November 2013 archive

Grace in a Goldfish Bowl

There’s an old saying that a mother is only as happy as her most unhappy child.  Different people have different feelings about this quote, and that’s ok.  Everyone is unique and so is each parenting experience.  But for me personally, that sentiment was never more true than it was this morning and over of all things, a goldfish.
My mother-in-law raised four children and always jokes about which of them is currently at the top of her worry list.  Someone is always there, claiming their mother’s concerns, but the child occupying the space varies.  For some time the slot is claimed by one, until things settle for him or her and then someone else fills it.
Really, that’s life.  It’s hard to feel tremendous delight for yourself or another, when you know someone else is having a hard time.  One friend may be rejoicing, while another unrelated friend is suffering.  Compassion and empathy is always there on one side of the emotional tug-o-war while celebration and joy yanks the other way.  Yet the rope in this game of life is always interwoven with threads of happiness and gratitude making it possible for us to acknowledge and feel both deeply and simultaneously.
In my own family’s emotional tug-o-war, over the last few weeks we’ve celebrated baptisms and birthdays, and entered into this festive time of the year with a cheerful bang of decorations and parties.  Yet I feel a slight tug in the other direction because my son has been hanging out at the top of my worry list.  It’s nothing major right now but enough to be holding a decent portion of this mother’s mindshare.
Do we push him or give him space?
He just finished his first trimester of 4th grade and things are starting to get a bit more real on all fronts:  academics, social dynamics, athletics and other extra-curricular activities.  This is the first year that his grade card will have letter grades and teams are starting to have try-outs and cuts.  He’s still in pursuit of his passion and my husband and I have been having many late night conversations about it all.
Do we enroll him in the activities he has fun doing because they come easier to him or challenge him and go for the ones that will sharpen the skills that need it?
We decided to start pushing a bit more and make changes in activities that were getting too comfortable. We changed up his piano teacher and he was terribly upset.  But even as I explained to him the rationale behind our decision, I wasn’t sure I believed it.
Will he respond better to good cop or bad cop…threaten and punish, or reward and encourage?
In general my son is pretty tender-hearted and sweet.  I believe he is kind to others and really feels compassion for friends, animals and even our planet.  He’s curious and inquisitive and interested in geography, history and science.
But while he has favorite college and local Chicago sports teams, he’s not going to track statistics or rankings.  He prefers individual sports like swimming and golf more so than team sports such as baseball or soccer.  Yet his real strong suit is his imagination and creativity.  He loves to draw, sculpt and take improv classes.
At recess he’s a master of the rainbow loom, not the soccer field, or even the four square court.  Recently he and his friends have created a game that involves mining and storing ice-crystals in an invented fort on the playground.  This seems like a wonderfully innovative and non-violent game.  Which is good, I think.
Is it even possible to turn a lover into a fighter?
While I believe that his good nature will serve him well as he gets older, I worry that the world will eat him alive!  So I’m desperately trying to foster and encourage his natural traits, while sharpening the characteristics that don’t come as easily to him.   I am really very proud of his kindness and curiosity, but still feel myself wanting to instill into him more competition and drive.
Even though I know every expert would advise that this is wrong, I can’t help myself and I cringe as I ask him who is in what math level at school.  He smiles and answers, “I only pay attention to myself, not others”.
Why would I try to turn a lover into a fighter?
So with all of these issues swirling around he’s claiming space at the top of my worry list and lately my husband and I have been trying different tactics to light a bit of a fire under his behind.  We’ll look at each other and agree that we only want to push him into trying his hardest, doing his best and nothing else.
But then in the middle of homework he’ll do something frustrating and maddening and the conversation starts spinning, and spinning…and before we know it we’re saying things that we shouldn’t and hating ourselves for doing so.
We had one of those conversations the other night and it was so, so miserable and so, so ugly.  It went places that even I was surprised it went with me referencing our son’s surgery when he was just three days old and how he can’t ever give up on himself because (my God!), he is supposed to be here so he better make this life count!  And then there was my husband talking about getting into college and the world passing him by!!  And finally Jack pulling the pillow over his head and saying he just wished he didn’t exist.  Which given the medical history I’ve just described, pushes every last emotional button I have.
And boom!  With that there was a huge, screeching halt.  Brakes applied, the conversation redirected and thanks to the grace that fell all around us in that sacred moment, we found the right parenting words, or at least the better parenting words and talked and hugged and cried and reassured.
Eventually our conversation moved onto pride and how good pride feels.  We asked Jack to think hard about what he was most proud about from that day.  He thought and thought and thought.  We offered examples from our own days like serving others, making someone smile, challenging ourselves.  He thought and thought some more until the answer struck him, “I’m most proud of how long my goldfish has lived”.
We were going for something related to school, sports or being kind to others.  While it’s not the answer we were looking for, it’s true.  He is so proud about the longevity of his pet’s life.  He was thrilled when he learned that all 3rd graders receive a goldfish as part of a science study.  We counted down the months until that study.  During the study the fish stayed in the classroom and Jack analyzed what he believed were the personalities of each.  He would come home with reports like “today my fish was playing with Sam’s fish, but then Ava’s fish tried to attack them.”  And I rolled my eyes to myself on the inside, but smiled on the outside at their innocent excitement.  And finally last winter, the day arrived and he came out of school beaming with his new fish!





