Being a food allergy parent and a writer, people have asked me for years why I don’t just start a blog about food allergies. The reason for me is simple. My son’s food allergies have pretty much run my life for the past eleven years. That may sound extreme to you, but it is 100% true. Having so many severe food allergies, some of which were potentially life-threatening, and a food allergy related disease, my thoughts were constantly on planning ahead and on keeping him safe. So for me, the thought of writing about food allergies on a regular basis seemed quite the opposite of cathartic. Instead, the very thought of it set my nerves on fire, and I didn’t have very many left in the first place.
Yet every so often there is something in the world of food allergies that compels me to write. This time, it is the Teal Pumpkin Project. This Halloween, FARE (Food Allergy Research and Education) is encouraging communities to start a new tradition that will help make this holiday season less scary for children with food allergies. Participants can offer non-food treats for trick-or-treaters with food allergies. They can let allergic children know that their home is food allergy friendly by placing a teal pumpkin in front of their house, and/or a sign to indicate they have non-food treats available.
Of course, with the recent announcement of the Teal Pumpkin Project, the hatred and vitriol came right out. These are the type of people who make my skin crawl, and yet another reason why I couldn’t write about this for a living. These are the type of people who think we are making “all this food allergy nonsense” up, that we are just helicopter parents and alarmists. These are the people who are raising kids who would have no shame in bullying a child like mine. Because of course, their kid’s candy selection is way more important than my kid’s life, right? Well, at least they think so. Yet Tiffany over at Scratch or Sniff did an amazing job of taking them on. Head on over to get a strong dose of what we deal with on a regular basis.
As a food allergy parent (and advocate), the Teal Pumpkin Project is one of the greatest, most magical concepts I could imagine. For so many years, Halloween was the bane of my existence. It was my most dreaded day of the year. It made my son feel worse than any other day, and, therefore it made me feel worse than any other day of the year. I hated Halloween. I even hated the days leading up to Halloween.
Look, I get it. There are just some things in life that these kids will have to deal with, like bringing their own food to parties and play dates. It sucks, but we are used to it. There are people who are mean, insensitive or simply uneducated about the severity of food allergies. We are used to that too. These are all lessons that our children have known from a very young age. However, there are some times that a kid should just feel like a kid, and Halloween is one of those times.
When my son was younger he would get dressed up for the annual Halloween parade at school. He would come home with cute cards and candy from a few well-meaning friends. Each year I would have to throw away the candy because what he carried home in his backpack that day could (quite literally) have killed him. Then at night he would, if he was in the mood that year, dress up again and give out candy to the trick-or-treaters. Other years he would just head up to his room and shut the door. I did what I could, stocking up on safe treats and candy so he felt like the other kids who went out in the neighborhood and bragged about their haul the next day at school.
Finally, when his brother became old enough to go trick-or-treating, he decided to venture out and they went together around the neighborhood with my husband. When they got home, my oldest would get all the safe candy (and I would supplement with some more “to make it fair”), while my youngest got the rest. It was the best worst-day-of-the-year to date.
If you have a child with food allergies, or know a child with food allergies, please consider participating in the Teal Pumpkin Project. (Teal is the color of food allergy awareness.) Halloween can be a fun, positive experience for all kids with just a teeny bit of effort. You can help promote safety, inclusion and respect. Isn’t that something all kids should see from their parents?
Yesterday I bought a foam pumpkin and painted it teal. It cost me all of $4, and took maybe 15 minutes. However, if you don’t want to buy a pumpkin, you can easily print one out from the FoodAllergy.org website here. You can purchase non-food items, such as pencils, notepads, erasers, whistles, bouncy balls, bubbles and other trinket toys right from the nearest dollar store or party goods store. If you have items left over, simply save them for next year! It is important to note that some non-food items still contain allergens, such as Play-Doh, contains wheat. Latex-free items are helpful too, as there are children who also have severe latex allergies. Also, keep the food treats and non-food treats in separate bowls to avoid cross-contamination.
By making this small effort, you can make a child’s entire day, and a parent’s too. Trust me on that one.
On Halloween that pumpkin I painted will be displayed in front of my house, so that any young child trying to enjoy the day can know that he or she is welcome and safe at my home. Year after year, long after my own kids are grown, there will be a teal pumpkin at our door and safe candy or other treats for those children. I hope that, in time, there will be teal pumpkins at almost every door.
Have you gotten your teal pumpkin yet?