there with them and show them attention. That moment playing tag was a great wake up call for me. It will forever be a favorite memory of mine. And my goal is to make sure that moments like this don’t stop once all of this is over and we go back to “normal”.
  3. Look for the helpers.
    • As the great Mr. Rogers once said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things on the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'” I’m telling you guys, they are everywhere! Seek out the good stories. Seek out the people that show you that good still exists in this world. Share those stories with others. We all need them!
  4. Be a helper!
    • Nothing brings more joy than sharing kindness with others. People are struggling right now – financially, mentally, and emotionally. There are always ways that we can help. It could be monetary, but it doesn’t have to be. Send a letter. Send a text. Pick up the phone. FaceTime someone. Have your kids draw pictures to send to family and friends. Bless someone if you have the opportunity.
  5. Remind yourself that this is temporary.
    • This won’t last forever. Give yourself some grace right now. We are in uncharted territory. None of us really prepared for this. But we will get through it!

How are you surviving all of this? Are you staying positive? Let me know what you’ve been doing to stay in a positive state of mind!

Becoming a Food Allergy Mom

On November 27, 2018, we found out that my 11-month-old daughter was allergic to dairy. I suspected she might be after two strange incidents. The first incident involved vomiting violently after eating a new baby puree. When I checked the ingredients of the tub of baby food, I saw that it had pineapple and milk – two things she had never had before. I wondered if that could be a cause but I quickly dismissed the thought and returned to life as normal. A month or so later while eating out at a restaurant, my daughter got ahold of a butter packet on the table. She chewed on it, busted it open, and made a mess. I didn’t think much of it – after all, my kids have done much worse before. But about 10 minuted later, I noticed that she had a swollen upper lip.

At first I thought she must have hit it when the packet exploded. Then my mom brain kicked in – what if this was the milk in the butter? Could she be having an allergic reaction? Again, I sort of dismissed my thought but her lip was only getting worse so we decided to be safe and head to urgent care.

The doctor said that it did, indeed, look like an allergic reaction. My head started spinning. There’s no way she’s allergic to milk, right? Not my kid. We made a follow up with our pediatrician who referred us to an allergist just in case. Two weeks before my daughter’s first birthday (you know… the one where they are start drinking whole cow’s milk…) we found out that she had a dairy allergy. What did this mean??? They ordered us an epipen, quickly taught us how to use it, gave us about 20 sheets of information about allergies, asked if we had any questions and sent us on our way. Did I have any questions? Um… yeah… about a thousand. I couldn’t even wrap my head around this food allergy. No one else in my family or my husband’s family had ever had a food allergy. I had no idea what it really meant. But boy, was I about to find out.

Within a couple months, our allergist had us try a few other foods – soy, egg, peanut. Soy didn’t produce an allergy. Thank God! One down! When my husband tried peanut butter one day while I was at work, he thought we had made it through that one as well. She was acting fine. But the moment I walked in the front door after work, I saw a tiny spot on her skin. We started checking her and the hives literally started spreading before our eyes. We called 911. I had to give the epipen. My daughter was crying hysterically. I was putting on a brave face but inside I was terrified. We went to the hospital to be monitored. Thankfully, the epipen worked and we were discharged within a few hours.

Another month went by and we introduced egg. This time, we were both home when we did it – we were scared to do it alone. Her reaction to the egg was scarier than anything we had ever experienced. She broke out in hives. BAD hives. So bad that they spread to every inch of her body. I called 911 to be safe. I wanted them to check her lungs. While on the phone with them, my daughter started wheezing. My husband and I looked at each other and knew that the epipen was needed. I once again slammed the needle into my daughter’s leg. She once again cried. We were once again terrified. We went to the hospital, as you always should after administering an epipen. But this time was worse.

The hives started spreading again. She was crying and lethargic. She was laying on me and not letting go. I was praying – literally. The doctor said they were going to have to do another round of epi. They went to place the order. I was filled with fear. Why wasn’t this working? Why was she so lethargic? Was she going to be ok? I prayed again – literally. Right before the doctor came back in the room, her hives started subsiding. She started acting more like herself. Thankfully, we escaped having to administer more medicine, but the fear remained.

My husband and I went home that day more scared than ever. It was the first time we had REALLY seen the potential danger of her food allergies. This was more than hives. This had effected her breathing, and that’s something you never want to see your child go through. From that moment on, we became more vigilant than ever. Throughout the past year, we’ve learned a ton. We still mess up. Food allergies are really difficult to navigate. And out of that, this blog/site was born. My goal is help provide support, educate others, and share some tips and tricks along the way! Like it or not, I’m a food allergies mom. I hope this will help some others out there like me!