There was a lot of fanfare as our kids welcomed the fish to it’s new home.  They decorated the tank with colorings and crafts.  And something truly interesting happened!  Jack’s fish had a hole in the dorsal fin, yet after a few weeks at our house, the hole repaired itself.  Jack assumed this was because he was taking such good care of the fish and his teacher agreed.  By the end of the school year Jack’s fish was still alive, while others were not.  So again, this was remarkable and fun.
All summer long we made sure to feed that fish the right vacation tablets when we left to go out of town.  When we returned home each Sunday night, the first thing Jack would do is race to his bedroom and let out a sigh of relief.  Even his little sister would say, “is the fish still alive?”
When school started up in the fall Jack headed off to the 4th grade wing, but made sure to pay his 3rd grade teacher a visit and let her know that the fish was still alive.  She was amazed and told Jack so, bolstering his pride even more.
And then this week….the week he’s hanging out at the top of my worry list, and the week after the emotional piano teacher switch, and the week we’ve been riding him so hard about his homework and the week he just declared his fish’s life as the achievement that he feels great pride in….this week the fish started swimming on its side and not eating.  <insert dramatic sound effect, Ba-ba-bum.>
Jack saw it a few days ago and called me panicked to his room.  I downplayed it and we continued on our way.   But when it happened again this morning, it didn’t look good and both he and I knew it.  The drama was thick and would be almost funny, if it wasn’t so sincere.  He was knocking on the side of the bowl and saying things like “stay with me”.  He didn’t want to eat breakfast since the fish couldn’t eat.  He decided to wear a shirt to school today with a graphic of a fish on it to stand in solidarity with his pet.
I explained that it was probably time for him to start saying good-bye.  He asked if we could do anything and I said not really.  He suggested we call a vet.  Now we don’t have a veterinarian, because pet fish. Fish!  Finally I relented and called a veterinarian practice in town.  I explained our situation while the receptionist very kindly and patiently played along allowing me to say into the phone loud enough for my son to hear “ok, so you’re saying there’s nothing we can do.  How long do fish usually live?  Oh gosh, only a few weeks?  Well then I guess we should really be celebrating what a long life we gave our fish!  Yes, he didtake good care of that fish. Thanks so much.”
I knew my son needed to get to school.  Admittedly, I wondered for a split second if I should allow him to stay home and spend time with his beloved pet goldfish before it died.  But I thought better of it, and told him he needed to spend a moment or two with the fish and then it was time to go.  I offered that he could come home for lunch and suggested that he could pay a visit to his 3rd grade teacher who he is so endeared to and let her know.
Between his tears, he liked this idea.  So, I quickly went and sent a note to his current 4th grade teacher, his 3rd grade teacher and the school social worker explaining the situation of the morning.  I labeled it “Goldfish Tragedy” and in a tongue-in-cheek tone I said that they should not baby him, but he might need an extra pat on the back or hug today.  They were so kind and all wrote me back this morning.
On the way to school we talked about how he needs to be brave, and I struggled with my own emotions and contradictions.  I love that he wears his heart on his sleeve, but it’s so vulnerable hanging out there!  I wanted to tell him to compartmentalize his feelings, and to not let others see him cry.  Yet I know that’s all wrong based on my own experiences with grief.
I started to explain that others are going through hard times as I thought of parents I know who are losing their own children to cancer right now, kids we know who have parents going through a divorce right now, and the thousands of people in the Philippines who we don’t know personally but who are facing utter devastation right now.  I wanted to slap a bit of perspective into my son and scream “its a goldfish!”
But I remembered when my own daughter was born still and in a conversation with my mother she good-intentionally offered stories of other seemingly “worse” tragedies.  I think she was hoping I’d realize that others were suffering as well.  But I was insulted and screamed back “I know there are starving children in the world and I feel terrible about that….but that doesn’t make my loss suck any less right now!”
And that’s when I caught myself.  One of the hardest lessons I’ve had to accept is that things are not mutually exclusive.  My world may be crashing, while someone else’s is jubilant.  It may not seem fair, but it’s hardly unjust.  It’s not one or the other.  It just is the way it is.
Toughen him up, or keep him soft?
When we arrived at school, Jack got out of the car and took a quick pause to look in the side view mirror.  He asked me if I could tell that he’d been crying.  I didn’t lie and didn’t tell the truth, I just said that it looked like he’d been having a bad day.

