Food Allergies Are More Than An Awkward Moment

Food Allergies Are More Than An Awkward Moment or Two

Food allergies are more than an awkward moment, yet when you are a parent to a child with a food allergy, or you are the person who has the food allergy…most of the time you feel like you’re asking for special treatment rather than a safety requirement. We’ve all seen the eye rolls, the teasing, the telling glances and even some “friends and family” that are embarrassed of our constant questions. I have always said, “Who would ever choose to live this way?”

John Espinosa messaged me over LinkedIn and shared with me his recent food allergy experience that opened his eyes and caused him to find his voice! I’d like to share his post with you because as I advocate for my son and for other children that have food allergies I realized John’s message needs to be heard LOUD AND CLEAR. He exemplifies everything that we want our kiddos to be…to be confident enough to know who they are and what they need! We want our children to believe and communicate his same messages: “My life should be worth more to you than an awkward moment or two.” and “I’m empowering those who are peer pressured towards death to fight for their lives.”

Join me in READING his story and be sure to SHARE HIS BRAVENESS with others:

“Friday Feburary 26th was a wake up call. A white chocolate chip macadamia nut (… really cashew) cookie landed me square in the hospital. That Friday, I learned to be adamant when it comes to food allergies. Show me an ingredient list. Call out friends that snicker or roll their eyes when I ask the waiter to clarify whether kitchen equipment is scrubbed well between meals. Shut down people who bother me about how my epipens make my pants look clunky.

I AM DONE feeling like an “inconvenience. Continue reading

My Son Forgot Epinephrine: A+ Problem Solving

My Son Forgot Epinephrine: A+ in Problem Solving

He forgot epinephrine and that sounds like a nightmare.

There isn’t a quick fix to this problem, is there? There isn’t a handy dandy saying to help you, like “Stop, Drop and Roll.” You can’t cross your arms like Jeannie, blink and have Epinephrine in hand.

forgot epinephrine - Key to solving a problem? Staying calm and think about your options.

Key to solving a problem? Staying calm and think about your options.

My son is a Student Council representative. In this role, it requires him to be at school early in the morning for meetings or to work at the school store. Per his Anaphylaxis Action Plan our son is not permitted to regularly self-carry his epinephrine, only under certain conditions defined by his parents. Student Council is one of those conditions where we permit him to self-carry.

The evening prior to a Student Council morning our son takes his Emergency Medication Pack from his sports duffle bag and places it into his school backpack. On these mornings, my husband drops our son off at school. Two schoolteachers, who are familiar with our son’s food allergies and the location of the Emergency Medication Pack, staff the council meetings. Continue reading

What To Do When Your 504 Plan is Violated

We’re here to talk about the difficult challenge of what to do when your 504 plan is violated. Even after all of the best food allergy management planning, expect to have a snag or two. Most issues are misunderstandings or miscommunications and are easily fixed by an email, telephone call or short meeting with the teacher, principal and/or 504 coordinator. Remember to stay the collaborative and creative parent you are, and partner to resolve these types of issues.

On the other hand, when your child’s specified accommodation is not received on a consistent and conscientious basis, then a more direct and formal approach is necessary. What might a violation look like? Perhaps your teacher is having your child sit out in the hall during snack time. Maybe unsafe curriculum projects are continuously being used in the classroom without notice or accommodation. It could be that a student, teacher or school staff member is repeatedly harassing your child about his/her food allergies.

No matter what has transpired in a 504 violation, it’s a terrifying and angering experience simply because your child is at his/her most vulnerable outside of your care. In addition, it is always our hope that adults will behave as mature and responsible individuals, and when that doesn’t happen, it creates a mistrust that is not easily rebuilt.

Top 10 Tips for What to Do When Your 504 Plan is Violated Continue reading

Food Allergies: Wills, the Establishment of Guardians & Life Insurance

I Kristin Beltaos Being of Sound Mind and Mother to a Food Allergic Child…

I know, it’s a morbid topic, but one that truly needs to be addressed when you have children and especially if you have a food allergic child.

