Part 2 - The Teal Pumpkin Project

The Teal Pumpkin Project

Just a girl and her Teal Pumpkin.

Just a girl and her Teal Pumpkin.

The Magic of Childhood

Halloween is nothing short of magical in the eyes of a child. Carving pumpkins, spooky decorations, dressing up in your favorite costume, and going around the neighborhood collecting candy!? Is this even real life? With a bag heavily laden with candy and exhausted little legs, you beg for just a few more minutes before bedtime and spend it sorting through your candy like a pirate surveying their treasure. This is the Halloween that I remember, and the one that I long to give to my children. There’s a little problem though, because my kids have food allergies.

With a daughter who is allergic to peanuts, a son allergic to eggs, Halloween has changed dramatically. Now, Halloween is terrifying. Simply sticking their little fingers into someone else’s candy bowl could send us to the emergency room, or worse. You might say that I am missing the simple solution to this problem. That if we don’t go trick-or-treating the problem is solved. It’s easy, you might say. On the surface that is the easiest, safest solution, however I beg you to see it through the eyes of a child.

My daughter Peyton’s first Halloween. Adorable photo by  Meghan Elizabeth Photography.  If you’re looking for newborn photography in the Twin Cities, you should seriously check her out!

My daughter Peyton’s first Halloween. Adorable photo by Meghan Elizabeth Photography. If you’re looking for newborn photography in the Twin Cities, you should seriously check her out!

My kids LOVE Halloween, arguably more than most kids. They request Halloween books, dress up in their costumes, and ask “is it Halloween yet?” all year long. Not participating in Halloween activities would devastate them. I am determined to help them live their lives to the fullest, despite the challenges that food allergies bring. This is why I need your help.

One of my goals as a parent is to teach my kindness and compassion. To show them the light in a world that often seems so dark and to teach them how to light the lives of others. This Halloween, I am asking you to be that light. To be the modern day village that supports my kids and the 1 in 13 children in America who have food allergies too. I’m asking you to maintain your current Halloween traditions, and to add another one too. In return, I promise to raise my children to show kindness and compassion to others. I promise to provide them with a foundation of values that will help them to positively impact the world. Your help will not go unnoticed, instead it will provide a concrete example of what kindness looks and feels like. Best of all, adding this new tradition is super easy too!

The Teal Pumpkin Project - How it works

Buzz Lightyear and Batman all ready for some Teal Pumpkin Trick-or-Treating

Buzz Lightyear and Batman all ready for some Teal Pumpkin Trick-or-Treating

The Teal Pumpkin Project is a super easy way to support inclusion for all trick-or-treaters. By printing off a free sign from F.A.R.E.’s website and offering non-food items along with your usual Halloween treats, you can make Halloween safe and fun for kids with food allergies, dietary restrictions, and special needs. Items like glow sticks, spider rings, and skeleton stickers are just a few of the super affordable items that you can have available for trick-or-treaters who are unable to enjoy your candy selection. A couple dollars and one trip through the Target dollar spot is all you need to include ALL kids in the Halloween fun. Since cross contamination is a serious danger for kids with food allergies, these non-food items should be kept separate from your candy. Whether you put it in a separate container that you have on hand, or purchase one of these awesome teal pumpkin buckets to reuse each year, parents like me will be forever grateful for you.

Another really awesome and important step is to register your home on the Teal Pumpkin Project Map. This is a really cool resource for people with food allergies, because it allows them to easily locate safe places to trick-or-treat in their area. Without this it would be impossible to know which houses are safe and which houses are not. Since Teal Pumpkin Project participation is often pretty spread out, this allows families like mine to easily locate safe places to trick-or-treat.

That’s it!

