It’s a warm day in December. The icy winds of last week are no more as sun and 60 degrees greet us. We drive to MOD Pizza, one of the few restaurants in our area in which my nut allergic son can eat safely.
I grab a booth and admire the industrial but cozy decor of the eatery as my husband orders small pizzas for all of us.
He grabs some delicious Boylan Soda Pop, Cream Soda for me, Root Beer for him, and Black Cherry for my daughter. I watch my son — whose allergy to all nuts and Stevia greatly limits what he can drink — look at us with envy. He asks if he can please just smell my cream soda because it looks so good, though he knows he cannot have a sip because most drinks are unsafe for him. He says he likes how it smells and wishes he can have some.
I take out an apple juice box which he drinks all day, every day. I see him sigh as he takes another sip while he watches us savor our sweet beverages. I feel a huge wave of guilt wash over me and wish I had ordered a different drink.
I can understand how my son feels a bit as I have a severe allergy to shellfish. His nut allergy is much more limiting though, and much more difficult to manage as nuts are in an unbelievable amount of food/beverages/desserts/art supplies/hygiene products.
I did not become allergic until I was 28 years old. I had a whole childhood and many years of being free to explore the wonder of trying new foods, restaurants, bagel shops, bakeries, delis and ice cream parlors. The fun I used to have at Farrell’s and Carvel. Chocolate Egg Creams in Queens, boardwalk sausage and peppers in Seaside Heights. The joy of walking into the old Buda Bakery in Staten Island. Riding bikes to buy candy at the local deli for 25 cents. The smell of the local diner, pizzeria, Nathan’s or Rustler Steakhouse. Great childhood memories. A feeling of wonder and endless unencumbered possibilities that he will never truly know.
My son will never know that feeling since he had life-threatening food allergies since he was 4 years old. He cannot eat whatever and wherever he desires. In fact, he can’t go to most food establishments. He must be careful about what he eats/drinks every single day of his life. He must learn to read every food label and call many companies to see if their products are safe for him. He can never eat a food sample at Costco, or try anything unlabeled. He will have to learn to be a great cook/baker in order to experience many culinary pleasures that are mostly off-limits to him.
He can never let go, he can never be completely nonchalant around food/drinks — which are everywhere — if he wants to survive. He must learn to be as disciplined and in control as an army drill sergeant.
He will be left out of many school activities and not invited to many parties due to his disability. Many schools/restaurants/parents think that kids like him are not worth the effort of trying to change a few things around so he could be included safely. Many kids/parents will just roll their eyes and make nasty comments instead of trying to become more educated about food allergies.
Society is often very cruel to those who have food allergies.
All of this flashes through my head as I take my last sip of my soda pop. I wish things could be easier for him. I wish he didn’t have to worry about a bite of food or a sip of the wrong drink killing him on a daily basis. I wish he could have a childhood as carefree as mine.
But he cannot, so we plan and we play. We set up rules and we pay. With hard work, research and practice, I pray he will have a full and happy life.
The next morning he reminds me to call Boylan Bottling Company to see if their soda is safe for him. I am greeted by a super nice representative on the phone. She happily informs me their sodas do not contain any nuts. I await her response to see if they use Stevia in their sodas.
Stevia is used in many diet products now. What many people do not know is that it is making many people ill as it has many side effects and can interact with certain medications. Anyone with a ragweed allergy has the potential to experience an allergic reaction to it. That is what happened to my son. He had a very severe reaction, vomited profusely and nearly passed out after drinking a Capri Sun with Stevia newly added. I was terrified as I watched him, grasping my epipen and I thought about calling 911. I never heard of Stevia before his reaction, and now we avoid it like the plague.
The representative comes back on the line to give me the great news that they do not use Stevia, only pure cane sugar and sucralose in their diet sodas.
I am ecstatic now as I give my son the news. He demands a super high-five as he smiles from ear to ear. This is a big victory for us as he can now add something to a small list of things he can eat and drink. It is a happy day.
We are so grateful to any allergy friendly restaurant or company out there. Companies that care and label their products well help enrich the lives of those with food allergies.
We need more of them. I will find them for my son as they appear over the horizon. I will teach him to find them for himself.
As a child growing up in the 70s’ and 80s’ when food allergies were less prevalent, life was a fountain full of possibilities. Now as we come to grasp with my son’s food allergies and the drip drip of reality, we will work every day to open up the world to him, to give him a wonderful and safe childhood.
I do not own a Zoltar Speaks Fortune Teller machine, but I do hope that when he is big, he looks back as fondly on his youthful adventures, friends and experiences as I do mine.
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