What’s in my Diaper Bag

 

DiaperBage

 

To stay active with a little one with not so little allergies, a well stocked diaper bag is a must. I am an adoring fan of these essentials:

Born Free glass bottles

Glass was recommended as safest for W’s specialized formula. I hesitated that glass would not be ideal for our lifestyle but actually found it quite convenient. Glass seems to clean easier than plastic, formula leaves less residue, and the glass never once broke in two years of on-the-go use. The Born Free set also met our needs for flow control. 

Huggies Little Snugglers diapers

Disposable diaper selection usually comes down to personal preference for design and cost. For us, it came down to reactions. Some diapers we tried caused my lips to swell and some gave the littles’ red rashes, while others smelled like chemicals. Sure, I might prefer an aqua polka dot to Winnie the Pooh, but ultimately, the Little Snugglers won out as the most accommodating for our families’ allergies.

Huggies Natural Care wipes 

As with the diapers, these are hypoallergenic and caused no allergic reactions for me or the babies (while other brands and types did). I’m no chemist so while I can’t explain why, I just know that I’ve invested a small fortune in Huggies products. 

Aden + Anais blankets

The Aden + Anais cotton muslin blankets are hypoallergenic, absorbent, and the ideal weight and size for a multitude of needs. With baby food-related allergies, spit up and other not so pleasant liquids abound, and the blankets are perfect for both soaking up and/or wiping off surfaces. They are also substantially larger (and substantially cuter!) than most burp cloths so can absorb quite a bit or tuck up around a wee one, depending on that day’s need, while still folding and fitting easily into a diaper bag.

Silicone pacifiers

One of our pediatric allergists suggested the Nuk or MAM pacifier as their designs include holes on the sides which allow for more air flow and provides less surface area to cause a skin reaction. The silicone nipple is a must for those with latex allergies. 

BEABA spoons

These utensils also came recommended as they are silicone (so no latex), dishwasher safe, and free from BPA and other things one doesn’t want in their little’s mouth.

Wooden and cotton toys

Modern day toy makers are increasingly sticking to wood, which is certainly more hypoallergenic than a material I may or may not be able to pronounce. When scouting soft toys to throw in the diaper bag, cotton is the go-to.

Happy diapering and adventuring! 

Accepting a Dinner Party Invitation

DinnerParty

Lingering conversations. A home cooked meal. Cloth napkins from the sideboard drawer. A second glass of wine. I pretty much love a dinner party.

And we are lucky enough to occasionally get invitations for such at friends and family members’ homes. Most of our invitations are from those who know me and so the invitation comes with straightforward instructions along the lines of “send me what you can’t eat”. 

Sometimes, however, we receive dinner party invitations from people who have yet to experience the allergy side of my life and images of me enjoying that second glass of wine fade into panic over the theoretical peanut butter pie served for dessert. 

I’ve learned that while I strongly dislike feeling as if I am a high-maintenance guest, it is necessary to notify the host of my allergies before agreeing to dine in their home. I’ve also realized that it’s not actually being high maintenance. It’s being safe, healthy, and unapologetic for a medical condition I did not choose – all things I will instill in W as he, too, navigates friendships and experiences with allergies. 

So, a narrative that has developed over the years to address the issue, without putting the onus on the gracious host, often goes like this:

Host: Hi Margaret, can you guys come over for dinner on Friday?

Me: Thank you, we would love to join you! However, I have severe food allergies (then list them) and wouldn’t want to make it difficult on you. Would you like to come to our house instead, or meet at a restaurant if that’s easiest for you?”

This leaves room for the host to decide if they are comfortable or not accommodating  my dietary restrictions. If they are not, I have offered two other options in which to enjoy each other’s company. In my experience, however, they usually are, so the conversation continues:

Host: That’s no problem!

Me: Thank you so much for accommodating. We look forward to it and will bring an appetizer.

These last two lines are important. Of course, I want to say thank you and will do so again during the dinner and again afterwards. I am incredibly grateful for those who open their home and plan and execute a menu especially for me (which probably requires straying away from their go-to meal to serve). 

Also, bringing a dish is clutch. Saying that you will is better than posing the question “what can we bring?” as most hosts reply with “nothing”. Allergies or not, however, one doesn’t want to show up empty handed. More importantly, by bringing a dish, I remove a piece of the dining experience in which the host has to consider my allergies – ultimately making it easier on him or her. 

Which will hopefully lead to another invitation! 