See how easy it is to help kids with food allergies trick-or-treat safely? Print off a poster, buy a few spooky trinkets, and register your house online. Families like mine will forever be grateful! For more food allergy resources visit F.A.R.E.’s website. Another great resource is Snack Safely, a place where you can find an annual guide to Top 8 Allergen Free Halloween Candy. This is especially great for helping families with grade schoolers as they accommodate allergies within their child’s classroom. Still have questions about the Teal Pumpkin Project? Leave me a comment and I’m happy to help!


Part 1 - Our Food Allergy Story

Our Food Allergy Story

Food Allergy Awareness walk 2018

Food Allergy Awareness walk 2018

October brings so many wonderful things to Minnesota. Cool weather, changing leaves, and all things pumpkin. It’s a time of year that has always held a special place in my heart. October 2013 brought the best gift yet, the birth of my first child, Peyton. She is beauty, strength, and love all wrapped up in a one little girl. Her smile lights up a room, and her kind heart makes being her mom more amazing than I ever could have imagined.

My favorite part of November, meeting this sweet little girl for the first time.

My favorite part of November, meeting this sweet little girl for the first time.

From the moment I found out that I was pregnant, my love for her was fierce. After I held her for the first time, that love multiplied. The bond between a mother and her child is truly life changing. It is because of that bond that I am sharing this story with you. Here is part one of our food allergy story.

The first reaction

It was a day like any other. My husband was working late, and I was feeding Peyton dinner while packing lunches for the next day, doing dishes, and eating my dinner too. I made a piece of toast with peanut butter and cut it up into pieces for Peyton. She was 15 months old, and I hadn’t fed her peanut butter yet. At the time, the recommendation was to wait until after baby’s first birthday to feed them peanuts. I’ll admit, I had been avoiding introducing them. I have always struggled with expecting the worst, and I was sure that she would be allergic to them. On this day my logical brain had finally won over, and I gave her peanut butter like it was no big deal. Logically, I knew that I was getting all worked up over nothing after all.

Peyton-age 14 months, shortly before her first reaction.,

Peyton-age 14 months, shortly before her first reaction.,

Peyton touched her toast and then rubbed her face with her chubby little peanut buttery hands. She immediately started screaming. She was hysterical, and I had no clue what had caused it. She hadn’t even taken a bite of her dinner. I immediately chalked it up to teething or some sort of toddler tantrum and took her out of her high chair to try and calm her down. By this time my husband was home and the hives started to pop up on her face, chest, and arms. This is when the reality of the situation hit me. This was an allergic reaction. My daughter was allergic to peanuts. I quickly threw her in the bath tub so that I could scrub all of the peanut butter off of her hands and face, calling our clinic’s nurse line while I scrubbed. Like always, I waited for what seemed like an eternity to speak to a nurse. While I waited, Peyton’s nose started to run like crazy. She wasn’t sick at all, so this seemed really odd to me. She also started sneezing repeatedly. When I finally spoke to a nurse, she told me that my daughter might be having an allergic reaction, but that I did not need to bring her in to the doctor. She said not to worry, give her some Benadryl and see the doctor sometime in the next 3 days. We didn’t even have Benadryl, after all you aren’t even supposed to give it to 15 month olds. Luckily, the reaction started to subside.

Searching for Answers

This began our crash course in food allergies. Some very late nights and endless research has taught me how lucky we got that night. The nurse was wrong. I don’t blame her, because she basically read the protocol that she was given. This protocol however, is wrong. All wrong. If it had just been a couple hives, then this would have been a reasonable suggestion. Though I would argue that it would be best to wait before giving Benadryl in order to ensure that it didn’t mask other symptoms. The reality is that this was a reaction that involved two different body systems-skin (hives) and nose (runny nose/sneezing). This type of reaction should have been treated with Epinephrine. This was anaphylaxis and we should have rushed to the emergency room. Peyton’s first reaction to peanuts could have killed her. She didn't even eat them. One touch was all that it took.

FARE has some excellent resources for educating yourself about food allergies. Even if you don’t have to deal with food allergies right now, they can develop at any time and knowing how to respond can make all the difference.