A bad day, that was it!  This was my advice to give.  We talked about how he was having a bad day and that everyone has bad days.  And everyone has good days.  And they aren’t always on the same day.  But the bad days help us appreciate and recognize the good days.  Then I continued that even on one of the bad days, it’s still a day worth having and one we need to get through.
He sighed.  As I watched his slumped back bravely enter the building in its puffy winter coat, I started to tear up a little bit myself.  Because I remembered my own very bad days and how I still had to keep moving.  Sometimes the movement was forward, sometimes backwards, but each and every one of those days consistently arrived.  And each and every one of those days brought with it both a sunrise and a sunset.
To my child’s tender heart, the loss of a pet goldfish is a big deal.  And even though I’m an adult and can see this morning’s tragedy as funny and ironic (Come on!  I sent a note to the school and called a veterinarian for a goldfish for goodness sake!!), most powerful of all, I’m a parent.  And once you’ve grown, sustained and nurtured your child’s heart both inside and out of you, you’ll always feel it as it swells with joy or breaks with grief. 
Throw him a rope, or let him rescue himself?  
Wish me luck!  I’m off to save a goldfish now.  With the help of my husband’s Google search I’ll be performing a trick that involves spoon-feeding a fish a frozen pea.  Because a super hero never hangs up her cape, and neither does this mom.

Conflicting Feelings About Food and the Holidays

‘Tis the season.  Doesn’t it feel like we are in the middle of a marathon of food right about now?  And we’re only at mile seven or eight, maybe nine.  Its starts with the Halloween candy and carries right on through until the final scraps from the fortune bearing pork dishes are scraped off the plates as they begin their first wash of the new year.

There’s an entire diet industry planning their marketing calendars and banking on our over indulgences this season.  But this isn’t a post about weight loss, decadence, condemning, condoning or even resolutions.  Because food is a special part of this time of the year.

It is both celebration and community.  There’s the patience of tending to a harvest as it grows over months.  The art of combining different ingredients and techniques to make something flavorful and fulfilling.  The act of coming together over laughter and cheer to work collaboratively towards a common goal.  And the practice of giving thanks for the bounty of the season.

Food can be comfort and food can be home.  The sound of clanging dishes indicates a table being set for not one, but many.  The way our mothers wipe their hands on a dish towel feels as familiar as the way our fathers use their hands to carve a turkey.  The squealing delight of children pulling a wishbone sets against a delicious scent wafting in the air serving as a reminder that these things are only presented to us once a year, at this special meal.

The sights, sounds and smells of the kitchen can represent family and togetherness and are just as timeless as a handwritten recipe card.  Its beauty lies not within the directions themselves, but in the way the ink is smeared from a greasy thumb of yesteryear.  These simple instructions are transcending technology, being delivered from hand to hand, skin to skin, generation to generation all while forging a connection from a family’s past to a family’s future.

Yes, this food and these festivities are beautiful indeed.  With food at the axis of the season, how would we celebrate without it?

