When Charley was diagnosed with her first food allergy I will be honest, I did not truly understand. Here is this little girl with beautiful, soulful brown eyes, a cute button nose that wrinkles when she grins, who is curious about everything. She is smart, loving and giving. She gives the best hugs and she wants to read “Goodnight Gorilla” a couple hundred times a day. We play with her sand table in the summer and look for ducks and geese. We sing Raffi songs and “Old MacDonald Had a Farm.” She has some mad dance moves and will gladly have you join her on the dance floor. She knows a hyena says, “Ha ha ha,” and an elephant trumpets with his trunk, and her baby sister needs to be burped. She likes to be a big girl and she likes to be babied. She is my Charley-bug. And she is allergic to certain foods.
In my family, and with my own 5 children, there are no food allergies. We have people with gluten intolerances and I am lactose intolerant, but food allergies are a whole new ball game. I can take some supplements to help with the lactose intolerance, and if I do not, well, there are unpleasant side effects but nothing life-threatening. Food allergies are totally different. So, I had to listen, learn, and now I want to educate family and friends.
I listen to my daughter and son-in-law. They know their daughter better than I do. They live with her 24/7, know what she likes, wants, needs. If they say no, I am going to say no.
I have had to learn what a food allergy entails. I read about them, talk to my daughter, and learn everything I need to know to keep Charley safe. I try to talk about foods as being “Charley safe” instead of being good or bad. I have learned to read food labels each time because sometimes foods are new and improved and become a dangerous thing for her. I take pictures of labels if I am not sure and text them to my daughter. It makes me feel better and more confident about what I feed Charley.
I have also learned what to do in case of an allergic reaction. I know how to use her EpiPen. And that if I use the EpiPen, I need to call 911, and then I call my daughter. In that order.
I want to be an advocate for food allergy kids. Charley is not defined by her food allergies. She is beautiful, smart, crazy funny, and sweet. And she has food allergies. Who she is is not the same as what she deals with. At the same time, these allergies can be life-threatening and I do not mean to undermine the importance of that. My goal is to help people see how fantastically awesome Charley is, and that to keep her safe she cannot eat certain foods. It does not matter if they do not understand at first, I will keep telling them.
Recently we had a big luau to celebrate my mom’s 80th birthday. She is lactose and gluten intolerant. Between her and Charley’s allergies, most of the foods at the party were dairy and gluten free. Just to make it easier (considering we had 20+ people in my house), we made little signs to go by each dish. And my family knows not to feed Charley anything unless it has been approved by her parents.
At Grandma’s house
We still have foods in my house that are not “Charley-safe,” but just like we have had to baby-proof our house, we also food allergy proof our house. Some things are kept out of reach, just like you move cleaners or knives to a higher shelf or cabinet. Some things I have changed, such as I use a dairy-free spaghetti sauce now because little Charley-bug can eat some spaghetti! I always have fruits and veggies that I know she likes. As she gets older and can open doors, cabinets, and the refrigerator, I know we will have to move some other things around.
Unique, not different
Nobody likes to be different. Everyone is unique. What makes us who we are is not just one thing about us – brown eyes, crooked teeth, freckles, or food allergies. We are the sum total of all these things, and each part is important. I plan to be a grandma for a long time, and I plan to advocate for my grandkids in whatever their challenges are in life. Listening, learning, and educating others. Loving someone means you want the best for them and you work towards that best thing. I like how Maya Angelou empowers love in these words: Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope.
That is the Grandma I want to be.