FARE has some excellent resources for educating yourself about food allergies. Even if you don’t have to deal with food allergies right now, they can develop at any time and knowing how to respond can make all the difference.

After that there were many appointments, unanswered questions, and so much research. I completely immersed myself in researching food allergies, desperate to figure out what we needed to do to keep her safe. I could write a book about the adventures that we have been through since then. I learned to trust my “mother’s intuition”, how to advocate for my child, and how much one food could change our lives.

Another Baby, Another Allergy

Then a little more than a year later, our world was shaken again. Our sweet 4 month old baby Beckett broke out in hives and a rash immediately after nursing. I had just eaten scrambled eggs, and knew immediately what was happening. Someday I will share the details on his reaction, and all of the other obstacles that he faced in his early days. For now though, I’ll keep it simple. I actually have very few memories from the rollercoaster that was the first year of his life, or perhaps I just don’t want to remember. I can be certain that the person who I am today and the strength of my marriage were both greatly shaped by that year, and that part I would not change.

Allergy testing day is NOT our favorite day, but we are so lucky to have found a doctor who is very knowledgeable and a nurse who is simply the sweetest. We have so much love for the nurses who have helped us along the way!

Navigating our Food Allergy Life

We have been through so much since those first reactions. Mystery hives, navigating public places, 3 failed Oral Food Challenges, introducing some tree nuts, starting preschool, a new allergy to medication, and so very many more challenges. We dumped our first allergist after receiving some very dangerous advice from him, starting seeing another allergist, and now see an additional allergist to maintain a place on the wait list for a controversial Oral Immunotherapy treatment. Even though things have been pretty calm recently, every aspect of our family’s life is affected by food allergies. Some days it feels manageable, and other days it feels down right impossible. Each member of our family has fought through the paralyzing anxiety that accompanies food allergies. The fact of the matter is that one sandwich, cookie, or treat could kill our kids. Even worse, we know first hand that our kids wouldn’t even have to eat their allergens, simply touching them or touching a contaminated surface would be enough.

These two silly, sweet kids are our most precious gifts, and they could be gone in the blink of an eye. The culprit could be a high five from a friend, a poorly labeled food, or a friend sharing a treat. It could be my daughter’s first kiss or my son’s first day of school. Even scarier than those future events is the thought that I could be the one to kill my kids. The sweet little people that my husband and I very intentionally created through the uncertainty of infertility. The daughter that nursed every 5 minutes for the first 15 months of her life and the son whose pregnancy brought intense nausea from the day his tiny embryo implanted to the day I gave birth to him. It could be me, or Putter, the kids grandparents, or a random stranger who exposes them unknowingly to an allergen that takes one of their lives. This is our moment by moment reality and frankly, that sucks.

However, I believe that we do have a very important choice to make. We can live in fear and self-pity for the challenges that we face, or we can try our very best to keep the kids safe and make the best of it. I choose the latter. Even more than that, I choose to use our experience to make the world a safer place for kids with food allergies. To help educate others about the very real dangers of food allergies and to teach my kids how to have compassion for others who are dealing with a challenge.

Thank you

If you are still here, reading this long but simplified version of our story, I thank you. I have found myself guilty of ignorance more times than I care to admit when it comes to struggles that I have not faced. Before my daughter’s food allergy diagnosis, I did not understand food allergies. How could something as innocent as a food cause so much destruction? How could someone die from simply touching a food? That all sounded too crazy to comprehend so I did what people do when they don’t understand, I just didn’t think about it. Food allergies weren’t my problem. But I am no longer ignorant. Now I have a very deep understanding. My hope in writing all of this, in sharing this very personal story is that you will be able to shed your ignorance without having to experience this first hand. I am asking you to partner with me, to show compassion, make simple accommodations, and help make the world a little bit safer for people with food allergies.

Continue reading “Our Food Allergy Story-Part 2 to see what you can do to support food allergy families this Halloween.