Pumpkin and sweet cinnamon spice, turkey and stuffing, cranberry sauces and warm apple pies float through an imaginary cloud of alluring aromas in my mind. Although the primary focus on Thanksgiving is food, it remains one of my favorite holidays. A grin still easily spreads across my face, filling my cheeks, as I visualize how we spent this holiday during my childhood.

The car was loaded with groceries, baggage, and kids. We had a two-hour car ride, followed by a two and a half hour ferry ride, and then the home stretch of a half hour drive on bumpy, dirt roads to our beach home. Thanksgiving travel is always hectic, but with the ever-changing, unreliable New England weather and traffic, arriving at our island destination was unfailingly that much more of an adventure. Each year we arrived with allergy-safe food and all of the necessary ingredients to cook up a Thanksgiving Day feast. We had the essentials covered: family, food, and ocean.

I am thankful that my allergies are not what come to mind when I remember past Thanksgivings. Memories, cherished moments, and precious, precious time together is much more meaningful to me. Even as someone who has grown up with life-threatening food allergies, as well as environmental allergies, and asthma, they were always my “normal” and no matter what occasion, they join me in the experience, whether I want them there or not. I never considered my allergies as their own separate entity. This is not to say that I find my allergies to be effortless or that I don’t envision the freedom that life without them would bring. Of course I have moments of frustration like anyone else, but overall I don’t allow my allergies to hinder my happiness or take over the joys of holiday celebrations in any significant way.

I also genuinely love food! I will happily try anything that I know is safe. I like to explore flavors, tastes and textures. I enjoy the feelings of satisfaction, contentment, energy and happiness that embody a delicious meal.

Thanksgiving does bring about a particular challenge though, since the day is centered around food, which is both traditional and enthusiastically anticipated by most. Often the dishes are being cooked and prepared in multiple kitchens by a number of different family and friends. This adds a significant amount of difficulty for identifying the safety of both preparation and ingredients, with a much higher risk of cross contamination. For “allergic reactors” like myself, there is an added challenge of appreciating what food is safe, while also trying not to feel left out from the remaining feast.

For moms and dads, you have the tough challenge of going through each and every ingredient for your child, while also making sure your family is careful with ingredients. It is an arduous job. You are likely not just a mom, but a cook, baker, ingredient reader/detective, cross-contamination guard, as well as trying to be kind, fun, and patient all at the same time. Mamma mia! Your children may not realize it yet, but they will someday feel both indebted and grateful to you for all of these roles you play for them!

There are four main strategies we used when I was growing up and still use to this day to navigate our way around Thanksgiving and the holiday season.

#1: Plan ahead
Make sure there will be safe foods for snacks, dinner, and dessert. Always bring extra food just in case! If your child has multiple allergies, it may be helpful to e-mail a list of their allergies to anyone bringing or making food. Even if you don’t feel comfortable having your child eat the food, at least you know they can be around it safely.

#2: Bring awareness
Make sure your family/friends are aware of the allergies, the severity, and your comfort level calmly but firmly.

#3: Prepare
Be prepared with all medicines, including multiple Epi-pens, especially taking travel time into consideration.

#4: Make them feel unique
Give your child a special job to focus on that doesn’t involve food (i.e. making festive decorations for the table).

In the spirit of Thanksgiving this year, put your energy and focus on the gratitude in your life that brings joy and allow your child’s allergies to become a part of their “normal” and yours. Go make treasured memories with your family that is not guided by food allergies!

Allie (a.k.a. Miss Allergic Reactor) has lived with numerous life-threatening food allergies, environmental allergies, and asthma since childhood. She was raised by parents who understood a child’s need for independence. They showed her how to become the self-reliant, adventurous, world traveler that she is today. Allie teaches fourth grade in Boston by day and is a freelance writer, blogger, and allergy awareness advocate by night, sharing her tips, experience and expertise to help guide parents and children to feel confident and capable with allergies. Allie lived abroad for years and is a globe-trotting enthusiast, finding safe ways to eat while traveling the world. She is a licensed elementary school teacher, with her Masters in Elementary Education and her Bachelors in Journalism.

unnamed1Visit her website to subscribe and read more at www.missallergicreactor.com. You can contact Allie at foodallergyexperience@gmail.com.

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