Since I’m the parent of a child with life-threatening food allergies, food poses a paradoxical puzzle because what sustains my child, will also cause him great harm. Between the holiday cookie exchanges, gingerbread parties and chocolate advent calendars there’s only so many creative solutions I can come up with to help make the holidays more allergy friendly and safe before it feels like one big circus act.

A few weeks ago I wrote about how I want my son to approach his food allergies with a can-do attitude.   He loves to eat and prides himself on having a big appetite.  So while I want him to have a healthy respect for the threat that some foods pose to him, I also want him to have an equally healthy appreciation for food.  Its confusing to square away my own feelings about something that is both dangerous and enjoyable, let alone trying to explain those opposite emotions to my son.

So during a season that is often focused on food, we’ve incorporated the below practices into our holiday repertoire as a way to make the holidays not only safer and but more settling for us all:

We keep our family traditions allergy-free.  If our son can’t have it, we don’t have it.  During the rest of the year we have a few exceptions.  But in general and especially on special days like holidays, we’re all in it together!  The holidays are about family so what one of us eats, we all eat.  We and us!  Its how we operate.


We gravitate towards family and friends who get this and do it as well.  As our son grew older we didn’t want the conversation with others to always be about what he couldn’t have.  He was getting old enough to overhear those conversations and feel it.  We don’t want to emphasize his differences so when my extended family members graciously offered to dine on an entirely allergy-free meal themselves, we were so happy!  What a nice way to show us how much they value all of us being a part of their holiday and letting us know that they accept us in whatever dietary form we require.

We get creative.  After a bit of practice, we’ve all grown to enjoy the challenge of making dairy-free, egg-free and nut-free feasts.  Olive oil or soy butter works just as well as dairy-based butter to baste or saute, and there’s plenty of soy and tofu creamers available as well.  We make cut-out cookies using applesauce, baking soda and oil to stick since we can’t have eggs to do so.  And thanks to Disney’s Prep & Landing, we know that Santa has a nut allergy, so we give the big guy a personalized ingredient alert.  We still make treats for our neighbors and special friends, but those tin canisters are filled with homemade oatmeal instead of cookies.  One of our favorite traditions is to decorate gingerbread houses.  And we’ve designed some really clever ones using gum drops for roof linings, marshmallow shrubs, gummy bears for toys and even added aquariums on the interior with Swedish fish.

We remove the food-focus.  The meals are nice, but there’s plenty of other things making the season special.  We take the horse and carriage rides, but skip the hot cocoa…its just as cozy.  We go caroling, but don’t have the cookies…its just as joyful.  We visit with Santa, but skip the candy cane handout at the end…its just as magical.    One of the most special things we do is one of the most simple things.  This idea was shared with me a few years ago by a dear friend.  At some point in December we give the kids baths, and put them in their pajamas just like every other night.  But right as they are about to be tucked in we tell them that this is the night and we drive around listening to holiday music on the radio and looking at the lights on houses.  We wear Santa hats, giggle and sing and its sheer delightful memory-making, without an ounce of food!

We remind ourselves that food is nourishment and survival.  During every holiday season we volunteer at the food packaging charity, Feed My Starving Children. We volunteer here a few times throughout the year, but especially a this time of the year.  It is one of my son’s most favorite things to do!  He invites friends and together the kids and adults prepare Manna packs to ship to children around the world in need of nourishment.  Its collaborative, fast paced, fun and often set to rowdy music.  Its right down my nine-year-old son’s alley!  The organization does a nice job of explaining how each Manna pack is specifically formulated to feed malnourished children and at the end of a packing session, they tell you exactly how many meals you prepared for how many children in need.  My son and his friends enjoy being able to quantify their efforts.  I love the cause. I love that he loves it.  But I especially love that not only is it a powerful reminder of the real value of food, but is also a way for him to be involved in the tradition and art of preparing a meal for others, despite his food allergies, all while helping others who desperately need it.

And so we’re back to those conflicting feelings I have about food and the holidays.  In many ways food is such a big part of the festivities at this time of the year.  And I understand that.  But when we stop and think, isn’t Thanksgiving really about gratitude, Christmas about giving, Hanukkah about light and New Years about beginnings?  With all of it falling under an over-arching theme of family, love, tradition and togetherness?  Well that seems to me to be the real reason to celebrate!

