Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Smurfing Food Allergies?

While I have written guest blog pieces for other blogs, I have not previously considered posting someone else's words here.  This blog is, after all, about my Overachieving Bunch!  But every so often, someone will explain my thoughts and feelings even better than I can for myself.  

Today's post is written by one of the friends that I referenced in my recent post about walking the line between reasonable accommodations that allow allergic kids to live and those that are more about making adults feel better than anything else.  Sandra is the mother of two children, including a 9 year old with an anaphylactic allergy to peanuts.  She is often the example that I look to when I need a balanced perspective so (naturally!) I had to talk to her when I started seeing calls to boycott The Smurfs 2.  Here's what she has to say on the subject.

Sandra and her daughter,
living without fear of peanut allergy
Living with two tweens, I sort of expected The Smurfs 2 to make a commotion. The first is one of our favorites, so the second was on our must see list. I did not know that the film would be making a splash in the allergy community. In retrospect, I’m glad I did not know because it allowed me to view the film without bias. 
First let’s understand what has caused the ruckus. There is a scene early in the film where the main characters, Patrick and Grace (portrayed by Neil Patrick Harris and Jayma Mays), are throwing a birthday party for their 4 year old son, Blue. It’s established that there are some specific dietary needs, and that Patrick and Grace are doing all they can to address them properly. Enter Patrick’s step-father, Victor. Patrick seems to perceive Victor as a sort of bumbling embarrassment who always messes things up. Enter food allergies. Victor begins to hand out corn dogs to the party guests. One set of parents asks if the corn dog has peanuts. Victor responds that it doesn’t. Once the boy begins to bite into the dog, Victor continues that it’d be silly to include peanuts in the recipe since the whole thing is fried in peanut oil. 
I waited. What now? Is this the joke? My daughter nestled down into my arm and whispered “Is he going to have a reaction?” On screen the adults fly into action. Grace grabs the phone. I took it to be that she was calling 911. In the following scene, Patrick is on the phone with the boy’s parents. He clearly addresses two key points – the boy had a reaction that included hives and swelling in his throat. The boy is now fine, having been treated in a timely and proper manner. It’s Victor again who doesn’t quite get it. He says something to the effect of “at least it wasn’t life threatening.” Patrick’s response, while not verbal, conveys the message that the reaction was life threatening and Victor is again clueless. 
Some are calling the film out for "making light" of allergies. Not all of them have seen the film.  Having helped my daughter manage her food allergies for 7 years, I have seen many cringe worthy allergy references in entertainment vehicles. This was not one of those. This was a scene that showed one adult who clearly did not understand the severity of food allergies and it showed other adults who did, in fact, “get it.” Not only that, it showed a realistic response, albeit medication and trip to the ER was not included in the content itself. The call was being placed for medical care, however, and the severe reaction was referenced. 
This raises several points I think we all can learn from.

  1. Including reference to allergies in media can be used as a vehicle to raise awareness. There were audible gasps in the theater today when the words “peanut oil” were uttered. People got it. Not all of them, but enough of them to make the point to the rest. Perhaps the next time one of them is asked “Is there peanuts in this?” the people who saw this will remember to think beyond the actual nut. Maybe when someone says “Is there milk in this” There’s a second thought of “Does cheese count?”  
  2. Including reference to allergies in media can open dialogue. As my daughter nestled into my arm and wondered about the young boy, I took advantage of the teaching moment.  “They responded as they should. If it's fried, ask about the oil -lesson learned. Right?” I said to her. And she nodded. Hours later, that scene is far from her mind. She’s off rattling about all the things that made her laugh.
  3. Kids like to see themselves in their toys, books, films and tv shows. When Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs came out, my daughter loved Sam Sparks for one simple reason. “She’s me!” Yes. Exactly. Red hair? Check. Smart chick? Check. Glasses? Check. Food allergies? Check. When American Girl introduced an allergy lunch kit last year, my daughter was ecstatic. Her look-almost-alike doll already had a pair of glasses. Now she could have her own auto-injector. Of course, she also adores the newest American Girl, Girl of the Year because Saige has blue eyes, red hair, likes to ride horses, gets stage fright and is a budding artist. Check. Check. Check. And check.

    Having food allergic characters in films is not a bad thing as long as it’s handled in a respectful manner. It shows us all that normal, everyday kids have food allergies. They also go to birthday parties and become weather reporters with an adventurous streak.

    With Sandra's experience and opinion, and knowing that she is my allergy mom alter ego, I am very glad that I chose to withhold judgment.  And I think that I will be taking the boys to see The Smurfs 2, because I like to support those that make the effort to realistically show what life is like for families with foods allergies. 

    Friday, July 26, 2013

    Stock Epinephrine for Tennessee Schools (VIDEO)

    8-year-old demonstrates how to use an EpiPen in the video below

    New law allows schools to keep EpiPens in cases of emergency: The law authorizes all Tennessee schools to voluntarily stock epinephrine auto-injectors, better known as EpiPens.

    Wednesday, July 24, 2013

    Reasonable Concern vs. Anxious Allergy Mom

    When Overachiever #1 was younger, it was difficult for me to imagine him ever living a normal life.  How could my "allergic to the world" child ever survive in a world that revolved around food?!  I like to say that I was a bit anxious.  Those who were forced to deal with me at the time would probably choose a more colorful description.

    With the help of FAAN (now FARE) and some seasoned allergy moms, I was quickly schooled in label reading, cross-contamination, the need to plan ahead for everything, to always carry an Epipen, and to actually open my eyes to my surroundings so that I could spot danger before my little man found it for himself.  I learned that reasonable precautions or accommodations can be determined based on medical data.  (When my baby ingests or has X rubbed on his skin, a watchful physician can note objective findings such as a rash, wheeze, immediate vomiting, etc.  Therefore, we insist that people wash their hands before holding baby and ask them to refrain from kissing him.)  Those are very different from the precautions that I may be tempted to demand based on my fear of what "might" happen.  (I've never actually seen it happen, but what if someone eats X and then breathes on my son and he has trouble breathing?!  My son cannot - under any circumstance - be around X!!!)

    To help me figure out "reasonable" vs. "anxious" concerns, I imagine a line that divides the two.  That line is, of course, rather gray.  And its location is different for those foods that have caused breathing difficulties or multiple system allergic reactions than for those foods that cause only a mild rash with ingestion.  The line has moved over time.  A crawling baby is going to find more allergens than a baby content to sit in a swing.  A typical 5 year old is going to be able to take some responsibility for avoiding their allergens if they are given guidance and oversight by an adult.  An 8 year old can take on more responsibility.  I imagine the line will shift significantly in another few years, and I will continue to prepare for that.  But I am not going to worry too much about the future just yet.

    As we head into a new school year, I find myself once again looking for that line between reasonable and anxious.  What accommodations are medically necessary?  Which ones can we relax a bit based on age, increased responsibility and some improvement to allergic response?  Those answers are not easy to come by, so we are scheduled to sit down with some trusted physicians.  Then we will meet with the school.  Despite feeling a bit anxious, I am confident that together - as a team - we can determine the vigilance necessary to keep Overachiever #1 safe in this world filled with allergens without establishing restrictions that are all about making the adults feel safe.