Dairy Allergy: Get the “Scoop” on How One Mom Learned to Cope
[This AllergyEats Blog post written by AllergyEats’ newest team member, Jesse Pezzullo]
I used to love ice cream – who doesn’t? No one is ever in a bad mood when they are eating ice cream and it conjures up memories of sunny days, friends and good times. After getting married and becoming pregnant, I had visions of all the fun things from my childhood, like eating ice cream on Cape Cod, that I would do with my child someday. I had never heard of food allergies and, much to my surprise, by the time my daughter was a year old, my husband and I learned that she had both an egg and a dairy allergy. When she was first diagnosed, I was so overwhelmed at what to feed her on a day-to-day basis that I didn’t think about the long-term. She was only one, so I really wasn’t thinking about her holding an ice cream cone yet.
As time went on, we figured out what to feed her, we knew how much Benadryl to give her if necessary, and we carried Epi-pens everywhere we went. We got the hang of it and life returned to normal after her food allergy diagnosis. By then, we had two children under the age of three and our family, including my parents, began a tradition of taking the ferry to Martha’s Vineyard for Father’s Day so that we could enjoy the boat ride, water, and being among the first to ride the carousel on the Vineyard before the summer crowds took over the island. That first year, my father, who loves treats and all things fun, wanted to get the kids an ice cream on the Vineyard, just like I had done with him so many times as a child. I tried – I really did – to find something safe for my daughter to order and I asked all sorts of questions about scoops, containers, and hand washing. I had a knot in my stomach, and by the time the frozen treat arrived (sorbet of some sort), I was no longer enjoying the day. Within a few minutes, I saw red splotches on her face. They could have simply been sticky toddler spots, they could have simply been sunblock causing a rash, or they could have been… an allergic reaction! My guard was up, and I declared that she needed to stop eating while I promptly gave her Benadryl. I began to hate ice cream.
My father seemed to question my reaction to her reaction, but this whole allergy thing was still relatively new, so he knew enough not to argue with me about whether she was really having an allergic reaction. We went on with our outing and had a great time, but that night as I lay in bed, I thought of all the occasions to come in her life when, for her, going out for ice cream would not be something she could do on a whim.
At first, I had thought ice cream wouldn’t be a big deal because it was more of a seasonal treat, but as we made friends in our new community, we were invited to lots of toddler and preschool birthday parties. All the menus seemed to feature pizza, cake and some sort of ice cream. An hour before each party, I would make a dairy-free pizza, bake a dozen egg- and dairy-free cupcakes, and if necessary, put a scoop of Tofutti ice cream in a cold storage container. All of this required constant planning and time, which are two things that are challenging for a mom of young kids. Truth be told, I would occasionally delight in having a conflicting commitment on the calendar just so I didn’t have to start the cycle of grocery shopping, cooking/baking, and carting food to yet another party. Even once we were there, I had to watch her like a hawk to make sure she didn’t mistakenly grab someone else’s juice box and risk a reaction by using a straw that someone’s dairy-covered lips may have touched already. She was too young to know the risk, but I knew it all too well, having seen her throw up and break out in hives so many times already from similar mistakes. My anxiety was at an all-time high and I was envious of others who didn’t have the same “stuff” to deal with as I did. I was becoming bitter – and the irony was that sweet, delicious ice cream was a big part of the cause!
When we tried out new playtime activities or kids’ classes, one of the ice breakers was often a fun question designed to make the kids feel comfortable with the instructor. A common question was, “What is your favorite flavor of ice cream?” I would inwardly glare at the instructor after this question was asked, as my daughter looked perplexed by it. Then, I would intervene and explain that she didn’t have a favorite flavor because of her dairy allergy.