An Unwanted Expertise

How To Help Parents Survive Pregnancy after Perinatal Loss

Last week I was honored to sit on a parent panel discussing how we survived the emotional turmoil of a pregnancy after suffering an unexpected full term still birth.  The workshop was called “The Effects of Perinatal Loss on Subsequent Pregnancies” and the audience was a group of medical professionals from around the Chicago area comprised of nurses, hospital chaplains, social workers and physicians all working in bereavement support.

About half way through the panel discussion something happened.  Not only did I sort of hit my stride conversationally and feel myself steady as I settled into this difficult topic, but I realized that in this room and this setting, I was the expert.  As the quiver in my voice evened, I processed the audience members.  Few I knew, most I did not, but all I admired and respected.  Yet, this prestigious community was looking to me and my fellow panelists for our expert opinions.

I wish I didn’t have this expertise.  Oh, so many times I’ve made this wish.  Yet its mine and its one that I’m glad to use if doing so can help someone be better able to provide a bit of a peace to parents at a time when their world is falling apart.  So I sat on this panel sharing my experience and owning my expertise.

I was a bit rattled during the discussion and understandably so.  The workshop was taking place in the very hospital that holds some of the most tragic and sacred moments of our lives.  It is also the professional home of some of the treasured people who helped us survive those moments.  These are the moments that have shaped our family story and nurtured this expertise.

Last week I was seated at table in a conference room not far from the labor and delivery wing where we delivered our stillborn daughter seven years earlier.  As I parked in the garage and walked towards the yellow elevator lobby I remembered exactly where we had parked on that day.  Almost like muscle memory, my emotions were triggered by this physical space.

It is in this location where we attended monthly support group meetings diligently for twenty-two months through not only our grieving process but also our subsequent pregnancies.  We have gone on memorial walks at this hospital and planted flowers in our children’s honor in this hospital’s roopftop garden.

Whenever we drive by this building our living children will point with delight and declare it as their sister’s hospital.  On sad days or holidays when I’m especially missing my daughter I jog by this hospital and intentionally take an extra beat under the wing where we delivered and spent time with her.  Just recently a special room was dedicated and set aside for families who are in the process of saying goodbye to their dying or recently deceased baby.  My husband and I donated a crib to this room after carefully choosing that specific model because it’s name happened to be the same as our daughter’s.

Its natural that for us to want to give back to this hospital, this organization and this cause.  Its a space and place that means so much to us.  Yet during last week’s workshop I had to describe how I couldn’t return to this beloved hospital to deliver our subsequent babies.

Some of my fellow panelists shared my perspective and need for a new setting.  Some did not and felt most comfortable returning to the same hospital where they experienced their loss.

I thought I would until when just a few weeks into my subsequent pregnancy I had a spotting scare and went to the Emergency Room at that hospital.  As I sat paralyzed with fear and grief for a baby I was certain I was about to lose, I heard a name over the PA system.  It was the name of the doctor who had the unfortunate role of informing me that my baby’s heartbeat had stopped during my last pregnancy.  I thought highly of that doctor, but hearing her name in that space, triggered an emotional muscle memory and I knew I wouldn’t be back as a patient.

I told this story last week during the workshop.  My fellow panelists each had their own story to describe what the physical space meant to them.  Just as each of our children is unique, each of our losses are unique.  Yet we all share the universal heartbreak of grieving a child we never had the chance to get to know.

Because of this bond that we share, a few key themes presented themselves as our discussion unfolded. I want to capture those here so that other medical professionals might keep them in mind if they have patients who have suffered perinatal loss and are going through a subsequent pregnancy.  In fact, these are probably good things to note for anyone who is providing friendship and support to someone who is grieving the loss of a baby.

Use the term “child” not “pregnancy”
Sure from a medical and clinical standpoint, our experience is considered a pregnancy.  But to us and our hearts this baby is a person, not an event.  We are deeply grieving the child’s life who either ended inside of us right before they were born, or shortly after they were born. At a minimum we’ve spent the last nine months already parenting our child, making sacrifices and plans, eagerly reading books and preparing nurseries.  But often times we’ve spent years awaiting the arrival of our child. Even as long ago as I was child and old enough to imagine myself as a mother I was already thinking about and planning for the baby I assumed I would have one day.  So in that way, we are also deeply grieving the loss of a dream.  The point being, that to us this is so much more than a pregnancy and we appreciate you acknowledging that.

