Let me share a quick conversation I had with my neighbor when I first moved into our new neighborhood 5 years ago…
A couple of weeks before Halloween of 2012:
My neighbor (all excited): What kind of candy are you going to pass out?
Me: MY favorite chocolates. That way, whatever is leftover is mine!
My neighbor: Are you going to give out Reese’s peanut butter cups?
Me: Uhhhh, obviously! What is Halloween without Reese’s—my all-time favorite!!!
My neighbor: Oh, I was just wondering. I decided not to this year because our other neighbor has a peanut allergy.
Me: Well, then she can just take a piece of chocolate without nuts, duh!
Halloween 2012: My oldest son was 10 months old. Our house passed out Reese’s peanut butter cups, Take 5s, Snickers, Peanut m&m’s, and just plain m&m’s. And, we had a large quantity ready for trick-or treaters!
Halloween 2013: my second son was 8 weeks old, and we passed out the same as above.
Halloween 2014: My son was diagnosed with severe food allergies.. and, boy, did I have quite a bit to learn.
Halloween 2017: He is 4 years old now, and tomorrow is the most anxiety-provoking day of the year for me.
Food allergies have presented many new challenges for him, myself, and our family. My son isn’t just allergic to peanuts. He is allergic to wheat, dairy, eggs, peanuts, AND treenuts. That means, he isn’t able to eat any food item that contains these allergens, or anything that has been processed in a facility where these are made. My son isn’t able to consume 99% of Halloween treats that houses pass out.
I’m not talking just a small rash, itchy throat, or upset stomach. I am talking ANAPHYLAXIS. My son could potentially die if he ingests those allergens.
But how? And why? Halloween, for me, was the best and most exciting day ever. It meant dressing up in a costume, ordering in pizza for dinner as a family, and then taking on the challenge of seeing who could collect the most candy. And, no. My brothers and I didn’t just carry around a cute little jack-o-lantern. We carried empty pillowcases from house-to-house, attempting to fill the entire thing. Then, finally, after freezing our asses off, we would come home, head straight down to the basement, and gravitate to our designated areas. At that point, we dumped our pillowcases out, oohed and ahhed over our collection, and organized the candy before the comparisons and trades began. I made sure to keep all of my Reese’s peanut butter cups, while trading others for even more.
The best thing about Halloween was that it didn’t just end that day. It lasted until all our candy was eaten. Each day, candy from our pillowcase was packed in our lunches; every night we went digging for treats; and, finally, we never left the house without anything in hand to enjoy—because after all, it was Halloween, so it was allowed!
But, not now. Not anymore. Those times have become memories, distant memories, and, now, my husband and I are being faced with having to change that culture and those traditions of Halloween in our house.
I would be lying if I said it doesn’t kill me. It kills me for so many reasons:
- My kids without food allergies have to sacrifice typical Halloween rituals they clearly see as customary.
- My son with food allergies has to walk from house-to-house anxiously wondering if there will be a teal pumpkin out front—at which, he becomes elated because there are non-food treats that allow him to participate.
- My son watches as the majority of kids just walk up, yell “Trick-or-Treat,” and grab any candy without even looking. My son… he has to wear latex gloves incase he comes in contact with an allergen as he goes around.
- Pizza for dinner? Not in our house. We have had the same family over for the last 4 years, and each year we have ordered pizza. Since finding out my son is anaphylaxis to wheat, that is no longer.
- My son must feel excluded. I am sorry. There is no way around it. As he watches hundreds of kids delve into their pumpkins and grab a chocolate to eat, or a bag of candy, or even a sucker, mine knows he cannot.
- And, I, myself. I am trying not to sound selfish or insensitive, but parting with my favorite foods have been extremely difficult. When I was treated for an eating disorder fourteen years ago, it was engrained in my head never to eliminate any food from my diet. The results are only unhealthy—I could potentially eliminate more and more; or could eventually binge eat as a result of deprivation. So, knowing the effects it could have on me, I have eliminated with extreme hesitation and worry.
I pray every single day that this lifestyle and fear feels significantly worse for me as his mom than it does for him. It kills me inside trying to figure out the *right* and *best* ways to navigate these allergies. There is no one way to do things. As we’ve learned, every child and family is different. But, this year, we have decided as a family that the kids will go out, collect as much candy as possible, bring it home, and trade it in for a very special toy waiting for them. Then, they will take it to our local pediatric hospital and donate the candy to kids who need it and appreciate it. This way, my food allergy son can experience Halloween (almost) like every other kid.
If you come to our house, you will see a teal pumpkin filled with glow sticks and stamps; and, then an orange pumpkin filled with candy that is free of the top 8 allergens. Our hope is that every child who comes trick-or-treating to our home is able to grab and enjoy something special… the experience I wish for my son at every other house.
Happy Halloween As you select your giveaways, please consider children with dietary restrictions. Life is hard enough. Life with food allergies is even harder. Let’s do everything we can to make it easier, safer, and happier for everyone.