‘Tis NOT the Season for Food Allergies

Pardon me if I do a little whining in this post. Wednesday we spent 2 hours at our allergist, doing our annual testing and evaluations of my sons’ allergies. My older son has both food allergies to eggs, wheat, and milk, and also suffers from seasonal and mold allergies, and my almost-two-year-old is only allergic to eggs.

I was a bit hopeful that we would be able to cross one of my older son’s food allergens. His reactions to accidental exposure haven’t been so immediate and life-threatening, that I really thought he was close to that point. But seeing those hives raise and expand yesterday dashed that hope. We will get some blood tests to compare the results, to make sure there aren’t any false positives.

It’s been 5 years since the first diagnosis to food allergies. I do count my blessings daily. Both boys’ food allergens are generally the ones that can be outgrown. We don’t battle asthma on a regular basis, which could make things much worse. All the members of my family on both sides are so supportive and keenly sensitive to the special requirements for their allergies. And my sons are both so cooperative and rarely complain. We are at a comfortable routine with our menus and treats that it isn’t something that keeps me awake at night unless a complication arises. And we can go out and eat, which is sometimes impossible for some allergic patients.

I sometimes resent the fact that I have to think about food all the time. I had to do this with my pregnancies, being an insulin-dependent gestational diabetic. We try to eat healthy and be aware of ingredients, but food allergies and diabetes take it another level. The habit about thinking of food all the time continues with food allergies, just a different focus than just carb-counting.

I must read labels, understand how things are cooked to recognized hidden ingredients, be able to understand the strange chemical names of egg, wheat, and dairy derivatives. I have to be aware of what restaurants will have food for my sons, calling ahead if necessary. I have to special request food items everywhere we go. I keep safe food items, including treats, so that we’ll have safe food when we’re out. And I have to ask ahead to family functions what is being served. We usually turn down potluck events except if we just bring our whole meal and not share with anyone. So, while we’re not obsessing about food for our tastebuds, we are obsessing about food in some way. But this our routine, and it usually works fine, no problems. We’ve had wonderful encounters with many helpful people, and this has been a good way to help others on a similar journey.

It is mainly times around holidays and holydays and family celebrations that I get sad. We’re out of routine celebratory food is now front and center. I want to provide those special occasions with special treats for my sons. I found this wonderful quote from ‘Tis the Season To Be Baking: Christmas Reflections and Bread Recipes by Fr. Dominic Garramone, O.S.B., which summarizes how I feel during the holiday seasons of the year:

One of the most common comments I hear about baking is something like this: “I don’t have time to bake bread much anymore–well, except during the holidays, of course.” What an amazing paradox: many people only have time to bake during what is often viewed as the busiest time of the year! But we make time for what is most important to us. What these people are really saying is: “My family’s Christmas baking traditions are so important that I always make time for them.”

Those wonderful traditional Christmas breads, cookies, cakes, and other recipes — we can’t do them. My favorite cookie tradition with speculatius cookies for St. Nicholas doesn’t happen any more. The flour flying in the air causes allergic reaction. I am happily provided little gift bags from family members who did bake, but we can’t all share them with the boys.

One can’t deny that celebrations usually center around food. At first I used to feel guilty for putting so much emphasis on the food of our family celebrations. After all, does it seem like we’re making gods of our taste buds? Shouldn’t we just focus on family and not food? For a long time I was defensive and angry at how our traditions just centered around eating.

Over time I’ve adjusted my thinking. After all, our Catholic Faith is centered around the Mass with the Living Bread. I look at Jesus’ own life and think of how much of his life and key miracles were centered around food, and not just sustenance type of food, but social and ritual type of eating, like the Wedding Feast at Cana, and the Last Supper. Jesus understood the needs of the human nature to not just eat for survival, but together as a social component. And while our human needs for sustenance and social connection are filled, we can also be filling our souls with spiritual food.

While the food is part of our family celebrations and traditions, it becomes the background for the social aspect of the occasion. We are together, enjoying each other’s company. As long as I’m not putting the food first, it’s the perfect combination for a growth in charity for God, our family, and neighbor.

And so, I won’t resent the fact that we’re upon another season of baking that we can’t partake. There are substitutes, and little ways I can provide our family food traditions so they are safe for our boys. It does separate us, and my older son does notice. He doesn’t complain, and I do pray this can be a way he and his brother can learn to use this suffering to grow in grace.

But as their mother, I just can’t help being a little sad that my boys have to carry this cross.