One of the purposes of this blog is for readers to hear from each other. Whether talking about cooking struggles, sharing how your family is moving toward using more fresh ingredients, or talking about how food fits into your family traditions, this is a space to encourage, to be encouraged, and to offer a window into each others’ day to day kitchens. Today on the blog, we are hearing from Chae Kinsey, a stay-at-home-mom who has a child with severe food allergies.
“This can’t be normal.”
I found myself repeating the phrase several times a day. “It just can’t be normal.” I would say to myself after changing the soiled outfit for the third time. Meal time would be an enjoyable experience filled with the usual noises and messes, but often ended in hives, vomiting and eventually diarrhea. This just can’t be normal.
From birth our son has been allergic to milk. At the time I thought it was just milk, not to include other dairy items like, butter. When eating only formula, a milk allergy is easy to deal with. Baby food isn’t too difficult either as most are only fruits and veggies. BUT… the time comes that you must introduce solid foods. It’s a scary time for parents. Food allergies can be severe and one time may be the only time. If given the chance, I would have introduced all new foods in the presence of a doctor!
The summer before his first birthday was a doozy. He was eating “big people food,” as I call it, and it was rough. He was sick all the time, and was losing weight. I was eliminating foods as fast as I could think of, but nothing seemed to be the trigger for his reactions. Each week I would remove one of the top major allergens. Nothing seemed to be “it.” (I found out later, that a minute exposure to the allergen would cause a reaction that had lasting effects. One week was just not enough time for his little body to recover.)
Shortly, after our son’s first birthday and a visit to the ER, we booked an appointment with an Allergist at the Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters (CHKD). Visiting an Allergist with an infant is difficult and misdiagnosis is easy. They grow so quickly, and things can change fast in their little world. I was waiting until he was 1, in hopes that age would bring confidence in the test. At this point, I was avoiding dairy, but was not careful to look for dairy in food items like bread or pre-packaged goods.
During our visit with the allergist, we discovered our son was also allergic to eggs. I walked out of the office feeling like the worst mother in the world, and completely incompetent for not being more careful with ALL his food. I didn’t even see an egg allergy coming. I was so careful to introduce them properly. Looking back there was plenty of evidence, but I assumed all reactions were caused by dairy.
I was also a bit relieved. I had a diagnosis. It was tangible. I could put my hands to good use. The guessing was over. But, the hard part had only begun…
NOW, we had to live with the allergy. I had to shop, prepare, cook and serve safe food. I had to warn everyone, everywhere to please “not kill my baby.” At least that is what I felt like begging from anyone who came in contact with him. Every day of every minute he could die, as long as he was exposed to the allergen of course. In addition to the call to raise this little boy to be a good Godly man, husband, and father…in addition to the general don’t let him die, because he is a boy with no fear… I now had to keep the entire world from killing him with a sip of milk or a delicious cookie. I was right, IT WASN’T NORMAL! It just wasn’t normal.
I did what all good parents do in the age of technology and pulled up Google. I tend to find the internet “too” helpful, but this time I needed information. I needed ammunition…we were at war. I felt completely ill-equipped and unprepared to cook the next meal. My kitchen archway had just become enemy territory, and I was a sitting duck. True to form, the internet was too helpful. The Q & A sites were my favorite. Quick questions with quick answers, I like that. The mommy blogs might have been helpful at a different time, but I was writing my own story, and could not take on anyone else’s issues. I couldn’t handle long stories about how someone’s kid almost died and was injected with the epi-pen twice. Let’s just not even talk about the epi-pen. I mean…that sucker will make grown men cry just thinking about needing to use it. No matter how cute the font on the label, it is possibly the last hope between life and death…ugh…
I decided rather quickly, that our house would be a dairy and egg free zone. I needed to get in control of something. I needed to make things as easy on myself as I could. On that note: I don’t condemn anyone’s choice to keep allergens in the house, but for me, I find it much easier to cook. There is great peace knowing the pantry and fridge are safe zones. I should also note, I DID NOT give up my half & half. I keep the creamer high on the shelf, and I’m careful.
Even armed to the hilt with information, and a rather pricey grocery bill, replacing all that dairy and egg free food. I was still in shock. I fed him hot dogs for about a week, because it was all I could think of. I needed recipes and routine, and I didn’t have either. I didn’t know how to cook without butter or eggs. Truth be told, breakfast is still my hardest meal of the day.
I have lived through accidental exposures, some by my own hand. My son survived them too. I still make mistakes. I mix up forks and knives at restaurants. My husband and I order our food smothered in dairy with a side of eggs, please. Which means we have to be careful not to share silverware or allow them to touch our plates, hands or each other. It is actually much easier and faster to keep everything separate than to ask the chef to cook 3 meals dairy and egg free. But, I could write an entirely different story on restaurant eating with an allergy. I let him eat French fries on a road trip that were cooked in the same grease as the onion rings coated in buttermilk batter. I make mistakes often. Just recently, while on a mini-vacation, I forgot to read the label. I happily fed my son a delicious death cookie. Trust me, I make mistakes. Thank goodness for Benedryl. The first step in preventing anaphylaxis is when we notice the early signs of a reaction coming on.
I have also become a better cook. I make my own rue and base and cream of whatever I want. I have learned some tasty and not so tasty ways to substitute butter or eggs when baking. I cook more, and that makes my husband quite happy. My family is eating healthier, because of my son’s allergies. It hasn’t been nearly as scary as I thought it would be. Our life isn’t normal, but that is okay by me.
Chae Kinsey is the VP of Operations of her darling home, which she shares with the CEO in Virginia. Managing the cooking, cleaning and laundry, while keeping their adorable son alive from accidental exposure to dairy or egg, are the essential skills necessary to keep their home running smoothly and efficiently. Obtaining a degree in Hospitality and Tourism Management was a dream come true for Chae, but the love from her family is what she lives for. If you would like to contact Chae to learn more about how you can help your child with food allergies, please email her at email@example.com.