I am a nerd. I made a new friend last week and it made me feel like a high schooler all over again- both giddy with excitement and nervous at the prospect of befriending someone completely new. We met at church (in the cry room, no less- no judgies though, we waited until after the service to chat), she introduced herself after sitting near each other a couple weeks in a row. She and her husband recently returned to the area after a couple years out of state, and she was looking to meet other moms. We started talking and realized our little ones were within a couple months of each other in age and we were both SAHMs, living within about 5 miles of each other. SAHM, Catholic, kid of the same age as Ricky, nice AND pregnant (due a couple months after me)- could this get any better? We exchanged numbers and set up a play date for this past week. I don’t know about you, but I have not made many new friends as an adult, outside of new coworkers, which you are forced to interact with, and friends-of-friends, who kind of have to give you a shot if you’re thrown together often. Let me tell you folks, it is more nerve-wracking than it was in gradeschool. Back then you could just walk up and start playing together, no questions asked, and eventually bond over the fact that you both liked ponies. Karl teased me and said I was pretty much dating this girl- debating if I should text right away or wait an “appropriate” amount of time. I didn’t wait… further proving that I am a nerd. Luckily she seemed as eager as I was, so any potential awkwardness was avoided.
Anywho, we planned a play date (it may or may not have been within a couple days of meeting- apparently we were both starved for adult interaction) and met up this past week. One of the first things I thought of in anticipating the play date (or “mom date”, as Karl lovingly teased), was how to explain Ricky’s food allergies. We have already gone through the process of explaining (and re-explaining) his allergies to our family and friends, but the difference is, they already like us. They aren’t going anywhere; we’ve established a relationship, so I could explain it however I liked and it wouldn’t change their opinion of me or Ricky. With a new person, who is very much still forming their opinion of me and my family, this subject is a little trickier. There is a very fine line that must be danced when talking about food allergies- making sure that the severity and importance is adequately communicated while not becoming the scary allergy mom, unintentionally encouraging people not to interact with your child at all.
Finding a balance between being too intense about your child’s allergies (when interacting with others) vs. being too laid back is one of the hardest things to accomplish as an allergy parent, and something I am definitely still working on. One of my biggest fears is that I will come on too strong and cause my child to be treated like a leper. A family member jokingly said one time that he figured out the best way to keep Ricky safe, “I just don’t ever touch your kid.” He meant this as a joke and was coming from a kind place, but that type of statement is more hurtful than most people realize. For Ricky to be isolated because of his allergies is the last thing I want. I simply want people to be conscientious about their interactions- ask themselves, have I eaten recently? If so, have I washed my hands? Did I just eat some mac and cheese and now want to give a kid allergic to dairy kisses? Just think twice before diving in to play and maybe make a pit stop at the bathroom sink to wash up.
The flip side- being too lax about my child’s allergies is WAY scarier. If I am too afraid to speak up and say anything, it could result in hives or even worse, anaphlaxysis. What most people who are unfamiliar with allergies don’t realize, is that any contact with an allergen could increase the severity of the child’s allergy. So even though someone eating cheese and then kissing Ricky’s cheek might only give him a few hives on the spot of contact, that interaction could intensify his allergy so next time he comes in contact with dairy, it is a more severe reaction. We are still (skeptically) hopeful that Ricky could grow out of some of his allergies, so my main goal is to keep his interactions with any of his allergens to an absolute minimum.
Returning to the main topic, introducing food allergies to a new friend. Here is what I settled on and seemed to work well:
1) Explain about the allergies in person- don’t do this over the phone or in text format. All sorts of things can be taken the wrong way when tough topics like this are discussed over any form of communication that isn’t face-to-face.
2) If possible, wait for a relevant point in conversation. If it flows naturally with what you are talking about, the topic seems less forced and you will most likely come across less intense. If it doesn’t come up naturally though, do bring it up during the first play-date/get together. The earlier they are aware, the less chance their is for an accidental allergy interaction down the road.
3) Explain specifically what foods your child is allergic to and gauge their knowledge about food allergies. Who knows- they may have dealt with them personally or through another friend/family member! If they are completely unfamiliar with food allergies, explain what that means as far as interacting with your child- does this just mean your kid can’t ingest certain things or do they also need to avoid any contact? Because Ricky has severe allergies, we avoid any contact, so we try to make sure everyone washes their hands when they get to the house, just in case they had a snack in the car or haven’t washed up since their last meal.
4) Answer any questions, but don’t go on hour-long tangents (we all know that is VERY easy to do). If this is a friend that really wants to build a relationship, they will show interest and curiosity about something that affects your family so deeply!
5) Lastly, keep it light, but keep an extra-cautious eye out the first couple get togethers. People who are not used to dealing with allergies on a regular basis often forget, so a friendly reminder is definitely fair. That being said, you also don’t want to come across too harsh the first time because some people might surprise you with their contientousness! My new friend and I talked about allergies for maybe 10 minutes, but later during the play date Ricky tried to grab the little girl’s water and the mom snatched it up fast saying, “I don’t think this is safe for you to drink from Ricky, we used this cup this morning with our breakfast and it might have gotten some not-safe foods on it.” I was SO impressed. I literally had to hold myself back from hugging her. Point being, give people a chance before giving the hour long lecture- they might only need the cliff-notes version.
This poster from Allergic Living sums it up better than I ever could. Do any of you have suggestions about introducing your child’s food allergies to new people?