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November 1, 2011

Adventures of the Traveling Food Allergies

According to a recent study*, traveling with a toddler with food allergies is approximately seven and a half times more complicated that simply traveling with a toddler.


Simply traveling with a toddler? Ha! Fun, yes. Simple, noooo.



When we planned our trip to Montreal, we figured it would be after Jacob was fully weaned, which would allow me to eat freely and would make sightseeing and so on a little easier. For the most part, we were right. But we didn’t consider the host of other obstacles his allergies set before us.



As much fun as it was to have Jacob with us, his sensitivities did present some challenges. We never administered Benadryl, but we came close a couple of times.


Our first full day, we tried to feed him some grilled salmon at a restaurant. I told our bilingual waiter about the allergies (pretending they were my own), and to be sure he got it all, he sent over another waiter—one without a French accent to his English—to be sure he’d understood everything. They even brought me gluten-free bread, because they thought I couldn’t eat the baguette they were serving. After a number of reassurances that the salmon had only been cooked with olive oil, we gave it to the little man. And he loved it! Great news!  Well, until the hives started to show.


From that point, we only fed him fruit from restaurants. The rest of his menu was food we’d brought along or bought at a local grocery store. Thank goodness it was cold outside, so I didn’t worry about carting cold cuts around all day.


When John and I ate, we tried to eat anything that might contain dairy with a fork and knife—even quesadillas and chicken fingers. If one of us needed to hold, say, toast with butter, we’d make sure the other person had at least one dairy-free hand. It sounds nuts (pun intended), but it was the best we could do. And after every meal, we used mouthwash to clean ourselves up. Just a kiss after a café au lait can set the little guy off. Thank God he hasn’t shown any signs of anaphylaxis, but maybe that clause should end with “yet.”


Still, there’s always a silver lining, and on this trip I discovered an incredible combination of modern conveniences: ordering take-out in a hotel. Once Jacob’s asleep, we’ll eat what we like and just be careful when we clean up. When it’s take-out, you don’t have to cook, and you avoid the tip for the delivery guy (John doesn’t require tips). When it’s in a hotel with a kitchenette, you get to eat on real plates without having to clean anything up. Plus you don’t need a babysitter, and you can wear yoga pants and no shoes. Does it get any better?


Joking aside, this trip made more real for me how dangerous the world can be for Jacob. We’re not sure what caused it, but he had very red cheeks one morning and a rash another. We started to wonder if he might just be allergic to Canada.



While it’s tempting to want to build a bubble around him, that’s not going to help him figure out how to live in his world. The other day I spoke with a woman whose teenage daughter has a bunch of food allergies, and she told me her goal for her children was that they learn to negotiate their world. After this trip, I’m adopting that as my mantra as well.


It’s tough sometimes to look in the fridge and realize there’s nothing Jacob can eat in there. I never thought I’d know what it felt like to not have something to feed my child. I am grateful all over again that I can go around the corner and buy what he needs, but even in trendy Park Slope, there are slim pickin’s.


This new lifestyle is not something I’d expected in my motherhood, but every life has its challenges, and it’s rare that we anticipate them. Success and happiness come from making the most of what you’re given, and while sometimes I want to find some crazy magic way to make Jacob’s allergies disappear, that’s just not possible. They are a physical manifestation of how both he and we have to get to know the wonderfully unique and individual person he is. And whether or not it involves butter, eggs, or wheat, that’s a journey I’m more than willing to take.



* that being our trip to Montreal

  1. Ugh. That’s a really frustrating and unexpected part of motherhood. We have one who is chemically sensitive, but he doesn’t have life-threatening allergies. It’s hard when you can’t just feed them what’s readily available.

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