Talking with Children About Allergies

Baloongiraffe

I remember it vividly. I walked into the taqueria for chips and salsa and left with the stunning realization that I didn’t know how to explain allergies to my child. 

It was kids night at the local Mexican restaurant and as part of the festivities, a balloon entertainer went from table to table twisting into reality Weiner dogs and giraffes. My toddler daughter’s face lit up when she saw them while my own face winced. For those latex balloon configurations were an exciting novelty to her and an allergy trigger to me. 

I told her we couldn’t get one and she began crying. I consoled her and said another time. I told her I was so sorry and apologized for not being able to accommodate her very normal request. I agreed that it was sad. I looked to my husband to jump in. I wept into my margarita.

In short, I did everything wrong. 

The next day happened to be her annual check up and with the previous evening’s incident fresh on my mind, I asked the pediatrician about explaining allergies to a three year old. He told me she is smart and to tell her the truth. Every time we encountered an allergen, simply say “that makes mommy sick.” Repetition is key. Say it over and over again. “That makes mommy sick.” Saying different things, using different words, or stumbling over different explanations and looking to someone else for an answer is confusing at best, and terrifying at worst, to a young child. The concept that something making someone sick clarifies. 

He also said to never apologize or emotionalize it. For its not something to be sorry for or emotional about – it’s a medical condition the same way any other condition is. She will only be sad if I make it sad. She will only cry and emote if I give her permission to cry and emote. 

I thought this all made darn good sense, but I needed to see it in action. So the next time we were faced with a balloon opportunity, I knelt down, looked my daughter in the eyes and said “those balloons are beautiful but we can’t go near them. They make mommy sick.” She nodded her head, shrugged her shoulders, and said “oh, okay.”

Amazing! My child IS smart and DOES deserve the truth! 

Having the knowledge to say these simple few words in a matter of fact, unemotional manner empowered me. I felt like I had the necessary tool in my tool belt and no longer felt panicked that I would encounter an allergen with my daughter in tow.  

This also translated well when several years later, we explained to her that her baby brother had allergies, too. “That makes W sick” not only makes sense to her, but she can easily explain it to others. I overhear her use the same line to her friends when they question why W’s breakfast plate is piled high with hots instead of buttered pancakes. She says it matter-of-factly, unemotionally, and confidently.  

The simple truth at play!

Scouting Cotton

FullSizeRenderScouting for cotton has become much more than a hobby. A hobby is something you do for fun but I, my friends, search for cotton out of need. My textile allergies prevent me from wearing much else while W’s eczema merits a pretty strict use of the fabric. So we hear recommendations for pure cotton time and again in our allergy / immunology / dermatology / pretty much all -ology offices. 

Side bar: You go, Eli Whitney. Without the invention of the cotton gin, we might find ourselves destined to a life of synthetic fibers and hives (or worse). Or searching high and low for this textile and paying a pretty penny. Thanks to Whitney’s genius invention, however, cotton is both readily available and affordable. 

Despite its prevalence, though, I still find myself overwhelmed by the copious amounts of fabrics I must sift through to find cotton. These days, rayon, modal, and viscose abound.

There is also a lack of consistency in labeling clothes. The tags are never in the same place in clothing garments, so I waste hours in stores pulling up shirt sleeves and finding side stitched labels that lead to only a dry clean recommendation. When I can find the label, it is often a certain percentage of aforementioned rayon, modal, and viscose. I almost jump for joy when I find 100% cotton staring back at me.

The inconsistency continues into fabric use for clothing lines. I once found a two-piece suit that consisted of allergen-free pants and a non allergen-free matching blazer. Question mark question mark. 

Online shopping for clothes isn’t much better. It often consists of hours of scrolling and searching for one shirt (which may or may not fit, as it is online and we’ve all traveled that road). Online shopping with allergy requirements also leads down rabbit holes in which I waste time trying to research what particular terms mean and somehow land on a site dedicated to tattoo artists. 

Alas, I have made huge strides over the years building up a resource base for ginned threads. Thefabricofourlives.com is great for both learning more about cotton and for identifying some currently-on-the-market cotton threads. I also increasingly find both clothing and home designers committed to the use of cotton. I follow them. Friends share links. I bookmark them. 

And I always, always share my scouted cotton threads!

Hots & Olives

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Visitors to our home during meal time will likely hear Spotifyed tunes and requests for hots and olives. 