Review our file first
This whole process is exhausting and its extra draining every time we have to repeat our story.  It would be wonderful if every one we encountered from a medical perspective during our subsequent pregnancy was aware of our history prior to meeting with us.  From the physicians to the nurses, to the ultra sound technicians there is a lot of small talk during pregnancy appointments and that’s friendly and fine.  But please know the enormous tension we are feeling while we’re hooked up to an ultra sound machine or doppler device desperately waiting to hear a baby’s heartbeat.  We are probably analyzing your tone and facial expressions looking for clues that everything is ok.  It is taking every last ounce of our energy to just be here, doing this.

It is excruciating
Period.  Even with a thesaurus, I can’t find the right word.  There isn’t one.  Agonizing, grueling, tormenting, excruciating.  None of these words do this process justice.

We need reassurance
My husband and I made multiple trips to the hospital during the third trimester of our subsequent pregnancies because we were worried about a lack of fetal movement.  Often times we spent hours overnight hooked up to a monitor or ultra sound machine.  There were so many phone calls and extra appointments.  We spent the night before one of our daughters was scheduled to be delivered in a hotel room across the street from the hospital.  We were too worried to be further away.  When our next daughter was born we spent the night before her birth in the hospital triage area worried about a lack of fetal movement.  We were discharged at 5 am, drove home and then returned five hours later at 10 am for her scheduled delivery.  Right up until we hear that baby’s cry we are terrified and in need of doctors who will allow us all of the reassurance visits and phone calls we need.

The best thing you can ask us is “how are you doing today?”
My husband helped identify this mantra during our subsequent pregnancies:  “Today we are pregnant, and today it is going well”.  That is all we allowed ourselves to celebrate…today.  And frankly, as we had sadly learned in the past, that was all we were guaranteed.  Our moods change daily, if not hourly, during this process.  Sometimes optimistic and upbeat, sometimes sorrowful and grieving and sometimes nervous and distracted.  The best thing you can do is help us focus on that moment, that day and don’t push us into a space, either in the future, or past, that we aren’t prepared to be in right then.

When possible use our child’s name
As I said before we spent nine months, and sometimes longer, parenting our child.  But we will never be able to go to her soccer games or his school conferences.  We’ll never build the science fair volcano together or give our child birthday parties.  We can’t teach him the ABC’s or meet her college roommates.  There are so many things we’ll never get to do with our daughter or son.  But one of the few gifts we were able to give to our child is a name.  We are proud of our child’s name and since it is one of the only things that we can cling to as proof of his or her existence, we love hearing it.

All of that being said, of course there’s no one playbook on how to grieve, just as there’s no one playbook on how to help someone through this process.  But as the parent panel portion of the workshop came to a close last week the members of the medical community clapped, and cried and stopped to give us hugs or tell us how much they appreciated our insights.  I was touched by how badly they wanted to know the right answer and right thing to do.  And I was reminded that wanted or not, this is now my expertise.  And just as the medical community guided me through the darkest of my days, I can help them guide others back to the light.

