When we first discovered my son had food allergies, we had no idea it would mean we would receive many food related mitzvahs. I’ll explain…
This past weekend, our family took a trip to Seattle, Washington to take our son to his first professional baseball game. We were very excited about the trip and the visit exceeded our expectations. It wasn’t only that the Mariners beat the Red Sox in one of the best games they have had all season, or that we had a absolutely gorgeous weather. Actually, the visit began with a surprise that put a smile on my son’s face. We had booked reservations at the Maxwell Hotel in the Queen Anne neighborhood after a close friend who lives in Seattle had recommended it. It turned out to have lovely decor, comfortable beds and at check in offered free delicious pineapple cupcakes for all guests. When I had made my reservations I had read about the hotel on line and someone had commented about the delicious cupcakes.
I asked the receptionist if there were any gluten free alternatives nearby or should I just come with my own replacement for our arrival, anticipating that my son would immediately feel disappointed if he couldn’t have a cupcake with the rest of us. She told me that she also had food allergies and knew of an awesome bakery in Pike’s Place, a well known tourist attraction, not far from the hotel. She told me, that if possible she would get my son a gluten free vegan “monster” cookies that she knew he’d love. I had brought some alternatives for my son just in case she hadn’t gotten anything for him since she’d told me it wasn’t a guarantee. Upon arrival, we were told we had some gluten free vegan treats waiting for us. Not only had she gotten us a “monster” cookie the size of two fists, she’d also gotten a small loaf of blueberry bread and some kind of a scone. My son was absolutely in heaven as he munched on his massive cookie while we had our cupcakes. Needless to say, it was the perfect start to a family get a way weekend.
Another mitzvah happened a few weeks before, when I had called a local Baskin Robbins where we spend a great deal of time each summer. We go there for our summer camp’s cast party each week and I knew that my son’s dairy free choices would likely be limited. I thought I would check out exactly how limited the choices would be. It turned out there was a new owner since last summer’s camp session. When I got the new owner on the phone and asked about the dairy free options he explained that there were currently only two options but he would see what he could do before the end of the camp session about getting a few other alternatives. He also proceeded to offer our camp families a 10% discount on all purchases. I inquired if instead he would consider donating that 10% to our camp and he loved the idea. It has been a win win for everyone. We have begun a relationship with this generous new business owner, given him a tremendous amount of publicity at our camp and expect that we will also receive a sizable donation from his business at the end of the season. My son, of course, feels that his allergies played a role in this fundraising development so he feels that this opportunity came about because of him, which in fact it did.
The hidden benefits of allergies do seem to be outweighing some of the downsides we had anticipated. Perhaps food allergies aren’t quite as bad as we’d first expected.
During spring break my family traveled to Waikiki Beach, Hawaii. Over the past few months, I have found many products that work for my sons multiple food allergies. I was worried though about how I would find any of the gluten free, dairy free, egg free products to make meals for our family while we were in Hawaii. The local Safeway didn’t have many of the soy, coconut, goat options and it was a few days until I found the Down to Earth supermarket chain that had all the familiar brands.
We planned a family outing to the Monoa Falls Trail, Na Ala Hele, a well known family friendly hiking trail. When I mentioned to the concierge that morning where we were headed, he promptly told us we had to eat at the Tree Tops Restaurant when we were finished with the trail. He mentioned that he lived in that valley and this was one of his favorite restaurants, famous for their Chinese buffet.
The hike was very, very muddy. In fact, our shoes were completely covered in mud as well as splashes of mud all over our pants and legs. At the end of the hike, we were all so hungry and tired and knew we should eat, so we entered the restaurant in our disheveled state. The owner graciously welcomed us, even in our condition. After explaining my son’s food allergies, he walked us through the buffet and showed us exactly which items he could eat. My son found the chicken and beef to be very tasty and he ate several pieces. One gelatinous mango custard dessert had no dairy or eggs and he ate his share of that as well. We were all stuffed after lunch and thanked the owner. The owner said “No charge for your son, his choices so limited”. When I told my son as we were leaving the restaurant that he hadn’t charged me for his meal, my son was flabbergasted because he’d eaten so much. He wanted to go back and say thank you! The owner was surprised to see us again and bowed at my son’s graciousness.
Last Thursday, we got some important news. We found out that my son who had been struggling this fall with many stomach aches has multiple food allergies including eggs, wheat, dairy and citrus. It was quite a revelation and one that impacts our entire family. Since I am the chief shopper and cook, I knew that I needed help. The initial shock wore off after 24 hours and I realized I would need to find replacements for many of the daily items we were used to eating. Luckily, I like to cook and instead of letting the initial discovery overwhelm me I decided I should try and have a “can do” attitude as my naturopath doctor suggested. I put out the call to friends and family and solicited their help.
Facebook post, dated January 29th: Just found out my son has several food allergies including eggs, wheat, citrus and dairy. Wow, the reframes how I cook in a big way! Need websites, recipes, support and hand holding.
The help came in many ways. The customer service representatives at our local New Seasons Market gave me their undivided attention as we walked through the store discovering suitable replacement options for items I was used to buying and cooking. Friends from Facebook sent me names of websites and cookbooks. A business colleague even connected me with one of his associates who has auto immune problems and has had to cut out many of the same things as my son. She sent me several detailed emails with information about tasty brands she recommends, several insider tips as well as a few websites.
I could not be more thrilled. Initially, I felt like I had walked into a familiar world where the rules had all changed. My initial anxiety has turned into possibilities and gratitude. I am grateful for the friends and strangers who are there to offer help and advice. I am also grateful that it’s only a food allergy and while it’s complicated, it’s not the end of the world.