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Story of the Month

The Allergic Girl Who Saved Her Own Birthday Party

SuperGirlsSupergirls: Krista Sandelli and her daughter Mirella.

The date was set, the invites were sent. My daughter’s 8th birthday party was to be a cupcake-decorating day with nine of her friends, to be held at a local cake-decorating business. More than 100 cupcakes would be waiting for the girls to decorate (and take home – yum).

Two months before, when I’d booked the event, the business owner explained to me that they’d hosted many birthday parties for kids with food allergies.

“I’ve done this before,” she said. “I can absolutely provide you with an allergy-safe cake and party.” Phew, I thought, someone who understands.

Since infancy, our daughter Mirella has had food allergies to dairy and tree nuts, and she understands the importance of taking precautions around food, and wears an epinephrine auto-injector everywhere she goes.

Even with reassurances from the cupcake party venue, I knew in the weeks leading up to the event that we still needed to do the due diligence of reviewing ingredients. When the business seemed too busy to answer my calls or emails in the weeks leading up to the party, I showed up at the doorstep. Again the owner wasn’t available, but I was assured she would email. I still wanted to believe things would be OK. Little did I know then that it was Mirella who would save her own birthday party from disaster – but more on that in a minute.

Two days before the party, I was finally sent a full list of the ingredients of the cupcakes. However, it did not detail the contents of the icing or the decorative sprinkles. On the morning of my daughter’s party, I couldn’t stop thinking about the cupcake toppings. While there are brands of sprinkles and decorative candy that are dairy- and nut-free, I needed to be sure.

Then came the moment of truth.

I called the owner from my car. She said she’d purchased all the products to decorate the cupcakes from a bulk food store, and so couldn’t provide those ingredients. Knowing that our local bulk food store has multiple nuts and peanuts in open “help yourself” containers with scoops that could cross-contaminate, this was simply not OK. The worst part was, if we’d just been able to discuss all of the ingredients a few weeks (or even days) before the event, this whole problem could have been avoided.

Of course, by that point, I knew the party was off. We live by the rule: “If we can’t read it, we don’t eat it”. Hitting my breaking point, I told the shop owner I was upset because she hadn’t considered the risks of the ingredients she’d bought for a child with food allergies. When she finally seemed to understand the dangers for Mirella from cross-contamination, she agreed to refund us for the party.

Sitting in the car in a parking lot, I delicately discussed the abrupt turn of events with Mirella, and she bravely agreed that we had no choice but to cancel.

Here it was, just four hours before her party was to start. I was overwhelmed that time was running out to pull together a suitable celebration for my child, but perhaps even more by the thought of obstacles my daughter would have to face in future because of food allergies. Tears welled in my eyes, but I told myself to show a strong face: there was a birthday girl to consider.

And then it happened.

My incredible soon-to-be 8-year-old, who’s wise well beyond her years, turned to me and said: “Mom, we could use what we saw on that election sign a few months ago – you know – we could use ‘Positive Leadership’ to get through this.” Wow, Mirella was so right. She was reminding me what we always try to show our children – see the glass as half full. You can be upset and complain when things go awry, or you can try to find the positive.

mirella

My near tears of frustration turned into real tears of parental pride. Mirella reassured me that, “We are going to have the best party ever at home, better than it would have ever been.” Her attitude gave us both the confidence that we could certainly pull this off. Ours was now a “Supergirl” mission.

We returned home loaded with six boxes of allergy-friendly cake mix and safe decorative candy. Mirella cheerily set up polka dot plates, matching cups, napkins, pink sparkly forks and bowl upon bowl of decorating sprinkles. With her determination and the help of a few close friends, we had an incredible party.

The thing I was most blown away by in this whole ordeal was my daughter’s resilience. Mirella has always been a self-driven kid. At age 6, she crafted her own lovable storybook and it was so special that a hard copy now proudly sits in our living room. At the request of her classmates, she is working on the sequel. She’s still a little girl, but Mirella is engaged with her peers and the world around her. She is a perfect example of how to cope with adversity by choosing the positive. She’s also able to show others how easy it can be to live a joyful life despite food allergies.

As a parent, this birthday drama served as a reminder that it’s our number one job to ensure the safety of our children. Had I not continued to insist on knowing ingredients despite a verbal reassurance, my daughter could have ingested unsafe food. I also learned to pay attention to that internal “gut feeling.” There are businesses that are more than happy to customize to clients’ needs, and there are unfortunately some who don’t understand what that entails.

Unfortunately, the icing on the cake was a bit sour: The shop only refunded 50 percent of the full payment I’d made. But what Mirella and I learned about what to do when life throws you a curveball was worth it in the end. And I learned that Mirella is more amazing than even I knew. Her 8th birthday is definitely one we will never forget.

Krista Sandelli and her family live in a community west of Toronto.

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