I kind of ugly cried in Kroger yesterday. I actually stood in the candy aisle at my grocery store yesterday and cried.
Next week is one of my least favorite holidays – Valentine’s Day. And no…I’m not single or unhappy with my relationship status. Quite the opposite actually – I am one happily married woman. But my husband and I have never celebrated V-Day. I’m not a girl who needs roses and jewelry and a big, fancy dinner, and it has just ended up being another day on the romance front. I just don't get it. And I am totally okay with that! By the way – when did we decide that pink and red go together? Have you walked down the Hallmark aisle in February at the grocery store? What an eyesore!
Anyway…what really makes this holiday a bummer is all the candy. Halloween is bad, but we in the food allergy community are doing a better job at raising awareness around the candy and safety at Halloween. What I’ve noticed in my almost five years as a food allergy mom is that same level of awareness does not exist for Valentine’s Day. This year in particular, my son’s first Valentine’s in school (he’s in kindergarten), I have felt my anxiety level skyrocket in the last week or so as I think about candy exchanges. My son will undoubtedly receive candy this year (attached to a cute, inviting little Valentine card) that he cannot eat. And then there are the Candy Grams, where students can send other students around the school a piece of candy for a small fee. The school has solicited parents to send in bags of nut-free candy for distribution. For us, nut free doesn’t even begin to cover it.
Cue the heightened anxiety.
I have a great relationship with my son’s teacher, who has been gracious at every turn this year when I have emailed about food, and allows me to keep a stash of safe cookies and popsicles in the classroom for last minute or surprise activities involving food. Knowing what goes on around this holiday, we agreed that I would send in a supply of safe candy for Matthew to partake in on V-Day.
Yesterday, I hopped in my car and drove to the grocery store, grabbed a cart, and headed for the Valentine’s aisle in all its pink and red glory to stock up for my son. I started on one end, deliberately skipping food I knew was unsafe, and reading the labels on things I thought he might be able to eat.
It was a nightmare. Next to nothing in that aisle was safe. “Might contain eggs” may be my least favorite phrase. You should know. You should know if your SweetTarts contain eggs. Did you crack open an egg to make this product or not? All the "manufactured.in a facility" and "produced on a line" statements are frustrating. But “Might contain eggs” scares the daylights out of me. You may as well write “Might contain Poison” on there…”your choice, there’s a 50/50 chance that this might kill you, but we hope you’ll give us a chance.”
After combing through both sides of the aisle, I ended my search full of anger, frustration, and sadness (and a bag of Dum-Dums and Skittles...thanks guys!). Anger that I’d spent all this time searching and reading labels in desperation and ended up with next to nothing. Frustration that food allergies are so increasingly prevalent and yet we have so few food manufacturers out there who are willing to properly disclose ingredients or do more to make safe products. And sadness. Overwhelming sadness that this is my son’s reality. I so wish that he could eat like everyone else, that these eight life-threatening food allergies would just go away.
And then came the tears. I mean, I wasn't sobbing out loud or anything...but I think I did have a few people wondering what sort of sad life situation I was in as I stood in what for many is a pretty happy aisle.
Food allergy parents: I know that It takes a lot of hard work, research, and time to figure this allergy thing out and learn to accommodate them. For us, they are part of life now and 99.9% of the time, life is “normal.” But every once in awhile it does overwhelm me. And it is okay. It is okay to not be okay sometimes. Take a minute (even if it’s in the grocery store), breathe, and pick yourself back up. Then, take pride in what you’ve learned and accomplished, and move on. Keep working hard, be persistent, and focus on the positive.
You’ve got this!