Last weekend, the kids and I flew home for a wedding. While I was there, I got to see all my girlfriends and their children.
My best friend's daughter, a beautiful, smart, vibrant five year old, cuddled up to me and with sparkling eyes said, "Auntie Michelle, I'm going to be Elsa for Halloween! I love my costume!"
The excitement of the holiday bounced off of her. She rejoined the other kids and they talked about their costumes and trick or treating.
Later in the weekend, when Halloween came up again among the adults, my best friend, the little girl's mother, sighed and said firmly, "I hate Halloween. It is the worst."
This is not because she is a stick in the mud. She doesn't hate fun, or costumes, or children. But her beautiful, smart, vibrant, five year old has a peanut allergy. And that makes Halloween with all of it's "fun" size Reese's peanut butter cups, peanut M&M's , and Snickers* stressful and, frankly, scary for their family.
Let me be clear: my children have absolutely no food allergies. I can honestly say that I thought very little about allergies before we found about my friend's daughter. Of course I had heard of them. You can't pick up a parenting magazine without it being mentioned. But I didn't think much of it. I probably at some point, in our life of not worrying about food labels and epi-pens, even might have had a passing thought that all this allergy talk was overdone. I certainly had sympathy for families with these issues, but it just wasn't part of everyday thinking.
But then, when my friend's daughter was diagnosed with her peanut allergy, I woke up. We'd go out to dinner or pick up snacks for a playdate, and I suddenly, sharply was aware of how hard it is for allergy families. It's not an inconvenience; it's, and I don't in any way mean to be dramatic, a massive health issue. Food allergies are hard, endless work for the people and families dealing with them.
In our non-allergy family, we have established a few rules that we hope help others who do have eating limitations due to allergies:
1. ALWAYS ask if someone is allergic to anything before offering any snacks or sharing food. Double check with their parents too.
2. If someone you know has food allergies, be kind. Put away all foods that they can't have in the cupboard and don't bring them out or ask to bring them out when they are visiting.
3. If we are taking treats to school, make sure to find out if there are any allergies in your class. Bring a treat that EVERYONE can share.
And since I see this as an argument all the time in articles about allergies, let me say, because we have always followed these rules since my son started school, my kids have never once felt "deprived" or "that things aren't fair" or that their "right" to eat peanuts/gluten/egg whites** has been taken away from them. They just feel they are being courteous to their friends and helping others stay safe.
This Halloween, we are participating in the Teal Pumpkin Project. We'll have candy to pass out, but in a separate bowl, we will have non-food treats for kids as well. We'll hang the pdf printout of a teal pumpkin (you can find it here) on our door too, so families can know they can ask for treats without feeling like the biggest drag on the planet.
I'm encouraging everyone to participate in this. Read this article and pick up some non-food treats. Let's make Halloween fun and safe for everyone.
Some fun ideas!
*Top three choices of Halloween candy last year. Do they not poll allergy families??
**In four years of being in a classroom structure, we have seen kids with these allergies in school with Dylan. Look around. I would bet that someone you know is working through these issues everyday. Be kind, be courteous and teach your children the same. And if an allergy parent is not kind or courteous back to you (another argument seen frequently on articles about allergies)? That is also a life lesson. Not everyone is pleasant, allergies or not. Don't allow a few people to speak for everyone with food allergies in their family. Another thing to pass onto your kids. :)