I've never been a huge fan of Thanksgiving. For me — an anxious vegetarian mom who hates football and fears the judgement of others — I think it's kind of the worst. It's not that I don't love my family, or enjoy spending time with them. I just don't think preparing a stress-inducing holiday meal is the best way to connect with them. Since becoming a mom I've felt more pressure to attend Thanksgiving events, too, and less thrilled about the entire idea. But it's my kid's food allergies that make Thanksgiving a true nightmare, and I'm just not entirely sure I can keep up the facade in order to placate my family.
Celebrating Thanksgiving with kids is, in my opinion, an already difficult task. You have to load them into the car, drive to your destination, try futilely to convince them to eat a bunch of strange food they don't normally consume, and face what feels like an endless stream of criticism about your parenting abilities, usually culminating in an elderly family member growing upset when you don't force your kid to give them a hug or a kiss. But nothing, and I mean nothing, compares to trying to navigate Thanksgiving when your child has a food allergy. And, lucky for me, I have two children with two different allergies to contend with. Yay.
For our family, and most families I would assume, Thanksgiving is all about the food. While the day itself can be stressful my family always looks forward to enjoying a hardy meal at the dinner table. I don't get to enjoy it the way they do, though, because I'm a food allergy mom. I have to worry about the ingredients in family recipes. I have to keep my kids away from the myriad of accessible appetizers, desserts, and snacks that are always conveniently plated at my kids' eye-level. I have to stress out about them trying the wrong type of food or being fed a potentially dangerous treat by a well-meaning relative. As always, the physical, mental, and emotional labor of keeping my children safe falls on my already exhausted shoulders.
What makes the entire task all the more complicated, of course, is the fact that I want my kids to enjoy their Thanksgiving meals. I don't want them to stress out the way I do, and I don't want them to see me stressing out and, as a result, feel as though they're ruining a holiday that's supposed to be joyous. But I can't stop myself from worrying about their wellbeing. Even my oldest, who knows about her food allergies, can’t always see or tell if something has an ingredient that will cause an allergic reaction. And even if she asks an adult, I'm not 100 percent certain that adult, or her, will make the right decision.
My youngest, however, is a toddler, and is allergic and/or intolerant to 12 foods... and counting. He isn't old enough to refuse a cookie, or even stay out of the dog food dish at holiday gatherings. So, Thanksgiving meals, and the entire day that revolves around them, ends up being one stressful, all-consuming 24 hours filled with fear, dread, and constant vigilance.
As always, the physical, mental, and emotional labor of keeping my children safe falls on my already exhausted shoulders.
As a food allergy mom I've learned to bring a giant bag of food my kids can eat pretty much everywhere we go, including stores and restaurants. Now, of course, that list includes Thanksgiving celebrations, too. While I don't want to appear rude or ungrateful, I have to bring food that I know they can eat safely. The raised eyebrows, shame, judgment, and outrage from other family members (and sometimes friends and even strangers) is worth it, because at least I know my kids are safe and well-fed.
Turns out, people have really strong feelings about Thanksgiving food, as well as the "right" way and "wrong" way to celebrate the holiday, too. So I'm constantly finding myself stuck in a no-win situation, forced to offend people when I ask them about their family's secret recipes, or when I bring my own food for my kids that I know is safe for them to consume.
People have also fed my children foods they’re allergic to on purpose, as if to somehow prove that I'm making things up or that their allergy isn't as "bad" as I claim.
Along with the run-of-the-mill items I have to pack for my children on any outing, I bring Benadryl and an EpiPen with us to Thanksgiving dinner. Throughout the entire day I'm on the lookout for any signs of a reaction, including vomiting, breathing trouble, hives, and explosive diarrhea. I think about how long it would take for us to get to the nearest Emergency Room if it was necessary, silently hoping that I can keep an eye on my kids consistently enough to avoid a last-minute, emergency trip to a hospital.
Part of the problem, I think, is that people don’t always treat food allergies seriously. They either completely ignore food allergy moms when we try to explain our kids' dietary needs, or accidentally give my dairy-allergic son mashed potatoes with butter or my pepper-allergic daughter olives with pimentos because, whoops, it slipped their mind.
Instead of prepping an elaborate meal I'm preparing to be worried, tired, and stressed out.
People have also fed my children foods they’re allergic to on purpose, as if to somehow prove that I'm making things up or that their allergy isn't as "bad" as I claim. When my daughter had a reaction one year at Thanksgiving, my former mother-in-law explained that she wanted to test whether or not she would really have a reaction. She purposefully put my child in danger, in the name of some so-called, self-serving "experiment." To this day I haven't been able to forgive her.
And when friends, family members, or strangers at my kids' school functions find out that two of my children have food allergies, they'll almost always ask whether or not I breastfed my kids, as if their allergies are somehow my fault. Either subtly or via a rude comment, I am told that my kids' allergies are somehow a moral, parental failing on my part, and any work I am doing to keep them safe now is just a byproduct of my ineptitude. I'm an inconvenience, because I somehow failed my kids in their infancy. Not exactly the kind of feel-good message one hopes to hear on a family holiday, my friends.
So while I want my kids to enjoy family time and the seemingly endless amounts of food on Thanksgiving Day, this holiday is nothing if not stressful. Instead of prepping an elaborate meal I'm preparing to be worried, tired, and stressed out. For me, Thanksgiving isn't a holiday... it's just another day being an allergy mom.