Do you have a plan for your children should you and your spouse/partner meet an untimely death? My husband and I have always been big planners. We pay close attention to our financial planning multiple times a year. In addition, we had our Wills, Power of Attorneys, Living Wills established and purchased Life Insurance while I was pregnant with our first son. We discuss these items multiple times a year, I know it may sound somber, but checking in with one another has always been an essential ingredient in our relationship. We always want to make sure that we’re on the same page and covering our bases.

Speak frequently with your guardians to ensure that your wishes are understood.

Speak frequently with your guardians to ensure that your wishes are understood.

Recently we updated our Wills and Guardians for our two sons. I think the first inclination is to always select family for Guardians, which is what we have done in the past. After eight years of these Wills, our ideas regarding this topic have evolved through the years. While our extended family is very important, in our case it isn’t the best decision should something actually happen to us. Here are some things to consider when addressing this very sensitive topic: Continue reading

Food Allergies: Anxiety, Gratitude & Belonging

So often we worry about whether our food allergic kiddos feel like they belong. We never want them to have that feeling…that they’re the ‘odd man out’ or like one of the segments from Sesame Street’s ‘One of These Things is Not Like the Other.’ As I’ve grown in my comfortableness with my son’s food allergy diagnosis, I too have evolved in what I find to be an unending truth.

The truth is, we don’t want our children to feel like they don’t belong, always different in this crazy world that socializes, celebrates, rewards, incentivizes and crafts with food. Whew! That was a long list. But let’s be honest, at one time or another in our childhood or even as an adult we’ve felt like the: ’odd man out’, ‘third wheel’, however you want to label it. Feeling different is really a rite of passage, whether you have food allergies or not. I believe these types of situations help us form our being. I know this now because I’m an adult though…I now have the ability to know and understand that ‘now’ isn’t forever and that as we age and grow so does our resilience, what we stand for, how we come to formulate our morals and values, how we determine who our ‘true’ friends are, not to mention just plain get more comfortable in our own skin, etc. Don’t get me wrong, I will still advocate hard for inclusion of food allergic children, but my new theory will help to manage feelings about it better.

So here’s my theory:

I think that focusing our lives and the lives of our children on gratitude and appreciation for what we have will not only decrease our and their anxiety but intensify everyone’s feeling of belonging.

"One thing that has helped me immensely in handling life's challenges, is letting go of how I thought it was going to be." ~ Kristin Beltaos

“One thing that has helped me immensely in handling life’s challenges, is letting go of how I thought it was going to be.” ~ Kristin Beltaos

How could you not have a strong feeling of belonging when all you see is sheer abundance?

Truth be told, I’ve always told my boys that it’s not about what material things we have in life but about the experiences that we have, the people that we spend time with, what we give of ourselves to others and how we impact the lives of the people we interact with — whether that’s the cashier at the grocery store or your family and friends. We need to not only think about our gratitude, but convey it through our gestures and contact!

How can you start this? Well, get a large canning jar and have each family member write down what they are thankful for and place it in the jar each day, every other, whatever feels natural. Then on the ‘difficult’ days pull from it for reminders of what we are grateful for to help deflect from a negative situation. Another option is to have each person share at the dinner table what they were thankful for about each day. No matter how you decide to establish this new family ritual, realize that the jar may prove to be of tangible help when a rainy day heads your way, being able to pull from it and review past joys.

By focusing our lives on the expression of gratitude it will make it difficult to slip into the dangerous ‘grass is always greener’ mentality, wishing things could be different in our lives. Truly accepting life the way it is handed to you and living within that rather than ‘how things were suppose to be’ permits us to teach compassion to ourselves and others and accept our life’s ‘lumps’ for what they truly are…something to be grateful for.

I gave you a few of my thoughts, won’t you leave a comment and share with me one of yours?

