Skipping Halloween

Growing up, Halloween was my favorite holiday, behind Christmas, of course. The thrill of dressing up and then getting loads of candy for it is every kid’s dream! The only exception would be Halloween 1998 when I decided to be a French maid (I have no idea why, but who am I to question my 9 year old mind). Turns out I am highly allergic to feathers and had an allergic reaction to my feather duster. I spent the entire night puffy, sneezing, and snotty, but nonetheless, I hung in there and filled my pillowcase to the brim with candy.

I loved Halloween so much that when my husband and I were newly married, we decided we were going to have an annual Halloween party at our house. It would be the best way to celebrate the festivities with our kids, neighbors, and friends! We even had the novel idea to set our projector out in the driveway and have Hocus Pocus and Casper playing for trick-or-treaters as they passed by. This dream went so far as to have a Pinterest board dedicated to it. Now that’s what I call commitment!

Some of you reading this may be thinking, “Hey! I never got invited to their annual Halloween party”. If your egos are bruised, you should know that there was never a party. By the time Gene’s first Halloween was here, we already knew about his allergies.

For Gene’s first Halloween, Blake had the flu and was down for the count. In an attempt to still do something, I put a French Bulldog hat on Gene, went to snap a few pictures with his cousins, and came home.

 

Halloween with Food Allergies

For Gene’s second Halloween, it was raining cats and dogs, so we did Gene’s usual bedtime routine, placed a bowl of candy on the porch, taped a note to the front door daring anyone to ring the bell, turned out the lights, and cheered on the Astros.

Now you may be thinking that these are pretty sad Halloween memories for a kid and I completely agree. However, Gene has no recollection of his first two Halloweens, so there’s no reason to feel bad for him.

Gene’s third Halloween was last year. He was two and a half and had enough sense of the holiday to know that kids dressed up and were rewarded with candy for saying, “Trick or Treat!”. We didn’t think that we could entirely gloss over the event but still didn’t know how to best explain to him that he wouldn’t be able to eat his hard-earned candy. Enter the church trunk-or-treat fall festival. We decided that this would be the best alternative to Trick-or-Treating for Gene.

My favorite part of the festival was taking Gene to the Halloween warehouse to pick out his costume, as this was a first for us. For weeks, he had been saying he wanted to be a pumpkin or Goofy. Low and behold, Gene spotted a banana costume and was locked in. My husband didn’t love the idea and tried to persuade him into every other costume in his size, but Gene wouldn’t have it. Once Gene slipped on that banana costume, we were all sold. He was the cutest darn banana I’ve ever seen! The irony of it all is that we were struggling with Halloween because of his allergies and he chose to be food of all things

Halloween with Food Allergies

The festival was a huge (sweaty) success and we’re hoping to go back again this year. However, since the festival wasn’t ON Halloween, we were still struggling with what to do on the 31st.

Halloween with Food Allergies

After much deliberation, we decided to (once again) skip Halloween. Instead of sitting at home and locking our doors, we made the 11 hour drive with both kids in tow to Florida. Neither kid had been to the beach before, so we decided it would be the perfect opportunity for their first vacation.

Halloween at the Beach with Food Allergies
Halloween at the Beach with Food Allergies

Gene was so enthralled with building sand castles, flying kites, and running away from the waves that he didn’t even notice we missed Halloween. Since there were no kids gleefully passing by our house in their costumes, there was no explaining to our sweet boy why he couldn’t participate.

Halloween at the Beach with Food Allergies
Halloween at the Beach with Food Allergies

I think we made the best decision for Gene and for our family for his first three Halloweens. Unfortunately, this year will be a whole different story. We haven’t decided exactly how we are going to celebrate this year, but I’m sure it will be the most difficult Halloween yet. Three and a half is an age full of never-ending questions and, this time, momma doesn’t have all of the answers. At least not ones that are easily understood and accepted by the Question Master.

I will fill you in on Halloween 2019 when the time comes. In the meantime, please check out the Teal Pumpkin Project and find a way to include all kiddos in the fun this year. Changing or adding to your treats will mean more than you could ever imagine to all of our allergy ghosts, princesses, and superheroes. After all, they truly are superheroes, costumes or not.

