Credit Andrew Scrivani for The New York Times
When your older daughter is a toddler and you are pregnant with your younger daughter, your husband says, “Every Friday, we should have family pizza night.” Four months later, you give birth to a daughter who is allergic to milk (meaning also to cheese), as well as to eggs, tree nuts, peanuts and maybe buckwheat and flaxseed. Very early on, certain foods leave rashes around her mouth or make her vomit, so you stop giving them to her. When she is 8 months old, her sister spills ice cream on her arm. Red bumps immediately rise in the places the ice cream touched.
Your daughter’s allergies are officially diagnosed just before she turns 1, and for her first birthday, you make her a “cake” out of puréed sweet potatoes topped with coconut yogurt (you are now well-versed in the debate about whether coconut is a tree nut and think it’s not). She feels about this cake the way most anyone would, which is that it’s gross.
You scour the Internet for recommendations on how to handle multiple food allergies. You find horror stories about children dying of anaphylaxis brought on by a single bite of the wrong thing.
You read every ingredient in everything you buy at the grocery store, even when you buy more than one package of the same thing, even when you buy the same product week after week. You come to know certain products so well that when they get a new ingredient, it’s like a friend getting a haircut.
You talk to a fellow “food allergy mom,” the friend of a friend, who explains that your family shouldn’t go out for ice cream because even if your daughter gets sorbet, the employee will use the same spoon to scoop it that he used for someone else’s cone of pistachio; and your daughter shouldn’t eat jelly at another family’s house because that family dips their peanut buttery knives in the jelly when making sandwiches. You have always been such a good worrier, but these are things you never thought to worry about.
You stop going to restaurants as a family; you stop bringing home carryout, except occasionally and furtively, when you and your husband take turns eating it standing up in a corner of the kitchen (his preference) or sitting on the upstairs bathroom floor with the door closed (your preference).
You never leave the house without Epi-Pens.
Your husband, who barely cooked before you had children, matter-of-factly learns to make vegan doughnuts and vegan waffles and vegan whipped cream.
Because it’s medically recommended that you keep exposing your older daughter to the foods your younger daughter is allergic to, you go once or twice a week with your older daughter to diners or bakeries or Vietnamese restaurants. These are delightful outings — your older daughter is excellent company and loves trying new things — at the conclusion of which you scrub your hands and hers, at the restaurant and again at home, with a vigor appropriate for performing surgery.
When your daughter starts preschool, you burst into tears at the meeting with her teachers where you discuss how to handle snack time.
On Halloween, your daughter goes trick-or-treating but you carry along a bag of candy for her to choose from. Your daughter takes her own cupcakes to birthday parties and her own snack on play dates.
You rarely travel as a family; when you do, you pack loaves of bread and jars of sun butter in your suitcase. You FedEx soy milk to Idaho.
You wonder if it’s all because you ate too many peanut M&Ms when you were pregnant. At the same time, you decide that if you had it to do over again, the minute your daughter emerged from the birth canal, you’d have chewed up a peanut and spit it from your mouth into hers, because you’ve heard that pediatricians now endorse early exposure to nuts.
Other things you’d have done to prevent her allergies, if only time-travel were possible and if only you’d known: gotten a dog; renounced your dishwasher; become Amish.
You lie awake at night fretting about what will happen when your daughter is old enough for sleepovers, or for kissing people, or for college.
Those parents who complain about not being able to send their kids to school with the PB&J they love? Those airplane passengers who groan audibly when the flight attendant announces they won’t be serving peanuts today? Those codgers who say allergies didn’t exist when they were young and it’s just a bunch of helicopter parenting? You detest them.
But you feel enormous gratitude towards the parents who write “sun butter” on the plastic bags they send sandwiches to school in, or who go over the exact menu for their kid’s birthday party and show no irritation when they say, “Bagged carrots,” and you ask, “Bagged carrots that you’ll buy bagged or bag yourself?”
You start going as a family to an ice cream parlor where your older daughter and your husband get ice cream and you and your younger daughter bring coconut bars from home. You frantically wipe down the table and chairs before you sit. You know this excursion would probably seem depressing from the outside; secretly, from the inside, you consider it slightly depressing. But mostly you consider it festive and triumphant. Now your daughter knows what an ice cream parlor looks like!
You understand that into every life a little rain must fall but just wish the rain had fallen on you rather than your child. Obviously, to some extent, it is falling on you. But you wish it had fallen on you completely.
As much trouble as her allergies are, you never wish your daughter was anyone other than her hilarious, stubborn, singing, dancing, mermaid-obsessed, food allergic self.
And even if you cannot master allergies, it turns out that you can make cookies that are both safe for your daughter and delicious.
For a family with a child with allergies to milk, eggs and nuts, this is a go-to recipe.
Curtis Sittenfeld is the author, most recently, of the novel “Eligible: A Modern Retelling of Pride and Prejudice.” This is adapted from an essay in “The Artists’ and Writers’ Cookbook: A Collection of Stories With Recipes,” edited by Natalie Eve Garrett, to be published this fall.
- Food Lessons From Families of Kids With Allergies
- Avoiding Peanuts to Avoid an Allergy Is a Bad Strategy for Most
- In Bullies’ Hands, Nuts or Milk May Be a Weapon
Interested in more Well Family? Sign up to get the latest news on parenting, child health and relationships with advice from our experts to help every family live well.