 

Kick Off the Holiday Season With This Boo-tiful, Halloween Tradition

When my son was first diagnosed with food allergies I dreaded many holidays…and the holiday season started with Halloween. Being allergic to milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts and sesame didn’t offer many store bought candy options, from an ingredient or manufacturing perspective.

I began to think about the message that I send my sons about food. While celebrations with food go hand-in-hand with our society, I wanted to send the message that we can celebrate in other ways besides cake, cookies and cupcakes. Here’s where ‘You’ve Been BOOed!’ enters the picture.

Create a new tradition with this Halloween activity that is fun for all ages in your neighborhood, at the office or even get creative and do it with classrooms at school, as long as Halloween is an acceptable holiday to celebrate in your school.

Here’s how you BOO:

beenbooed-color copy

You’ve Been BOO-ed!

Step 1 — Pull up the website https://www.beenbooed.com and select one of the three ghostly, poem pdfs.

Step 2 —  Head to the dollar and Halloween areas in search of goodies for your Boo bag. Some of our favorite haunts include: Target, Michaels and the Dollar Store. What kinds of things can you put in your bag? It’s still a little early, but spooky treats are starting to roll in. Last week I saw that Target has various ghoulishly scary book selections in the dollar area, stickers, pumpkins, spider rings, iron on t-shirt decals, decorations of the season, etc. When we were Booed last year, our Booer gave us a Halloween craft project AND a ‘Do You See What I See’ Halloween book.

Step 3 — Select a bag. We’ve done everything from one of a small recycled shopping bag in black, to picking up a Halloween gift bag.

Step 4 — Assemble your bag and determine who you will BOO!

Step 5 — Wait until it is dark, grab your kids and sneak over to your victim’s, I mean neighbor’s house. Oh so quietly, place the bag on the front stoop, ring the doorbell and RUUUUN like a bat out of a belfry! Hide before they get to the door. BEWARE…should you do this with your kiddos, much giggling will ensue, so be prepared to give the librarian shhhhhhh to them.

Other Ideas
What else can you do for this holiday…make allergy safe Halloween cutout cookies, create homemade Halloween decorations (just pictures will do) and post them in your kitchen eating area, go to a pumpkin patch or corn maze, after trick-or-treating, donate the candies to the Operation Gratitude so that service men and women may enjoy a treat or two.

Evil Laugh Ensues

Evil Laugh Ensues

No matter what you decide to do for the upcoming holiday, just make sure to focus on having a wickedly fun time!

MUAHAHA! MUAHAHA! MUAHAHA!

I gave you a few of my thoughts, won’t you leave a comment and share with me one of yours?

Rules Don’t Apply to Me

Swimming lessons were on the agenda today for my youngest, you might recall he has no food allergies. As you can imagine, I let my guard down a bit when I’m out with my little guy. I don’t have to be in my camouflage, with night vision goggles and use my food allergy telescopic lens analyzing every situation I encounter.

Prior to delving into my story, I must tell you how a sign reads on the entrance door to the pool deck. In case you don’t know, the deck refers to the area surrounding the pool. The sign says: Per Minnesota state law, no food or glass on deck.

Peanut Butter SandwichThere is one other boy in my son’s class, and for the last two sessions his mother has sat next to me with her younger son, he’s probably 2 years old. Last week he was eating what looked like Kix cereal, and of course, spilled them all over the deck floor.

This week, he was eating a peanut butter sandwich. As you can imagine, my irritation grew beyond belief. Then…“it” happened. The boy walked over to a 5’ x 8’, square foam island and began to smear his peanut butter sandwich all over it. My jaw dropped, not because a 2-year-old was doing it, but because the mother did nothing.

I finally said, “I’m not sure if you are aware, but there is a sign on the deck door that states no food or glass on deck, per Minnesota state law.” Her response to me was, “Yeah, well my son just got done with a 30-minute swim class so he is really hungry.” I replied with, “While I’m sure he is, it would probably be best if he ate in the lobby where food is permitted. Also, my son is allergic to peanut.”

