Sunday, June 26, 2011

Food-allergic kids rock in Cary

"ROCK!" Joseph shouted the lyric in his favorite Kyle Dine tune, shook his music maker and rocked back and forth to the beat with a big smile on his face, thoroughly entranced by Dine's interactive performance of "Food Allergies Rock." The title song of Dine's newest album about food allergies capped off yesterday's concert on a boisterous note for my son and the other food-allergic kids who attended the event hosted by our local food allergy support group NC FACES (Food Allergic Children Excelling Safely).

We were thrilled that Dine, who hails from Canada, brought his concert to Cary, North Carolina. The world's first food allergy musician has been entertaining, educating and encouraging our family and countless others since 2007 when he released his first CD, "You Must Be Nuts!" His upbeat tunes are fun for singing along and dancing. But his lyrics are what really make his music special. The songs educate about food allergies, while providing a sense of hope and empathy for kids like my son. Joseph loves to listen to the fun songs that remind him that he is not alone in being scared or feeling isolated. After all, Kyle has multiple food allergies, too. Kyle's music reminds Joseph that he has support and that he can be anything he wants to be.
Kyle exhibited a sense of compassion and empathy that made each child at the Cary performance feel special. For example, at one point he gathered the children around him and gave them each a turn to speak into the microphone. My 8-year-old son confidently stood and said, "I'm Joseph and I'm allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, milk, egg and soy." It was touching to watch each child speak about their allergies and even more moving to see them look around at each other, feeling good to be surrounded by other kids who understand what it feels like to navigate life with food allergies.

I was impressed at how Kyle integrated educational information about food allergies through various games, conversations and props, in between song performances. He struck just the right balance that kept the kids moving — even diving for balls during a game of food allergy baseball — and laughing, but never downplaying the seriousness of food allergies. For example, Kyle showed the kids the EpiPens he carries for his own safety and discussed the importance of always carrying the life-saving medication. He also got a lot of laughs when he brought out his superhero puppets, Epi-Man and Epi-Man Jr. My daughter, Pamela, sat with me and quietly soaked up the entire performance. Once we got home, though, she couldn't stop mimicking the funny puppet that kept saying, "Epi, Epi, Epi."
Joseph had a blast singing along with Kyle and the other kids throughout the show, dancing and even holding a Stop sign to help perform the song, "Stop! Please Don't Feed Me". Joseph did not want to leave when the concert was over, lingering near Kyle after he received his orange "Food Allergies Rock!" guitar pick. He loved every minute of the performance, and was thrilled to meet and talk to Kyle, who took the time to talk to Joseph about his interests and to compare medical identification bracelets.

My dad summed up the experience in one word, "Phenomenal!" I agree.

Monday, June 13, 2011

No bull, peanut-free section a hit

Joseph leaned over the wall in left field with his Dada, his eyes growing bigger as he watched the baseball sail right past him over the wall in left-center field for a home-team home run during the first inning of the Durham Bulls game last night. Gary and Joseph high-fived as the crowd at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park erupted in cheers. My 2-year-old daughter Pamela and I joined them at the wall as we peered above our heads at the famous big snorting bull that was emitting smoke in celebration.

Joseph and Pamela happily soaked up the atmosphere, athletics and antics that are part of what make Triple-A minor league baseball special. The experience is especially exciting because baseball games are usually off-limits for my son, who is allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, milk, egg and soy. The peanuts eaten and strewn throughout the stadium threaten his safety, striking out any possibility of fun. But thanks to the Durham Bulls organization and our local support group NC FACES (Food Allergic Children Excelling Safely), we get to enjoy a family baseball outing once or twice a year.

This was the ninth year that NC FACES has teamed up with the Durham Bulls to provide a peanut/nut-free section and it gets better every year. Not only did we get to attend a game in a section free of nuts that was thoroughly cleaned for our safety before the game, but also we got a great view of the action from a big, covered section down the third-base line complete with tables and chairs.

While a lot of work goes into ensuring the safety of our children, the process is seamless for ticket holders. We are all given "Be A PAL" stickers with our tickets to easily identify us for the peanut-free section and Durham Bulls hosts monitor the section, which is sectioned off and clearly marked, to ensure that no other fans enter the area. It also is a comfort to know that an EMT is posted nearby as a precaution. We were relieved this year to have permission to enter the stadium through the season ticket holders' gate right near our section, thus avoiding a precarious walk from the main gate through the concession area and the floor covered in peanut shells. In addition, the park concessions management sends out an ingredient list about food items sold in the park that details allergen information for those wanting to purchase food at the game. We don't purchase food at the game, but I was impressed at the level of detail the list provided and did take advantage of the fact that we were allowed to bring our own snacks into the park.

The Durham Bulls and NC FACES organizers take several measures to ensure a safe, fun outing for food-allergic children. Their efforts allow us to sit back and just enjoy some baseball. Gary and Joseph dodged foul balls, and laughed at the fan quizzes and other entertainment on the field between innings. Pamela ran to her Dada for a few high-fives and was thrilled to see the Bulls mascot, Wool E. Bull, every time he appeared on the field or in the stands. When I asked Joseph what he liked about the game, he said, "Everything. I was just so happy to be there!" 

Thursday, June 9, 2011

A refreshing take on snacks

When I read my friend Sally Kuzemchak's Real Mom Nutrition post today, I wanted to cheer. In her blog, "THAT Mom: The Sequel," Sally addresses the need for kids' sports teams to do away with chips and sweet drinks and instead, provide healthy fruit and water for the young athletes. She didn't just sit on the sideline and complain about all the junk the parents were providing for each game's snack, she took action and responsibility. Sally sought change because as a mom and registered dietician she wanted her children to have healthier food while exercising.

As the mom of a food-allergic child, the benefits of kids eating healthy snacks are even greater than the obvious nutritional boost. My 8-year-old son, who is allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, milk, egg and soy, knows that his life could be threatened if he eats, or even touches, food containing an allergen. He can't eat the snacks, such as pretzels, flavored chips, peanut-filled sandwich crackers, nut-laced granola bars and cheese-covered goldfish crackers that many kids eat. He tenses up when he sees melted candy on the ground as he's walking into the supermarket, kids eating granola bars and bags of flavored chips on the sidelines of a sports field or a mom carrying a box of Dunkin' Donuts to the park. He can't even escape unsafe snacks at the library — a place where food and drinks are prohibited, mind you — as some kids can't seem to go 20 minutes during storytime without munching on cheese-coated goldfish crackers.

I understand the need to provide snacks as I offer food to help my kids get through the day. And I certainly don't expect parents to alter their snack choices because they might come across a food-allergic child — even my son with multiple allergies eats foods that other kids are allergic to.

But the encouragement for kids to eat fresh fruit is refreshing. Joseph wouldn't eat fruit that has been cut up by someone else because of the danger of cross-contamination. But he can easily bring his own fruit and safely feel like part of the gang. It is not a problem if he touches fruit or if another kid, who just ate an apple, touches him. He can safely eat fresh fruit and enjoy an activity with other kids without being anxious about having an allergic reaction because of the food they are eating.

Sally took a stand for her kids' health regarding food, something parents of food-allergic kids often must do to ensure their child's safety. She didn't know how the other parents would react, but her children were more important than her popularity among team moms. Her letter to the other parents provides a positive example of how to clearly state the need for a change, the reasons and a solution — without offending anyone.