Once upon a time, Halloween was the most dreaded day on the calendar for me. I had two small children, ages 3 and 1, who had both been diagnosed with severe food allergies, and I had already made several mad dashes to the hospital with children in various stages of anaphylaxis in my backseat. For days prior to Halloween, my social media feed had been filled with very real accounts of the worst that can happen to food allergy kids while Trick-or-Treating, and I had no idea how to keep my babies safe in a world filled with Snickers, Reese’s Pieces, M&Ms, and peanut butter cookies. Everyone I knew was rushing off to a fun fall festival, and I was slowly realizing that as a food allergy family I might never be able to take my children to these types of food-filled festivities. I imagined a future full of missing out, and I was unbelievably sad at what this represented for my children.
I never dreamed then that just three short years later, Halloween would be my absolute favorite day on the calendar. Today my children still have severe, life threatening food allergies, and we have to be incredibly vigilant with them and their surroundings. But these days, we have a community that annually goes above and beyond to support us, making Halloween the most special of all days. Here are some examples:
- Each year, our church sponsors a Fall Festival and Trunk-or-Treat. While no event open to the public can ever guarantee an allergen-free environment, the church leadership and volunteers go out of their way to make it as safe as humanly possible by buying only nut free candy and doing what they can to ensure that no “unsafe” candy slips through. In addition, leaders at the check-in table provide bags of safe candy for children with peanut and tree nut allergies so that no family has to stress about whether the candy provided throughout the event has been somehow contaminated. Emergency workers are always present at the event, and there is a great preschool room so parents can keep a close eye on little ones who may not be verbal enough to express if they aren’t feeling well. If you live in the Dalton, Georgia area and would like to check it out, the flyer below has the date and time.
- Our fabulous primary school, Cohutta Elementary, has adopted a peanut safe policy. It also cannot guarantee that an accident will not happen, but the fabulous leadership exhibited by administration and teachers has created a warm and caring environment. My children do not typically eat food unless it comes from home, but around special days and events like Halloween teachers and parents often reach out to me with pictures of labels of store bought goodies for the class to make sure my children will be safe and included. Because of the warm and positive attitude, our children are able to participate in the school’s fall festival and fun fall classroom activities without anxiety.
- For Trick-or-Treating itself, we have developed close friends who always welcome our children and promise to have safe treats or toys reserved just for them. We are unlikely to ever be able to Trick-or-Treat from house to house, but the homes we get to visit represent the best kind of friends and the best kind of love. Our kids get hugs along with their treats and go to bed on Halloween night knowing without a doubt that they are loved.
These are just three examples of how Halloween has been transformed for our family, and I could give you many more. It’s amazing how much better my boys’ childhoods have been than I expected, and Halloween always represents the best of the best. If you are a food allergy family struggling with how to adjust to your new normal, I hope this encourages you and fills you with hope. You will always have to be vigilant, but you will no doubt experience immeasurable blessings as you navigate this new terrain.