Truly, I didn’t fib, my son is allergic to peanut; he just wasn’t the son that was in the swimming pool. After our exchange, the Mom and son proceeded to the lobby and spent the rest of the time there. She never cleaned up the sandwich left on the deck or the peanut butter smear. That wasn’t her responsibility, I guess.

Once we were ready to leave, I stopped by the front desk. When I shared what happened with the gal, she was horrified: wanted to know what foam island had the peanut butter on it, if I was aware of any remnants of sandwich on deck, etc. She asked me what type of cleaner to use to remove the peanut butter, she left momentarily and came back with Lysol wipes, paper towels and a spray bottle of multipurpose 409. She thanked me profusely and apologized for the experience. I couldn’t have been more pleased.young woman jogging with her dog in a park

Back to the Mom and me. Our exchange was respectful, let’s face it, it was uncomfortable for both of us. While I sat there distracted from the experience, I couldn’t get over the basic message of her response: yeah…well my son is hungry.

Don’t rules matter: no eating on the pool deck, no texting while driving, no-show for a doctor appointment, not having your dog on a leash or picking up its waste? Have we as a society decided that rules don’t apply to us as long as we have deemed our reason or excuse to be a good one?

Let’s keep the conversation going, please leave a comment.

Food Allergy Bullying: Proactive Solutions!

I felt helpless when my food allergic son or one of his classmates was on the receiving end of food allergy teasing/bullying. We’ve had nine incidents at my son’s school within a 15-week period. Sometimes I’ve just felt like I was laying in wait for the next episode, doesn’t feel very proactive. In addition, this topic is getting much coverage, as recently seen on CNN, in Time as well as Care2; however, while these articles are informative, they offer little in the way of solutions.

Until now…

I can’t just sit by and be a victim, and I certainly don’t want that for my son either. I started to think about proactive behaviors that can assist you with your school, help to reduce the incidents and provide practical steps for your little guy or gal when it does happen.

Here are my Top 8 suggestions for food allergy bullying:

One – Make Bullying Part of Your 504 or Individual Healthcare Plan (IHP)
Beautiful Woman with Pencil and Folder Isolated on White.
In partnership with your school; determine how bullying and teasing incidents will be handled. Find out your district or school’s bullying policy. While it may be tempting to make it about food allergies, I encourage you to concentrate on the fact that this is a behavior and discipline issue. Don’t have this factored into your 504 or IHP? Remember that you can call a meeting at any time to review.

Explain that you want to be notified of any food allergy teasing/bullying. Find out the process:

–  How will the behavior be addressed?
–  Will each incident be documented?
–  Will the teaser/bully’s parents be contacted?
–  How will multiple offenses be handled?
–  How will the school communicate a school zero tolerance policy
for this type of behavior?

Two – When a Bullying or Teasing Incident Occurs
Get all the details from your child and the school and encourage the agreed upon protocol in your 504 or IHP be followed. Also, be open and flexible to new suggestions that weren’t outlined previously. Sometimes the best solutions come out of thin air.

Once the issue is resolved, speak with your child about how tomorrow is a new day; the slate is wiped clean, for both the bully and your child. Our kiddos are still learning how to interact and forgive one another. Forgiveness as well as not holding a grudge, are a part of life’s learning process, having a clear understanding of this will help set your child up for lifelong success.