Halloween at the Beach with Food Allergies
Halloween at the Beach with Food Allergies
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A French Bulldog Named Genevieve Sparkle

French Bulldog with Allergies

The other morning, Gene looked at me across the breakfast table and asked me ever so seriously, “Mommy? Why does Genebeeve have food allergies?”

I took a deep breath, carefully chose my words, and responded, “Well Bud, Genevieve has food allergies because that is the way God made her and God doesn’t make mistakes. He chose her to have food allergies for a reason. Just like you.”

Frenchie & Kids
French Bulldog & Baby

Genevieve is our eleven-month-old French Bulldog. Gene calls her “Genebeeve” and I affectionately refer to her as “Pup Pup”. This affection that I speak of is a recent feeling, and I have a few thoughts as to why it took me so long to learn to love her.

You see, Genevieve is my second French Bulldog. My first was Roni (like macaroni) and she was truly one of a kind. At the young age of six, she passed away from a nasty cancer that rapidly overtook almost all of her organs. After grieving for over a year, we decided it would be good for the family to have a dog again. Enter Genevieve. The poor dog never had a fighting chance in our house. My husband does not like dogs, and I was still mourning the loss of Roni. Farrah was just five months old when we brought Genevieve home, so she wasn’t able to show much of an opinion. But then there was Gene. Gene instantly fell in love with Genevieve and could often be found sweetly singing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” or “Rockabye Baby” while holding her.

French Bulldog with Allergies
Frenchie & Kids

I struggled with this puppy for months. She peed and pooped everywhere. She ate everything. She even ate her poop. She bit Farrah’s fingers and toes. She didn’t listen. She was always barking. She was a puppy, and I was overwhelmed.

I had prayed for months and months after Roni passed to be given the wisdom to know when it was the right time to get another dog. It was a decision that was not made lightly, and I was so disappointed that this is the dog that was the answer to my prayers. It didn’t make any sense.

Through my every frustration and heartache, Gene’s love for this dog shined brightly. It was so bright, in fact, that I decided to change my perspective and began to look at Genevieve as the kids’ dog, rather than the family’s dog. I would do my part to take care of her, but it was for my children and only for my children.

Frenchie & Kids
French Bulldog with Allergies

Fast forward a few months, and we were in and out of the vet’s office with Genevieve. She had ongoing cases of ear infections, yeast infections, skin infections, hives, hair loss, and staph infections. She was starting to look rough and so was our bank account. We were spending way too much time and money on our dog, and I was beginning to resent her again. That’s when we were referred to a specialist.

We are currently seeing a dog dermatologist and are experimenting with a variety of treatments for Genevieve’s food and environmental allergies. For a few months, Genevieve was on a kangaroo diet for her food allergies. Kangaroo diet? Yes. Her food was made from kangaroo. We weren’t seeing the results we wanted, so she is now on a vegetarian diet. She also has severe environmental allergies, so we’re working to get those under control as well. The whole process is a huge experiment with her body, as well as our wallets. It’s not fun and it’s not cheap, but we’re doing our best to find solutions.

French Bulldog with Allergies
French Bulldog with Allergies

Circling back to the slowly-formed affection; I’m not sure if it’s because she’s older now and growing out of some of her obnoxious puppy tendencies, or if it’s because I have a soft spot for those with allergies. Whatever it is, Genevieve has forced her way into my heart. Gene and Farrah love her with such a pure love that it has inspired me to do the same. Don’t get me wrong, I wish we didn’t have all of these issues with her and especially at such a young age, but I believe she was chosen to be a member of our family for a reason.

God took my prayers and answered them in the way that He knew was best. Genevieve is truly a best friend for Gene. She is someone that he can relate to and bond with, knowing that they both have allergies. She will be there for comfort when he is feeling left out, confused, or just sad that he is different. He will be able to find comradery in the fact that she is different, too, and yet they still love each other without judgement or hesitation.

We all know that life is an unknown, and our life with Genevieve is an unknown. My prayer is that we will figure out a treatment plan for Genevieve so that she is healthy and comfortable and can remain Gene’s best friend for years to come.

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Annual Allergy Testing- #4

Skin Prick Allergy Testing

Last week, Gene had his fourth food allergy appointment. We go once a year for skin prick testing to see if his allergies have become less severe or if he’s entirely outgrown any of them. Through the years, we have learned not to get our hopes up for results such as these. We have accepted his allergies and no longer expect news of them lessening or disappearing at these visits. We are not hopeless, just realistic.

