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Monday, April 6, 2009

A Conundrum of Sorts: Food Allergies and Birthday Parties

I first wrote this post for my other blog, The Rebel Queen. I've had to temporarily close down the blog, since I haven't been able to commit to the time. I don't know what I was thinking, trying to write for two blogs. Kudos to the people who can commit to this on a regular basis. It's a lot of work!

There are a couple posts I wrote for The Rebel Queen that I wanted to share with all of you. This is one of them. Thanks for taking the time to read this.
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I sit here, three birthday invitations in hand, wondering what to do. In case you're curious why, it's because I have a love/hate relationship with birthday parties. I'm not talking about the parties for my children, which while painful at times to organize, are totally worth it in the end because of the smile on their faces. I'm talking about the birthday parties my food allergic child gets invited to. The ones where she's the odd girl out, to belong for two hours in a world of normal, as defined by most people.

When my daughter was younger, birthday parties were oh, so easy. All I needed to do, besides bring a nice present for the birthday child, was to bring my child's cupcake. I made sure it was Ooooh worthy--puffed high with fluffy icing and sparkly sprinkles. And, since parents were allowed at the parties, I could protect my daughter's cupcake and make sure she had her sweet treat when all the other children received their slices of cake. My daughter didn't mind not having the birthday cake, because her friends wished for a cupcake like hers. Martha Stewart would be proud.

Now that my child is older, birthday parties are BIG EVENTS--no parents allowed. Movie theaters, pizza places, dance halls, gyms, and beauty spas--places kids think are cool. Coupled with these events, comes food. Always, food. Pizza, a variety of snack foods and take-out food, ice cream extravaganzas and cake. Food items kids love, but ones that present a whole new worry to me and my child.

Not to mention, I have to alert the birthday child's parents (who I don't always know) to my child's allergies and entrust them with my child's food and cupcake. When the parents want to devote their attention to their own child's day, I've handed them a wrench so they also have to concern themselves with keeping my child safe. And while most parents are gracious and kind to accept this extra responsibility, it isn't fair to them. They want to celebrate their child, and that is as it should be.  

But, it also isn't fair to my child. Because, most times, my daughter gets her food and cupcake after the fact. And while I can understand this and appreciate the efforts the parents make for my daughter on their child's special day, it is difficult for me as a mother to watch my child's face, her melancholy after she leaves a party, when she holds the package of food she wasn't able to eat, or opens up the goody bag and has to hand it over because of something she can't have. For when it really comes to it, as much as I want my child to experience the normalcy of childhood, of life, it eludes her at times, the dividing factor being food.

I resent the power of food, the way it slowly eats away at her confidence and her feeling of belonging. It shouldn't be this way. But, it is.

When it comes to my other children, it's a no brainer if they get invited to a birthday party. As long as it works with the schedule, my children can go. And that's the way it should be; childhood fun should be easy. But, when it comes to my middle child, I sometimes grapple with the decision of whether I should allow my child to go to a party. And I dread that. All because of food.

Lest you think me a total curmudgeon, let me be clear. I love birthdays. I think birthdays should be celebrated big time. In my family, we do it up and have week-long celebrations. We love planning birthday surprises, presents and ways to make the birthday person feel special.

It also makes me happy when my children get invited to birthday parties or over to their friends' homes. My children are welcome to invite their friends over, too. It's not uncommon for us to have anywhere from six to fifteen children playing in my yard. I love it that my children are social, developing solid friendships, learning about the care of other people and of themselves. Friendships are very, very important. A dance of give and take, of commitment and compromise.

That's why it makes it so hard when I'm confronted with a decision of whether or not my middle child can go to a birthday party. I want my daughter to enjoy the celebrations of friendship, yet, there are things I need to do before I can allow her to attend a party. I need to do my own research on a place, sometimes calling the party place, ie: beauty spa, to find out what types of ingredients are in their products and how they handle food allergies. I need to call the parents to find out what kinds of foods they plan on having and make sure I plan the time to prepare similar foods so my child can have it at the party. 

It is never carefree--trying to balance being cool and calm to the other parents while knowing that I've created an imposition to them--because I want to keep my child safe. On bad days, this can just be the thing that puts me on edge. 

And, if I believe the dangers outweigh the fun factor, I need to explain to my child why she can't go to a party, deal with her tear-filled pleas, come up with an alternate plan to spend the day, appease parents who get upset when my child can't go to the party, and devise a way my child can celebrate with her friend at another time. 

All this for a two-hour birthday party. 

For a child, who is not mine. Because my daughter wants to celebrate with her friend. I do this. For my child's chance at normalcy. In honor of friendship.

I am happy when my child is invited to parties. Because the joy my child experiences from her friendships far outweighs the minor burden to me. And most especially, for the wonderful surprises that are given in the name of friendship, that are more precious than you can imagine.

For the children who beg their parents to make sure everything they have for their party is safe for my child, who are willing to give up food they love on their big day, for the sake of my child. For the parent who remembers my daughter's food/cupcake, and serves it at the same time the other children eat, letting my child take an active part of the celebration. For the parents of my daughter's friends, who call out of the blue, because they want to serve food my child can eat, to make my girl feel like part of the crowd. For the parents who create a special goody bag for my child by remembering not to put in the candy, who go above and beyond on a busy day of celebration for their own child, and make my daughter feel normal.

