Tis the Season to Hide Out – or Not
Samantha Yaffe’s frank take on motherhood with allergies
People never forget their child’s first Christmas. Memories of dressing little Billy up in his tiny Gap blazer and cords for his first holiday party at Aunt Edna’s. Watching him tremble with fear at the prospect of sitting on the lap of some paunchy old man dressed in red with a silly white beard. These are the moments (or at least the photos) that stick with most of us.
But for allergic families, ’tis not so much the season to kick back and enjoy the memories as they’re made. To us, the holidays feel more like a celebration of nuts and milk and egg and wheat – and all the allergens that are anything but good for goodness sake. It’s a time of extreme vigilance, and a particularly challenging one at that.
What sticks in my mind as the first big holiday memory was a Hanukkah party we were invited to in Hamilton, Ontario, when Lucas was 2. (Recollections of events that predate Lucas’ allergies seem to have been filed under ‘lost’). This was an annual event, hosted by my husband’s late mother’s cousins, which would include almost 100 close and distant relatives. Since Honey and I were finally parents, we were being invited for the first time.
The spectacular soiree would feature a six-course meal cooked with love by the two sisters, followed by the most fabulous home-baked dessert table known to humankind. This one was a must attend. The invitation was made months ahead in a phone call. In the moment, it didn’t occur to me to ask any of the vital questions – it wasn’t second nature yet. Then a few days before the big event, it hit me like a snowball to the face. We were entering uncharted territory that was sure to be chock full of nuts.
I begged Honey to call. He begged me to call. We both agreed that it was probably too late to raise menu questions given that these women would have been preparing for weeks, if not months.
I decided we shouldn’t go. Call in sick, whatever. There seemed to be no way around it since neither of us felt comfortable enough to ask that special provisions be made for us, not at this final hour. Honey suggested instead that we go, but just bring our own meal.
“But what if everyone’s eating nuts?” I kept muttering, over and over, like a maniacal mantra. Nuts could be everywhere. People love nuts, especially old people and there would be no shortage of grandparents with a penchant for pinching little cheeks and begging for kisses and asking for high fives and shoving candies into the mouths of babes …. Did we have the guts to ask if our hosts could at least ensure there were no nuts in the candy dishes? But would that be enough to make us feel secure?
My guts churned. Back and forth we went, a million and one times, until I finally convinced Honey to bite the bullet. It was his family, after all. And so he did.
As luck would have it, there were two other nut-allergic guests coming and the aunts were more than happy to accommodate. Some of the food was not safe for Lucas, but nothing was made with nuts, and all the candy and most of the food was nut-free. The feeling of liberation, jubilation, pure joy, upon hearing this news is probably what marks this memory the most.
I still fret over every holiday party we’re invited to, but four years in, I’ve become a lot savvier. If I can’t bring myself or convince Honey to ask the questions up front, then I’m OK with foregoing an event or two, or 10. We are more committed than ever to never missing out on things because of our sons’ allergies (peanuts, tree nuts, egg, milk, unknown). But I’ve also come to a place where I don’t need to overcompensate for my guilt and fears by being uber-advocate mom every day in every way. It’s OK not to go if it doesn’t feel right, and it’s also OK to ask a lot of questions.
For me, my instincts are my barometer and hosting my own holiday parties makes for a lot less stress, latkes, turkey, egg-less-nog and all.
Let Sam know your thoughts. How do you cope with food allergies during the holidays?