The harsh truth is, we typically get results that his allergies have become more severe over the past year. When you hear these results enough times, you learn to change your prayers. I no longer pray for his allergies to go away, but rather that we are able to successfully manage them for another year until our next visit.

Skin Prick Allergy Testing
Skin Prick Allergy Testing

Since Gene was just a few months old, we have known he’s allergic to peanuts, egg whites, and wheat. This information was discovered first through a blood test with our pediatrician and then through a skin prick test with our allergist. Even though Gene was only tested for peanuts (which are legumes, not nuts), the allergist has always stressed that we should keep him away from both peanuts and tree nuts because of the possibility of cross-contact during manufacturing and processing. Tree nuts include almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, hazelnuts, pecans, pistachios, and walnuts (black and english). Since Gene is getting older, we wanted definitive answers on tree nut allergies. Along with our regular peanut, egg, and wheat testing, we requested that the doctor test for the major tree nuts. With no reluctance at all, he agreed that it would be beneficial.

Skin Prick Allergy Testing
Skin Prick Allergy Testing

However, even though it was beneficial, it was brutal. Testing all eight tree nuts meant those eight pricks, plus the three that we do every year (peanuts, egg whites, and wheat), and the histamine and saline pricks. That’s 13 pricks! I’m not sure if it was the fact that there were so many pricks or if Gene is simply old enough now to recognize what was happening, but it was rough. He winced and cried out with every prick. That wasn’t even the hardest part. My husband and I then had to keep him from scratching for 15 whole minutes while the allergens ran their course. We tried every trick in the book: asking Gene questions about school, talking about what flavor lollipop he was going to choose afterwards, and yes, Paw Patrol on my phone. We reminded him over and over again how brave and strong he was and that it would all be over soon. The combination of all of our antics barely did the trick, but we made it through the lengthy countdown.

Skin Prick Allergy Testing
Skin Prick Allergy Testing

As you can see from the photos, Gene is still highly, severely, off-the-charts, allergic to peanuts (#71), egg whites (#44), and wheat (#43). No change there.

All in all, the testing was worth it because we got the BIG NEWS that Gene is not (currently) allergic to any tree nuts! Now, before you get too excited, let me remind you that Gene did not grow out of tree nut allergies. He was never allergic to them in the first place. We simply stayed away from them as a precaution. Now that we know he’s not allergic, we have been given the green light to slowly and cautiously introduce the whole variety of tree nuts to him. Because of choking hazards, our allergist suggested to still stay away from the actual nuts themselves, but experiment with nut products instead. The thought of making things with almond flour, almond butter, and almond milk makes me truly giddy. Truly! Don’t get me started on the excitement of Nutella!

Skin Prick Allergy Testing

Even with all of the excitement, I haven’t rushed out to the store to buy any of these products. I’m not in that big of a hurry to experiment, because there will always be risks when it comes to Gene and food. I will be a “Nervous Nelly” and will watch him like a hawk, but we’ll (eventually) venture on nonetheless. Stay tuned to hear how it goes!

“May the Lord answer you when you are in distress; may the name of the God of Jacob protect you.”

Psalm 20:1

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Being Prepared: The Backpack & The Bracelet

For us, being prepared means that Gene has two things with him at all times: his backpack and his bracelet. If we leave the house, he has these two things. Every. Single. Time. It’s one of those “Do not pass go. Do not collect $200,” kind of things.

If you’re familiar at all with Houston, you know just how HUGE the city is. We live in Northwest Houston and my husband works in East Houston on the ship channel. He makes the 55 mile drive (each way) to work and back and we love him for it. However, there once was a day where he made this 55 mile trip FOUR times. The poor guy drove to work, reached in the back to grab his laptop bag, and realized that the ever-so-necessary backpack was hiding in the back seat. Knowing how important it was, he drove all the way back home to drop it off and then drove all the way back to work. We both hated that he had to do it, but we knew it wasn’t negotiable.

The Backpack

EPIPEN Jeep Backpack
EPIPEN Jansport Backpack

Gene’s first backpack was a diaper bag that we received as a baby shower gift. We registered for it when I was pregnant and I never would have guessed how much true wear and tear it would get in its lifetime (as you can see from the photo).

