Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Allergy friendly birthday celebration in focus

My childhood was filled with fun birthday parties featuring my mom’s homemade touches. When my son was born 11 years ago, I envisioned the same type of special celebrations for him. I was sure I’d be whipping up a batch of pancakes to start his day, cook his favorite meal for dinner, then throw a party complete with friends, family, cake, and fun and games just like my mom did for me.

But when Joseph was diagnosed with multiple food allergies 9 months after coming into this world, my vision for his future celebrations blurred. Perhaps some of that blurry vision was from the tears that accompany the feelings of fear knowing that a tiny speck of food formerly a part of everyday life could take his life, and the sense of being overwhelmed after his initial diagnosis by the huge task of figuring out how to keep him safe while navigating life with food allergies. Tears aside, I had no idea how I was going to pull off these birthday celebrations I had envisioned because all of the food featured in the birthdays I had experienced before contained something to which Joseph is allergic.

Joseph’s allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, milk, egg, soy, sesame and mustard, along with having asthma, have made me even more determined to make his birthdays special. The celebration should be a time when the challenges he faces while navigating a life with food allergies and asthma can melt away.

Dry would be the best way I could describe Joseph’s first birthday cake. Perhaps it wasn’t just feeling overwhelmed from all of the guests singing “Happy Birthday” that made him cry so much when I brought that cake out. Despite that lack of success in the baking department the first year, we started a tradition for our children’s birthdays that makes sure to celebrate the birthday boy or girl, making him or her feel special from the theme they pick out, the activities, family and friends in attendance, and food free of all the allergens to which Joseph is allergic. The birthday parties we host are the only ones that Joseph does not feel different being the kid who has to bring his own slice of pizza and piece of cake.

As we celebrate Food Allergy Awareness Week on the heels of Joseph’s 11th birthday, I am happy to say that we’ve come a long way since his first birthday. Last week, Joseph had a blast during our family outing to a fun park for mini golf, go-kart racing and arcade games. His birthday fun continued when he and his dad went to see “The Amazing Spider Man 2”. We celebrated with a video game party at our home complete with friends, family, a video game challenge and other activities. The food, all homemade and free of the allergens to which Joseph is allergic, included fruit kebabs, chocolate Wii remote candy bars, two Wii remote cakes and ice cream. On his actual birthday, I whipped up pancakes and bacon for his birthday breakfast, and we enjoyed a birthday dinner full of Joseph’s favorites: chicken piccata, roasted potatoes, corn on the cob and a homemade chocolate chip cookie cake.

While we were digging into our dessert I thought about the vision I had for Joseph’s birthday celebrations all those years ago. Even though the allergy friendly ingredients of all of the food I made to celebrate his 11th birthday were different than what I had in my original vision 11 years ago, the picture of my son feeling special and having a blast celebrating his birthday was completely in focus.