I definitely wish my son Alex didn’t have food allergies – life would be so much easier, but I think there is always something to be grateful for and it helps keep me positive in the tough times. I have been thinking a lot about what I am grateful for this week because it’s Food Allergy Week, which reminds me that 1 in 10 babies in Australia will develop a food allergy. That sure is a large number of families who live just like my family!
1. Things could be A LOT worse
It took me a while to realise this. In the beginning I felt pretty hard done by, especially when my son was first gluten free, dairy free, soy free, egg free, tree nut free, peanut free, sesame free, rice free, fish free, shellfish free and beef free. He wouldn’t eat anything I made because of his food phobia and a lot of it actually ended up in the bin. The truth is that lots of kids who have eosinophilic oesophagitis and food allergies do it tougher. I am grateful that with good management Alex is well.
2. I can get heaps of support
There is a whole heap of support out there for families with allergies. The group that has helped me the most is ausEE. I can still remember searching and searching online for a support group that was a good fit. I remember the excitement of finding ausEE, asking about meeting someone local and then finally having coffee with a mum just like me. This kind group of mums and dad’s helped me to truly understand that I need to just get on with it and do my own research. They taught me to trust my own instincts and to question everything. It still surprises me sometimes when I question a doctor that they will actually agree with me – I used to think they knew everything!
3. Choice of food
We live in a time when there are foods from all over the world available to cook with. I can just grab a bag of sorghum flour, a jar of coconut oil, some potato starch, some teff flour…..you get the idea. There are heaps and heaps of foods available now that people with allergies just didn’t have access to years ago. Only an allergy mum understands the joy of finding a new safe food for her child!
4. Our whole family eat better food
We have no choice. Hardly any take away for us, no school canteen, and no overly processed crappy food. We just don’t buy it because Alex can’t eat it. We do have a treats like plain potato chips and dark chocolate but always additive free and simple ingredients. We check the ingredients on EVERY packet we eat from – yep, even the kids read the ingredients packets.
5. I cook more, and I’m better at it
You might not believe this but when I moved out of home at 25 I couldn’t cook a thing! My mum was always such a capable cook and was happy to do it all. I wasn’t that interested either so I never bothered to learn. Slowly, slowly I got better at it and now I can cook heaps of things that taste normal with no wheat, dairy, eggs, soy, rice, tree nuts or peanuts. Every new ingredient I get to cook with is so exciting and does make my cooking easier and better. Imagine my joy when Alex passed almonds (so we had almond meal) and then cooked eggs! JOY!! Over the years I have come to enjoy the challenge of making something that tastes ‘normal’ that Alex can eat.
6. It forces us to be organized
There’s always a plan for dinner, a full pantry and we shop weekly for fresh food. The freezer is always full of allergy free treats for unexpected birthday parties. We are super organised when we travel and have learnt to travel light to make up for the food we need to take.
7. Alex isn’t a kid who LOVES food
I think that life would be harder for me if Alex was upset when the other kids at school had a treat he couldn’t, or when I looked in the party bag and confiscated all of the lollies and he got upset. Instead Alex is understanding and tolerant and never worries when I say he can’t eat anything. I usually have a back up plan or some lollies to swap but I do occasionally get caught out. He just takes it in his stride…..always!
8. Life saving medication at our fingertips
We are so lucky in Australia. Life saving medication is easy for us to get for our children.
There is so much research happening on food allergies and so many people trying to find a cure. I am hopeful that in Alex’s lifetime there might be a cure for his food allergies and eosinophilic oesophagitis.
10. Life lessons
All of my kids learn to be tolerant and understanding. As a family when we are out if we can’t find a safe option for Alex, none of us eat. This is really hard sometimes, like summer at the beach when everyone is having yummy ice creams and we’re eating food from home. Sometimes I take my girls out for a treat when Alex isn’t with us – it’s our little secret. This is especially hard when we’re on holidays but everyone has got used to it and no one even asks for food when we’re out. I’m pretty sure that saves quite a bit of money too!
11. Thoughtful friends and family
Every now and then we go somewhere, someone has gone above and beyond what they needed to do to make Alex feel included. Often I think these special people don’t even realise the magnitude of what they have done. It doesn’t take a lot so that kids with allergies can be safe at a party. Sometimes the host calls me before and asks if there is something they can make that Alex can eat, they do a lolly bag the same as the other kids that I can slip some safe treats into or they put a few bowls of safe food for Alex on the table that everyone can share. I love it and it makes my boy feel so happy! Thank you, you know who you are!
12. I’ve found what I’m meant to be doing
I love my work now - making life easier for families with allergies. That’s why Chris and I started Happy Tummies. When Alex was first diagnosed with allergies I felt so lonely and didn’t know any families like us. My vision for the future is that when families are first in this situation they will know to come to Happy Tummies and our community can help. Life and food can definitely still be yummy and fun, and with the right support it can be easier too.
This is Alex and I on a cruise in the restaurant in January 2014
Is there anything I missed? Tell me what you’re grateful for, I'd love to hear from you!