It was the Jeep brand diaper bag and is perfect for your traditional baby supplies. We loved it even more because it could be thrown on our backs and we still had use of both hands and arms. My husband liked it too because it was “manlier” than your typical diaper bag.

As Gene got older, this backpack turned into something much more than just a diaper bag. Along with diapers and wipes, it carried his allerGene-friendly snacks, his inhaler, Benadryl, and of course, his EpiPens.

We recently retired Gene’s Jeep backpack and upgraded him to a Jansport Half Pint backpack that he can carry himself. I opted to go with the color red because it makes me instinctively think “medical”. It also stands out in a busy room, so it’s easy to spot and not forgotten. We keep a supply of snacks, his water bottle, chewable Benadryl, and of course, his EpiPens stocked inside. There is also a medium Stasher bag inside with his inhaler, chamber, and instructions. If we needed to, we could even squeeze in a change of clothes.

EPIPEN Backpack
EPIPEN Backpack

Both backpacks are CLEARLY labeled with EpiPens. When it comes to the location and labeling of the EpiPens, the more obvious the better! For his original Jeep backpack, we chose yellow vinyl because we thought it would stand out well against the black fabric. I’m not sure what the original purpose of that pocket was for, but it made the perfect EpiPen holder!

Gene’s current Jansport backpack has his name and EPIPENS embroidered on it. The vinyl held up on the Jeep backpack all three years that we used it, but I figured embroidery would hold up even better. I even added these medical tags to go on the zippers for added awareness!

I cannot tell you how many times I have had strangers stop me in public and ask me where we got Gene’s backpack. When I explain what we did, the response is always the same, ‘Oh! That’s genius! I need to tell my so-and-so about that for their kid!” My husband thinks we should go into business creating these backpacks, but I’m bigger picture than backpacks. So, Jeep or Jansport, if you ever read this, you’ve got a whole new marketing journey to embark on!

Can you spot the hiding backpack?

The bracelet

ROAD ID Allergy Bracelet

This one is all thanks to my sister, Somer, and RoadID. Somer is one of those lunatics who participates in triathlons and Ironmans. When she started training, she got a RoadID bracelet for herself in case there was ever an emergency. She suggested that I look into one for Gene, and boy, was I glad I did!

We purchased the Stretch for Kids bracelet and a medical alert symbol badge for Gene. I included his name, my phone number, the foods he’s allergic to, and instructions to use the EpiPen and call 911. For about $30, I bought peace of mind, and the best part is that it will last us for years (assuming we don’t lose it), because it comes with three different size bands.

Can you spot Gene's Bracelet?

As Gene gets older, I’m sure we’ll transition to something smaller than a backpack for his supplies, but who knows? For now, the backpack and the bracelet are working their magic on a daily basis and we are happy to take them with us on every errand and adventure.

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Informing the Masses

Informing the Masses

For an allergy parent, a new school year means a brand new set of teachers, students, and parents to educate on what your kid can and cannot eat, how reactions can happen, and the best practices for keeping everyone safe. 

To help communicate some of this information to the masses, I created a handout for Gene’s new Mother’s Day Out class.

Back to School Class Allergy Handout

In my experience, no one likes change, and no one likes to be told what to do. So the thought of telling this new group of people that they have to change what they’ve been doing for their entire lives or careers is a very intimidating obligation.

I’ve found that food always eases transitions. For centuries, food has brought people together. Food gathers us at weddings, funerals, birthday parties, showers, and potlucks. So, why shouldn’t food be used to bring us together, even when food allergies are the main event?

Back to School Allergy Handout

I attached the handouts I created to some of our go-to allerGene-friendly snacks and Gene handed them out to his new friends at school.

I will gladly go above and beyond for my boy, but spending hours on preparing treats for his classmates was not something I saw as an efficient use of what little time I have. It took me about 20 minutes to create the handout on Googledocs. From there, I printed two per page on cardstock, cut them, folded them, and then used a single-hole punch on the handouts and the snacks. Lastly, I used a handy twist-tie to attach them together. No string cutting, no bow tying, no complications. It was easy and effective!

The kids loved having a snack after their “Meet the Teacher” event and Gene felt like a rockstar passing them out. I also sent a photo of the handout to all of the parents as extra exposure since some left early and some weren’t able to make the event.

Communicating this essential information to new people doesn’t have to be intimidating after all. Attach it to a snack and let the food do the talking!

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