Trick-or-Treat

Halloween is one of the most fun parts about being a kid.  And frankly, if you’re an adult who is a kid at heart, its still a pretty great day!
But if you’re the parent of a child with food allergies, Halloween can feel a lot more trick than treat.  My son, Jack, has life-threatening food allergies to dairy, egg and all nuts.  Bluntly translated this means that most Halloween candy can kill him. 
We discovered his allergies when he was just 15-weeks old, had his first sip of formula and went into anaphylaxis shock.  So he’s never known anything different, and we’ve never known anything different.
While I don’t want to speak for him and won’t provide any perspective on what its like to celebrate Halloween when you have a food allergy, I can tell you what its like as a mom of a child with food allergies.  I can also tell you how I started doing something last year to make the holiday even more fun for both me, and my son.
For eight Halloweens we had been doing all of the things that every parent of a child with food allergies has learned to do.  We have a trade-in policy and exchange the candy that Jack collects for a toy or treat that is safe for him.  When he was younger we carefully monitored which candy he accepted when trick-or-treating.  We carry not just one, but five epi-pens with us that day and have drilled into the kids that they are absolutely not allowed to eat any of their loot until we inspect it at home.  Our neighbors are sweet and will ask if they can provide candy that is safe for Jack. 
But even so, it’s a tough one when your child has food allergies.  And that’s too bad, because it’s a great day!  What’s so wonderful is that Halloween is about more than just the candy collected during trick-or-treating.  It’s about community and fun and everyone coming together on a day of silliness to celebrate fantasy, spookiness and friendship. 
Here in Chicago, we all hunker down over winter and this is often the last time we’ll see our neighbors out and about for many months.  So we do Halloween really big.  In our community, like many of yours, Halloween is about the costumes and candy, but also the celebrations and the neighborhood gatherings.  While kids trick-or-treat the adults follow along with red solo cups full of cheer.  People host parties stocked with pizza, cookies, candy and other things that my son can’t eat and are very dangerous for him to be around.
And sometimes that’s a bit tough because I always envisioned that our house would be the one on the block with the big family parties and the place where all of my children and their friends would want to hang out.  Not only is that fun, but I also I recognize the value in having a house where kids want to be as they get older because you can keep an eye on them, without them realizing you’re doing so.  I remember how much I loved being at my friend’s house when I was a teenager because her family was friendly and the kitchen was always stocked with homemade cookies.  But now that I’m the parent, I think I kind of shy away from those situations because the whole food thing is so tricky.  And I can sense that Jack isn’t always included in other social situations that involve food like lunch bunches or restaurant meals because it makes the other parents nervous.  And to be honest, it makes me nervous too.   But that’s ok because Jack doesn’t seem to mind.
In fact, he has never complained about Halloween or any other food-focused holiday.  He loves the version that he gets.   And as his mother, I want to keep it that way.  Whenever someone comments about how hard the allergies must be, we always reply with “yes, but its manageable.”  And that’s true.  As long as we manage certain situations, Jack is safe. 
He understands that Halloween has its limits from a safety perspective.  But from an emotional and goal setting perspective, I never want my son to think of his food allergies as limiting.  There’s a real difference in tone between words like hard vs. challenging, sucks vs. tough, and limiting vs. manageable.
So with that in mind, last year I decided to stop feeling mopey about the dangers of Halloween parties, and instead dress myself up in a costume that would be a party-on-the-go complete with food that is safe for my son. 
As our family got ready to trick-or-treat with others, I put on a hat from Jack’s beloved Cubs, sneakers, a fleece and carried a cardboard box full of individually wrapped hot dogs self-steaming in foil (thirty-two of them to be exact).  I had stadium mustard and Giardiniera, but no ketchup (this is Chicago, after all!) and kept calling out, “get your red hots, here!”   I was a Wrigley Field vendor.  You know the kind that walk the stands and sell right from their tray?
Jack and his friends loved it and kept coming back for another hot dog as we moved from house to house over several blocks.  I heard them saying “Jack’s mom has the best hot dogs!” and it made me feel good that they could associate Jack with a regular food that they love too, instead of the conversation always being about what Jack can’t have.
It was a hit with our fellow adults too because every good Wrigley vendor also has to have Old Style beer with them.
I loved it because it showed the kids that their mom can be goofy and enjoy the day just as much as they do.  It let them know that I’m in this whole thing with them..its not just their holiday, its our holiday.  I recognize that a day that is supposed to be unabashedly over-the-top fun does have its limitations for him, and for us.  But this was my little way of showing Jack that I have his back.  The limitations are all things that we can manage and I’ll always be there, finding creative ways to help him enjoy himself in safe ways.
As he gets older I know he won’t want his mom around all of the time.  At some point it won’t be cool to have your mom trailing after you, even if she’s handing out free hot dogs.   I can’t always be hovering, and helicoptering as much as I’d like to.  And I need to trust that he will make safe decisions when it comes to his food allergies.
Plus after a few years, these costumes that allow me to travel with food will probably move from the creative camp to the weird camp.  But for now, he’s enjoying it, my neighbors are enjoying it and I’m enjoying it.
Aside from keeping our bellies warm and full of good cheer while trick-or-treating, hopefully the Wrigley vendor costume, and others that follow, will be a reminder to Jack of how to approach food allergies with a can do attitude, instead of a can’t do attitude.  Sure food allergies can be very tricky, but with or without allergies, Halloween should be a treat!  

Boo!