Three – Provide Food Allergy Presentations to Your Child’s Classroom
Many have found that giving food allergy presentations to classmates was useful in cultivating incredibly supportive peers. You can give the presentation yourself, or hire a consultant like me if you are not comfortable. The Anaphylaxis and Food Allergy Association of Minnesota has written lesson plans, children’s books and plastic food for parents to check out/borrow. Items to consider in your talk would be to:

–  Read an age appropriate story about your child’s allergies, i.e., milk, eggs, tree nuts, etc.
–  Show the group a toy ambulance, explaining at their level how a student could get sick
–  Show auto-injectors and explain they are not to be played with etc.
–  Do an interactive activity with plastic food (the activity can change according to grade)

Four – Talk to Your Child Daily
I know, that sounds fundamental or you might even say to me, der-duh! ; ) However, many

Woman and young girl embracing outdoors smilingparents tend to be at either end of the spectrum, they either ask too often and nervously — which can create anxiety for both the parent and the child or they don’t ask at all. I make it a part of our daily school download. Everyday I pick up my son from school we talk about his day. He brings to the table the regulars, i.e., what he learned, who had their card changed for the day, what they did in the special subject assigned to that day, i.e., art, computer, gym, library etc. and then we always talk about lunch and recess. I also make sure to ask the question, “Did anyone bother you today?” AND “Did you bother anyone today?” I like to strike a balance.

Five – Stay Connected to Your Child’s Teacher
I know, another no brainer, but I truly mean forge a relationship with your child’s teacher. Not only speak about your child’s social and academics with his/her teacher, but also actually get to know your child’s teacher. Since he/she is on the frontline, that relationship is invaluable and an awesome asset for both parties, besides, who doesn’t need a new acquaintance or friend?

Six – Get to Know Your Child’s Classmates & Classmate’s Parents
Attend open houses, volunteer in the classroom and at school-wide activities, field trips and participate in Mom coffees, etc. Knowing the cast of characters and them knowing you will create connections, so if something happens, you can work through the situation(s) collaboratively. I know this can be difficult if you work outside the home, or still have a little one at home like I do, but do your very best as it will only be of benefit to you and your child.

Seven – Teach Your Child How to Be a Good Friend
Our kiddos learn everything from us; therefore, set an example and foster positive relationships. Friendship is about learning how to speak respectfully and be considerate with one another (even in a disagreement or confrontation), how to share stories, be funny, apologize and accept apologies, ask for help or favors and be a good winner and a good loser. We teach our kiddos how to be people that others want to be around; so set clear rules with clear consequences. Don’t forget positive reinforcement for good behavior, sometimes I think this works better than anything else. Lastly, it’s a parent’s responsibility to acknowledge that we teach our children our bias and prejudices; it is our job to set our children up for success by rooting acceptance and tolerance of and for others.

Eight – Encourage Your Child to Have Many Friends
When dealing with food allergies, having a strong circle of friends that care and rally around you with support is essential. I consistently share with my son what it means to be a good friend. I encourage him to have many acquaintances and friends — the more people who know him, the more people will like him and understand his food allergies are only a small part of him, not the entire package. By being involved with many, it also creates more food allergy awareness; so get your cruise director hat on and orchestrate some play dates, get signed up for clubs, organizations, teams, etc. that provide the opportunity to make friends and expand you and your child’s social circle.

Group of College Girls in a Circle

Friendship & Community
Always remember that friendship is best extended in sincerity, not under duress. Take the necessary steps to genuinely get to know others and they will most likely do the same. While this may be difficult if you’re a person that likes to keep to yourself, know that developing these skills will also teach your child how to be more extroverted as well. If your child prefers to hang with one or two close friends, respect that, while lovingly encouraging social situations that stretch yet support their comfort, all while boosting confidence.

Lastly, a strong collaboration with child, school, friends and their parents will always keep you striving for the type of compassionate community you want to live in! : )

Stay happy and informed, follow me on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

 

Rethinking Our Food Philosophy

Parents of food allergic kiddos are always on the fast track for learning. We learn about our child’s personal wants and desires and how it relates to food. We learn about how society, i.e., school, sport groups, friends, family, etc., deal with food allergies both in a positive and negative way. Last but certainly not least, we as parents learn about ourselves: how to refocus our approach to food, how we best partner with others; how we too need emotional support and how to dig deep and find our own strength. I applaud everyone who cares for allergic children with compassion and grace, because it’s sometimes difficult to keep a smile on our face, while supporting the promotion of partnership with others.

