Welcome to Aimee B. Smith, our new guest blogger and parent of a food allergic child. This post is part of a series about dealing with food allergies in social situations -- this series will discuss handling Thanksgiving.
From the moment I step out of our car on-to the snow-packed drive of my aunt’s house, my nose catches a whiff of the delicious aromas of roasted turkey, baked stuffing and homemade pumpkin pies. The smell takes my mind and taste buds back, evoking all the warmth and nostalgia of Thanksgiving. But before my belly has a chance to rumble with the anticipation of gorging on the holiday spread, a sharp pain stabs my gut. Anxiety overtakes me: Will we be met with sly glances or unpleasant teasing again? Will my daughter’s food intolerances consume the dinner table discussion? Will I be slammed repeatedly from every direction with questions like, “I forget, what gluten is exactly?” and, “Now tell me again, why can’t she eat this?” The knot wrenching my stomach tightens. Am I prepared to handle the slew of well-meaning but perpetually clueless references of, “I don’t understand…” and “Don’t worry so much, a little won’t hurt her.”?
I am having second thoughts about being here. Maybe our family’s dietary baggage is too great a burden to others. Should we even have come to this dinner? This is as bad as, maybe worse than taking Raina to her friend’s pizza party or attending a neighborhood picnic. I’m scared for her safety, afraid she may ingest the wrong foods. But it’s not just the allergens, disguised in mouthwatering dishes and desserts that I fear. My concern goes deeper –what if my daughter feels like an outcast, or that she feels somehow less of a person because she can’t eat what others are indulging in?
My eyes turn to find Raina. She’s skipping up to the steps with glee. My Uncle Bob opens the door as full of high spirits as my little, bouncing girl. My aunts push him aside and run out with open arms and wide, glowing smiles to welcome and hug Raina tightly. I relax for a minute; my fears are subdued watching everyone’s joy.
I remember the lessons that Melanie Potock, Raina’s feeding therapist, taught us: Eating should be enjoyable and relaxed. It’s as much about the act of sitting down and enjoying each other as it is the food. We aren’t here just for the food.
I take a deep breath, allowing myself a break for just that instance from the overbearing stress I put on myself to manage these sorts of situations. As I let out a deep sigh, I remind myself of the pressure I place on myself to ensure Raina’s safety and that I’m doing a great job.
As I waddle up to the steps, laden with bags of my own allergen free pumpkin pie, gluten/egg/dairy free, green chili cornbread and homemade gravy I think perhaps this year can be better. I inwardly repeat my daily mantra, “It’s getting easier each day. It’s getting easier each day…”
Aunt Margie jolts over to grab a bag and, peaking in, says, “Oooh, look as these goodies! Your cousin, Lizzie, will be so happy. She’s on some crazy diet, off the dairy and gluten as well.”
“Really!” I reply in shock then burst out a big smile, eager to greet my cousin, our new comrade on our allergen-free team.
While I can’t always have faith that my family or friends will understand Raina’s needs or bend over backwards to accommodate her, I can hope that each year will improve as we all grow. I’m certain Raina will someday grow to be her own advocate and we, as a family, will find improved ways to cope with our stresses. Now that, is something to be thankful for!
Aimee B. Smith is a mother to four year old Raina, her miracle girl who was born a micro preemie at 24 weeks gestation. Aimee and her family embarked on an allergy-friendly journey after discovering Raina suffered from multiple food intolerances. The process has opened up a whole new adventure of cooking, shopping, dining and socializing for her and her husband. She is an avid writer, who finds inspiration for her art through her strong spirited daughter and the challenges and triumphs of motherhood.