“Hots” is the all-encompassing term for anything created from white potato – french fries, cooked potato cubes, and tator tots. They earned their name when we began introducing foods to W and he passed potato in his food challenges. Given such a limited diet otherwise, he ate potatoes with almost every meal and as we served them, we warned “they’re hot”. Given our frequency of preparing cooked potato items, this happened quite often, and “hots” became a frequent term in our household.

We often make our own cubed hots at home and the steps to do so are simple: 

-Preheat oven to 405 degrees.

-Wash and peel two or three large baking potatoes.

-Cut each potato into bite-size cubes, ensuring the knife and cutting board are free from any cross-contaminants.

-Place the cubes on a baking sheet, covered in foil to ensure no residue as a cross-contaminant.

-Add two tablespoons of our favorite brand of olive oil and two teaspoons of sea salt.

-Mix well to coat the potato cubes.

-Bake for 40 minutes, turning halfway through. 

-Enjoy! 

As for olives, W has requested these delectables with almost every meal since he was a year old. Of course, we indulge. (And marvel at the sight of a toddler popping olives from an olive dish as if they were candy from a candy bowl!)

Our olive dish consistently includes:

  • Pitted kalamata Greek olives
  • Pimento stuffed manzanilla olives
  • Italian Castelvetrano whole green olives

Hots & olives all around!

Studying Abroad with Allergies

StudyingAbroad

Twice in my life – once as an undergraduate student and once as a graduate student – I decided to voyage into unknown lands and study abroad. I am forever grateful that I did as these experiences were filled with art, food, culture, music, teachers, and friends that continue to inspire me. Going abroad with allergies is not necessarily simple, but is certainly worth the extra preparation.

I first traveled to London – a decision made by the lack of a language barrier. I could easily tell medical professionals my condition and they could read (and understand) my MedicAlert bracelet inscription. I also lived in a flat in London secured by the study abroad program which, unlike the dorm option, allowed me to prepare my own food and minimize known trigger exposure.

Seven years later, I traveled to Italy and did not have my own kitchen so was more prepared to share my condition with others. Of course, there was also the issue that I spoke no Italian beyond “ciao” and “Bellini”. So before I left, I translated “idiopathic anaphylaxis” for the medical professionals and made cards with the specific allergens I had for anyone handling my food. The customer service department of my health insurance provider was an incredibly helpful resource and facilitated all of the translations I needed. They also suggested very strong verbiage – as in “I will die if I eat shrimp” – to ensure no confusion or ambiguity. 

For both study abroad programs, I researched the local hospitals of places I lived and traveled so that I always knew the location of the nearest hospital. This gave me peace of mind and the confidence to explore outside of the cities I was based. I also shared my condition with my traveling companions and sufficiently scared, I mean educated, them with a tutorial on EpiPen administering. 

Perhaps the most important preparation I did was buy oodles of antihistamines and fill prescriptions for EpiPens in the States before I left. While I could avoid any known triggers, idiopathic anaphylaxis has no limits and frequent episodes will wipe you clean of your meds stash. By bringing plenty, I didn’t spend one minute hunting down Benadryl instead of staring up at David. 

While my study abroad days may be behind me, I am confident my international travel is not. So ….”Hello customer service? How do you say ‘mustard’ in French?”

What’s in my Laundry Room

 

Laundry

One of the questions I am asked most frequently, especially by those with newly-diagnosed allergies or parents with children enduring eczema, is “what laundry products do you recommend”?  

First, I strongly suggest investing in a washer with an allergen setting. One of the ways we strive for a hypoallergenic household is to wash our clothing and bedding often and on the allergen setting. 

Second, there is now an abundance of natural and/or free and clear products on the market. I have tried most of these and found that some clean better than others and some cause less reactions than others. While trying them oneself is the only true way to identify go-tos, my four personal favorites in the laundry room include:

1. Tide free & gentle laundry detergent 

In my experience, Tide cleans better than the other brands’ natural products.

2. Honest co. honest stain remover – French lavender scent 

This is hands down the best natural stain remover I have used and the scent is light enough to cause no issues. Seems to be no longer available online, so I am stockpiling it whenever I find it in stores!

3. Dawn ultra free & gentle dishwashing liquid 

When you have a toddler who mostly eats food prepared with olive oil, grease stains are a frequent occurrence. Pre-treat garments by drizzling Dawn over the stain (to absorb the grease) and wash as normal. 

4. Up and Up free and clear dryer sheets

The name brand free and clear caused a skin reaction while the Target brand did not. 

Happy laundering!