So, my daughter C reaches six weeks of age and I am certified fit to drive again after my c-section. To look at D, you would not guess what he had been through. His spell in intensive care had certainly not impacted his energy levels. It is two weeks post anaphylaxis and peanut allergy diagnosis and we all have cabin fever. Following C’s arrival, he had taken to going round the house saying “bye bye baby” (his first sentence, no less). I was also developing finely honed ninja car catching reflexes, as he hurled his die cast collection in his little sister’s direction. I needed to get him out of the house and burning off some energy at a playgroup, pronto.
I had lined up a selection of mums and tots groups to attend. We had somewhere to go every day of the week. Some served buttered toast, others laid on biscuits. It was all a potential minefield for a toddler who (in addition to peanuts) is potentially anaphylactic to nuts and soya.
My approach was to tell the organisers about D’s allergy and to ask to check the bread, butter, biscuits etc which were being served. I have to say, all responded brilliantly and – at least as far as I could tell! – I didn’t meet with any rolled eyes at coming across like a neurotic mother.
So far, so good. However, the problem with toddlers is that they steal food from each other. They also think nothing of picking up and chomping on a piece of hairy bread off a village hall floor. I was breastfeeding C at that stage and would frequently find myself on tenterhooks, ready to detach her and leap across the room, trailing breastpads in my wake, to wrestle a biscuit from D’s hand.
The bread and biscuits often contained soya, but so far have been nut free. So things got much easier when D tested safe for soya (and when C got to an age where she didn’t need feeding whilst we were there!).
Even when the food provided by the playgroup was safe, I of course had to remain super vigilant to D getting hold of other food which a child had brought in from home. I remember at one session it was a child’s birthday and his mum had brought in a selection of home baked cakes and cookies for him and his friends. I think we left early that day.
The most stressful occasion to date was when we went to a mums and tots group in a local church. They gate off the area around the altar and, at 10.30am, when a service starts in the church, we are all ushered into a side room for a singalong. So far, so lovely. However, on one occasion, when we were all ushered into the side room, there were trestle tables set up for a children’s party. I was about to bolt, but one of the organisers suggested I talk to the lady in charge of the food as there might be something D could eat. When I went over to the food table, the lady told me that all the organisers had each brought in some food and that most things were homemade. There was no way I could have quizzed each of the organisers about the ingredients and the cross-contamination risks in their respective kitchens. So D ended up with a few crisps and a couple of grapes and I nearly combusted with stress, whilst holding a cranky C and policing D from stealing food from another child’s plate or off the floor.
Last Christmas, we attended one playgroup Christmas party. I left C at home with her dad and took a lunchbox of safe party food for D. The lady in charge of the playgroup made an announcement at the start that D had a severe allergy, that I’d brought in food for him and that nobody was to give him any other food. D, at just over two, didn’t notice he had different food from his peers or that the announcement was about him. Hopefully this tactic will still work next Christmas when he’s three and not quite so oblivious.