These are the treasures we keep, that help my daughter know her value. Her worth.  This is what allows me to go on, despite the days when people are not so understanding. For as much as my husband or I tell her it is so, my daughter would not believe it, if not for the incredible people, who make it their concern, to let her know how much she is respected, honored and cherished.

And for that, I will always be grateful. More than you know.

19 comments:

PJ Hoover said...

Aw, Vivian, I'm so sorry you and your daughter have to go through this. It certainly puts a new perspective on the whole birthday party thing.

Vivian said...

Thanks, PJ. I appreciate your kind words.

margaret everton said...

No wonder you only have time for one blog! Thanks for this carefully written post.

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beckylevine said...

Vivian, thanks for sharing this post. Your daughter has a wonderful, wonderful mother and--even if she doesn't think so right around the parties she has to miss--she knows it and will REALLY know it when she's older.

Vivian said...

Margaret,
Thanks for visiting.

Becky,
Oh, I hope so! Thank you so much--I really appreciate it!

Suzanne Casamento said...

You got me all teary. Save this for her for later. It's important for a daughter to know she's respected, honored and cherished.

sheila said...

I have a few friends who are gluten intolerant and I just cannot imagine how tough it must be. I mean, I can sort of understand, but when it gets too much I can say "ack, can't think too hard about that!" But you can't. I really commiserate with you about this, though, because I know how hard it is to watch your kid not be part of something and know that they are sad about it. Not to mention the worries you must have about her accidentally ingesting something allergenic. I am impressed at how upbeat you remain.

Vivian said...

Thank you, Suzanne. What a great idea!

Sheila, You're so right. It is "hard to watch your kid not be part of something..." I'm working on it--it's just a work in progress. Thank you.

Calliope said...

I just cried buckets. You've opened my eyes to a different life and I wish you and your child well.

And I have to ask, seriously? People get upset when they find out your daughter can't go to the party? You poor thing.

Vivian said...

Thank you, Calliope. As for do people get upset...yes, there is the occasional person. What is difficult is when the irritation transfers to their child, who ends up "taking" it out my daughter. Rather than making this about the food, I've decided it's a girl thing. That I can handle.

laurasalas said...

Beautiful post, Vivian. It's hard for a kid to be different in any way, and hard on the parents, too. I know from experience. Wow, that is a lot of work for each party. You and your daughter are lucky to have each other:>)

Paul Nichols said...

I happened to find your blog name and was curious about it, so stopped by. Nice joint, f'sure. Your little 5 year old on her bike is a keeper. How is it that we never forget that first magical moment when we can ride a bike by ourselves?

I use "hipwriter" as a password in many of my apps.

Have a great day. Or two.

MotherReader said...

Thank you for sharing this part of your life. My brother has peanut allergies and when he was a kid it was very difficult because no one took it seriously. My mom couldn't trust anybody and my brother is still very cautious about food as a result. Now, thirty years later, my daughter has given up her favorite school lunch - peanut butter and jelly - because she likes to sit a table with a boy who is allergic to it.

I know it's still a struggle, but look how far we've come. (Oh, and btw, as the girls get older, the birthday parties start getting smaller, more best-friends-only which makes the whole thing much easier to manage.)

Vivian said...

Thank you, Laura! And congrats on your book release!

Paul, Thanks for stopping by with your kind words.

MotherReader, Your daughter totally rocks. Which I would have expected. We have come a long way and it really hit home as I read your comment. Thank you.

adrienne said...

I identify with this as someone who has grown up with food allergies (also a severe latex allergy, which means I can't even be in a room with a latex balloon). Even though dealing with this is hard for your child now, part of this difficulty is teaching her how to manage and deal with her allergies as she moves into adulthood, because it is something she'll always have to deal with. There will always be those situations she'll have to opt out of and situations where she'll have to make a gentle reminder. It's a part of life with severe allergies. I can tell you from my own experience that the ways my close family and friends have gone out of their way to make things safe for me has made the inconvenience and annoyance of dealing with the ways the world is not safe for me much more bearable.

Solvang Sherrie said...

Wow, Vivian. It's something most of us take for granted, something so simple. I hope your daughter appreciates you because you are a wonderful Mom.

Lorie Ann Grover said...

Here's to empowering your daughter in her identity apart from food, when she is separated from everyone else by not partaking. It's a long road, but you are doing a wonderful job instructing her! She is blessed.

Little Willow said...

MotherReader: Kudos to your little girl, who is awesome.

HWM: You are an attentive and cautious mother, and I hope that she appreciates and inherits your concern and respect, as I'm sure she does and she will. Due to my chlorine allergy, I was the odd girl out at pool parties - either sitting in the shade with the parents or not going and staying at home - but my mom and sis and friends that were true friends always made me feel okay, never strange, never left out.

Saints and Spinners said...

I am so glad that there are children who want everything to be accessible for your daughter at their birthday parties. It seems that not only does this struggle make your daughter a more compassionate person, but other people get it as well.

Regarding Adrienne's latex allergy, we were on a Portland train when the car door opened and we saw someone with a latex balloon on the platform. Adrienne was okay, but either it was uncanny that it would happen or latex is way more prevalent than I realized. When I got home, I switched out all of our band-aids for non-latex ones. It seemed pointless to have latex band-aids when non-latex ones worked just as well and would ensure that my First-Aid kit would be okay for everyone.