“I scored 116, Mom. It was so much fun!” Grady declares as he runs through our kitchen door to show me all the loot from his goodie bag.
Another successful birthday party for Grady; Another party without any incidents; Another opportunity for Grady to show how us much he is learning about his food allergies. This past Saturday, attended a birthday party at our local bowling alley. For Grady, the party was just another fun time with his friends. For Derek and me, birthday parties are so much more.
As we navigate this new world of endless birthday celebrations, and Grady continues to branch outside of the four walls of our home, Derek and I are quickly learning how to navigate food allergies in the “outside world”. I could easily make this a never-ending blog post about all the things, but I think presenting our lessons in nicely themed bits is better for us all. Anyone who knows me, and asks me about food allergies, knows I will go on, and on, and on…
I will be the first to say that Derek and I are by no means experts on birthday parties. We are definitely still learning. Curve balls will come our way and I will undoubtedly add to this post in the future. But for now, at this very stage in our food allergy journey, here are the tips and tricks we have learned that help create a safer environment for our food-allergic child:
1. Communicate with the parents:
Don’t show up on the day of the party and yell “My kid’s allergic. Keep my kid safe!” It’s not recommended, is presumptuous, and most likely, won’t go over well. Yes, if your food-allergic child has been invited to a birthday party, there is a good chance that the parents hosting the party are already aware of your child’s food allergies. But. Never. Assume. Before the hour, day, or even week of the party, contact the parents hosting the party. Find out where the party is being held, what food is being served, and what activities are being planned. In turn, inform the parents about how to handle your child’s food allergies (party goers will need to wash their hands, possibly refrain from ordering food with your child’s allergen, administration of your child’s auto injector, etc.), and ask how you can help them prepare.
2. Discuss what food is going to be served and possible safe options:
Those hosting the party don’t want your child to have a reaction. If they did, you probably don’t want your child attending. Just a hunch. We have been blessed with a very supportive group of parents. Even with the most amazing parents, it is still up to you to inform the host parents of safe snack options, and to ensure the food your child is eating is safe. We have had many conversations with parents about washing hands before eating, bringing a separate container for Grady’s snack, and serving Grady first before other little (or big) hands touch the communal bowls. When the cake isn’t safe, Grady brings his own cupcake.
Informing your allergic child is just as important as communicating with parents. Before each birthday party, we talk with Grady about what will be safe and unsafe at the party. This discussion has allowed Grady to make decisions for himself, like continuously running to the bathroom to wash his hands so he can eat while he bowls.
3. Call the venue:
From our own experience, venues are more than happy to accommodate food allergies when they’re informed. So, call ahead. Find out if they serve food, and if your allergens are present. If so, ask them about their cleaning routine. In our case, the bowling alley has allowed Derek and Grady to arrive early to wipe down our lanes with Lysol wipes. If you are unable to clean surfaces, carry a container of wipes for your child’s hands when you don’t have easy access to a bathroom.
4. Attend the party:
Lets be real, Derek is waaaay more relaxed than I am. So, he gets to be the chaperone. It’s all about using our strengths, right? We believe that attending parties with Grady, not only ensures he is safe, but it’s just easier on the parents hosting. They don’t have to worry about asking Grady to wash his hands, watch what he eats, or whether or not Grady’s having a reaction. Let’s be real, there are enough little people to watch without having to worry about our kid.
5. Take responsibility:
At the end of the day, you can ask others to make accommodations and be eternally grateful for all the support, we sure are. But, food allergies ultimately are the responsibility of the food allergic child and their parents. By communicating with others, discussing the party with your food-allergic child, bringing your own food, contacting the venue, and attending the party itself, you are teaching your food-allergic child how to manage their food allergy. That is the most important thing.