As the kids entered school and began playing kindergarten sports, so many times people would say with enthusiasm after a hot day on the field, “Let’s all go for an ice cream!” I would shudder at the thought of waiting in a long, hot line with all sorts of happy children, analyzing all of their choices, trying samples, and awaiting their cone or cup. I would look at them with envy, and think, “Do their moms know how easy they have it?” We would politely decline these types of invitations and head home, where I would offer not only one, but two non-dairy Tofutti treats to my daughter to make up for a loss that, realistically, I probably felt more than she did, given her young age.
As my daughter grew older, she began to ask about ice cream – why was it so popular and what did it really taste like? She saw ice cream on TV, in restaurants, in book pictures, and at birthday parties. So my husband bought an ice cream maker and we began concocting our own dairy-free recipes to find one that would meet our high standards while keeping her safe. We wanted her to be able to taste what others could taste. We tried all sorts of frozen treats from the grocery store and found a few favorites, but nothing that was appealing to too many people other than her. She would wonder why hers didn’t taste as good to her friends as it did to her. I would explain that they were just used to a different taste. I continued to really dislike the idea of ice cream altogether because it just wasn’t fun anymore.
And then, a few summers ago, my father decided he was going to go to a nearby ice cream shop, Smitty’s, to find out what she could have there, if anything. He insisted that she get a frozen treat that wasn’t from the grocery store, simply because it was more exciting to go somewhere and get a treat rather than eating at home. He told me that, if he didn’t feel comfortable with the answers he got at the shop, he wouldn’t let her eat there. I wasn’t quite ready to relinquish control, so I hopped in the car with them, double-checking my Epi-Pen and Benadryl stash in my purse before we left the house. When I got into the front seat of his car, my father handed me a pink ice cream scoop and announced that he had brought his own to make it easier at the shop. I admired his enthusiasm for this outing, which was already causing me anxiety.
At the ice cream shop, my father waited patiently in the long line, didn’t concern himself with the growing crowd behind us while he asked questions, and charmed everyone there with his pride in his adorable granddaughter and desire to get her something sweet to eat. We were able to get her dairy-free sorbet; the manager even brought out a fresh bin from the back and used our scoop. My daughter was thrilled and thanked Poppa for taking her to the shop! I had to admit, she did look happier than when eating “her” ice cream at home. More importantly, she didn’t have any kind of allergic reaction. We had actually gone on a normal outing to get ice cream – like other families who go without thinking!
After this, every time we went to see my parents on Cape Cod, my father and daughter would go for sorbet to the same shop. Since the very first visit had gone so smoothly, I was able to let go, and it became special time between my daughter and my father. Now, there are ice cream scoops in every drawer in my parents’ kitchen and even in my father’s car’s glove compartment. We laugh that he always has them handy – just in case she wants a sorbet. On occasion, the shop is out of sorbet, so she has a Raspberry Lime Rickey instead – a favorite of mine from childhood. Regardless of what they eat, they always have fun together, and that is truly the most important part of their outing. I am now of an age and a point in our “allergy life” where I have the perspective that there are so many worse things to deal with, and that food allergies, despite being a nuisance, are manageable. I often think back to how I felt in the “old” ice cream days and I am thankful to my father for showing me how a little creativity, a lot of optimism, and a little trust can go a long way. He truly turned lemons into lemonade (or lemon sorbet in this case!).
5 Tips for Coping with Food Allergies – 11 Years Into the Experience:
- If you are new to the allergy world, it’s normal to be nervous! (As parents, we have to remain vigilant to keep our kids safe!!!)
- However, don’t let your own fears spoil opportunities for your kids to have typical childhood experiences.
- Let family and friends help you. Your child will eventually go places without you and will ultimately need to learn to advocate for him/herself. Spending time with other family members can be a safe first step.
- Each stage of food allergies has its own set of challenges. Focus on the one you are currently in and try not to worry about the future.
- Look for ideas and resources from food allergy communities, like AllergyEats of course, and many others. There is so much knowledge, comfort, and information to be shared among us.
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We’d love to know what special customs your family has as a result of food allergies? How have you learned not to let food allergies hold you back? Please share your comments in the Reply box below.
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