Allergy free is a misnomer. When it comes to food, allergy friendly is a more accurate term since there are over 170 food items that are known to have triggered reactions. What is safe for one person could cause anaphylaxis in another. However, removal of the allergic person from the home can result in the other non-allergic household members to safely consume a wider variety of food. After 13 years of keeping a kitchen and home free of peanuts, tree nuts, soy protein, peas, chickpeas and lentils, my older daughter went to college. Here's what happened.
As she was embracing the challenges and freedoms of living in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in Boulder, CO, we too were faced with a brave new world at home. The sadness and emptiness I felt with her absence were slowly replaced by a new normal of having one child at home, the one who does not have any food allergies.
One day, my husband took our younger daughter out for ice cream. She came home with chocolate peanut butter chunk. I felt weird having it in the house but we discussed it and decided that it was ok and posed no threat to my allergic child since it was disposable and she wouldn't be home for months. Dining out was a pleasure and we exalted in ordering once banned food like edamame or pad thai. It turns out that my younger daughter LOVES peanut butter. And tofu. And peas. And so do I. I drew the line at jars of peanut butter but did indulge in having some foods in the house that we could enjoy while our college daughter was halfway across the country. I make a mean panko-sesame tofu that has become a weekly staple. Now, as she is finishing up her freshman year and preparing for finals, I realize I have to remove all traces of these forbidden foods and once again resume our strict avoidance of nuts and legumes.
Halloween was particularly interesting. In the years since my college girl was in kindergarten, Halloween was a day fraught with fear, anxiety and anger. I had to attend every classroom Halloween party to make sure the almond finger nails and peanut butter monsters didn't end up near my child. This was before it was acceptable to ban these foods at classroom celebrations to protect children. My daughter was the only kid in her grade of 100 with peanut allergies so advocating was hard, tiring and lonely work. I had to scour my kids pillowcases filled with candy to make sure nothing forbidden crossed our front door. Once my girls were safely tucked into bed I could relax, knowing that the allergens that could literally kill my daughter, and most likely eaten by people all around her, did not hurt her this year. That might sound extreme but I will bet that every allergy mom or dad knows what I'm talking about.
This year was different. I felt a little guilty but I bought the bag of candies that contained Snickers, Reese's and Butterfingers because I could. Then I felt guilty about the kids who had allergies so I went back and bought peanut free candies and put them in different, labelled orange and teal pumpkins. Once an allergy mom, always an allergy mom. I put all the leftover peanut candies in an airtight container in the back of our pantry and all the peanut m&ms in the freezer. Why am I surprised that I still have most of it?
Then, in January, sometime between the NFL playoffs and the Superbowl, someone gave us a yard of Snickers bars. That's 18 full sized bars. Our daughter had just left to return to college, and we knew she would not be home for 4 months. We did the math and decided that the 3 of us could eat 1-2 bars a month and it would be gone before the end of the semester. We were wrong. After the initial guilty pleasure of eating Snickers in our own kitchen wore off, we stopped eating them. There are still 4 left. Our team won the Superbowl but we failed the Snickers challenge.
Giving up food we like to protect someone with allergies is actually not such a big deal. I am not going to feel an ounce of guilt asking someone to remove an allergen. Even when I could indulge in a forbidden food, I usually didn't. As we prepare for her safe return from Colorado, I wonder if some of my anxiety will be lessened, I am not the one solely responsible for her safety. She knows how to take care of herself and make safe decisions. I miss her so much I am actually looking forward to being crazy allergy mom again.