Last year was my son’s first year of school, half-day kindergarten. It taught me a lot about how to communicate, educate and partner with others regarding food allergies. I wore many hats last year: the food allergy guru, the snack planner, the soiree architect, the 504 educator, the allergy-safe frosting maker, the heartsick Mom and, more often times than not, the very happy Mom.

During this, I realized something…we as a society have to rethink our food philosophy. We socialize with it. We celebrate with it. We reward with it. We craft with it. I don’t think we know how much we use food as an activity. As you know, food so often is an activity in which our allergic kiddos cannot participate.

It’s so easy to plan a party where food is used as the activity to pass time: making a sundae treat, building a gingerbread house or opening a bakery box full of cupcakes the size of your head. I think many fail to realize that our eating and interaction with food is mindless. It takes real ingenuity to come up with activities that create memories with one another. In the broader scheme of things, isn’t that what we are trying to do? Plan a fun event, foster camaraderie and create a memory.

While attending my son’s first grade 504 meeting a month ago, I learned that the school decided to instate a new food policy:

New Food Policy
Due to a growing number of students with food allergies and the increased concern with overall nutrition of children Kimberly Lane has decided to adopt a new school-wide policy.

NO LONGER WILL WE ALLOW ANY FOOD ITEMS SERVED IN THE CLASSROOM FOR SPECIAL OCCASIONS. This includes birthdays, holidays and other celebrations. The risk of accidental ingestion of allergens is just too great. We have learned that some food items may have cross-contamination.

We recognize the joy of celebrating birthdays and would suggest alternative treats such as pencils or bookmarks. Another option would be a book donation to our library in honor of your child’s birthday. On our website are details on how you could do this.

The only food served in the classroom will be mid-morning or mid-afternoon snacks that students bring from home. All snacks from home must be free of peanuts, tree nuts and other allergens that are life threatening to Kimberly Lane students. More details on acceptable snacks may be sent home from your child’s classroom.

Here’s the Gist
This new policy brought me back to what I had been saying and mulling over for the past year: are we creating true moments, true memories with our children when we use food as the focus? What is the message that we send our children with regard to food? I think this new policy only solidifies my belief that creating a memory has to be inclusive in order to be successful.

Our school ceased celebrating Christmas years ago because many students are from other religious backgrounds. This thinking falls right in line with the food philosophy, many students cannot participate, so why have it as a focal point of celebrations.

I cannot thank the administrators at my son’s school for forging ahead and establishing this new policy. I’m very glad to know that food’s focus will be about living while activities become fun and memory making for all.

Life is full of moments. Sometimes we never know the true value of a moment until it becomes a memory. What kind of memory do you want to have?

What Kind of Advocate Are You?

I’ve been a Mom to a multiple food allergic child for seven years. Obviously, I’ve thought and observed much about our relationship to food and how others react to food allergies. My son’s allergies have brought clarity to my life. I’ve had the opportunity to do much self-examination to determine what kind of Partner I want to be in creating as normal of a life as possible for my son.

I know the word advocate is used a lot in many different arenas. While I surely can identify myself as an advocate, I much prefer the term Partner. I forge partnerships with people and collaborate to ensure a positive outcome, first and foremost for my son, but also for my stress levels as well.

Advocating doesn’t mean that taking an aggressive approach is the only means to an end. It’s our choice to engage in unfriendliness or diplomatically distance ourselves and move on to find those with likeminded integrity, making a situation be best for all.

It’s easier to be mad, hostile and judgmental. It requires more thought to see life from both sides of the coin and come to the center.

It’s our challenge to determine how to help others adopt a Partner philosophy. As difficult as it may be, leading by example is the best way I know how.

With the upcoming school year drawing near, I encourage each of us to become a Partner, a collaborator with others. We’re all reaching for a common goal, safety of children and a happy school year.

~ Kristin