You have been assigned this mountain to show others it can be moved. —Unknown
Twelve years ago, shortly before his first birthday, my son suffered a severe allergic reaction that landed us in the emergency room of the Montréal Children’s Hospital, heart-in-throat. I looked around that day at the worried faces of other parents, who had been, as my husband and I, brought there by some strange twist of fate. It occurred to me that no matter our faith, our race, or how many digits long our bank statements were, every human shares one thing in common— that there is suffering in our lives. This is life. This revelation was not new to me and I also knew that what makes life extraordinary is how we deal with these situations, how we overcome our obstacles, the lessons we learn, often understood only in retrospect.
By the end of the day, my son was diagnosed with an allergy to casein (found in cow’s milk). In the following months, his diagnosis was extended to other foods, including eggs and certain nuts. He was the first in both my husband’s and my family to be diagnosed with food allergies and up until that point, we were both pretty much clueless about life with allergies. Luckily though, at about the same time, our son had started attending daycare and the staff at his daycare proved to be godsend (if you are reading this, from the bottom of my heart, thank you). They provided us with various valuable information, taught us to read ingredient labels, lent us cookbooks, gave us their own recipes, told us about the many alternatives (the invaluable flax egg comes to mind), but more importantly, in between their words of wisdom, came the unspoken assurance that everything would be okay. And everything did turn out to be okay. Surprisingly easily and confidently, my husband and I grew into the role of allergy parents and life with allergies become a norm for us.
But of course, there were some difficulties. We knew at the daycare, for certain meals, our little boy was seated at an adjacent, but separate, table for fear of contamination; toddlers and pre-schoolers are messy eaters after all. We tried our best to explain to our son what being allergic meant, that certain foods could make him sick, that being seated at a separate table was not a time-out, that he was not being punished, that he was so loved. But then, on certain days, he would come home a little sad, a little upset, a little confused, and tell us how everyone in his class had received a birthday invitation except for him and I would be completely shattered, completely speechless.
But in every cloud, lies a silver lining.
Looking back now, I do believe, those moments of being left out, of feeling isolated, of knowing exactly how it feels to be excluded (even if it was justified) made my little boy the kindhearted person he is today. Almost a teenager now, he is exceptionally caring and thoughtful, always a good sport, always a good friend, he is the tug on my sleeve when we pass a homeless person that is my cue to search my bag for a snack or spare change, and the one to reach out to the new kid in school… and these are not just the words of a mother, this is the reoccurring praise I hear of him from the staff and teachers at school, from coaches and friends.
Living with allergies has also had a positive impact on my husband and I. It would be the initial diagnosis that would require us to read labels and thus make us aware of the “junk” in our food supply and lead us to making changes to our diet not only for the sake of allergies but for the desire to eat better. While we searched for allergens like casein, lactose, and whey, we came to know such things as sodium nitrites, BHA, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, and exactly how much sugar was packed into that pouch of “healthy” oatmeal we had for breakfast and therein, started our journey of choosing homemade over store-bought processed foods. Even more importantly though, when there are birthday invitations to be sent out, we are sure to include everyone within our children’s circle of friends, allergies are to be worked around not overlooked. My son has since overcome most of his food allergies but the lessons we have learnt along the way are for life.
No dairy and no processed fruit juice, this kid-friendly piña colada has been one of my favourite birthday party drinks. It doesn’t require much of a recipe, but this post is clearly not about the recipe; the intent is to show that adapting to allergies can be easy and fun and for a child with allergies, it will spare a lot of hurt. As you may have already noticed, this blog certainly does not specialize in allergy-friendly recipes. If you are looking for a blog that does, Allergy Girl Eats is one of my favourites.
Kid-friendly Piña Colada
- 160 g (or 160 ml) coconut cream
- 210 g fresh pineapple
- 240 g (about 1 cup) cold water
- crushed ice for serving (optional)
- sweetener of your choice (optional, pineapple is already very sweet)
- Blend the first three ingredients until smooth.
- Add sweetener to your taste.
- Serve with ice if using.
Piña Colada Popsicles
Blend coconut cream and pineapple (no water required this time), mix in sweetener if you desire, pour into molds and freeze.