Birthdays and birthday parties are one of our most treasured traditions. It’s a day that we celebrate the moment someone we love entered the world and made it a brighter place. It’s a day that we celebrate the gift of being given one more year with a cherished one in our lives. It is a time to reflect on what life has given us in the year that has passed and a time to look forward to what’s to come.
I am a mother who is still constantly in awe of this tiny person that I was blessed and gifted with creating. I watch him grow, experience him learn right in front of my eyes and reap all the wonderful benefits of being the one that he calls mom. I smile at the tiny, sticky fingerprints that I am constantly wiping at the end of the day, I take deep breathes as his healthy brain attempts to test his boundaries, I cherish the giggles that fill our home and am thankful for the lessons of parenthood, the strengthened bond of our marriage and the endless blessings that this child has brought to us since the day that he entered our world.
It should come to no surprise that we celebrated our Cub’s 2nd birthday party filled with peanut and tree nut safe foods, family and great friends. There is something very special about coming together to celebrate. I’ve always wished that I could freeze time while we sing Happy Birthday. Listening to everyone sing along together evokes a feeling that trancends beyond the words of the song and focuses more on the closeness to the one we are celebrating. He is here with us. We are celebrating another year with him. We are celebrating his life and the way that it has touched those around him…some in large ways, some in small ways. The moment passes quickly and in a blink people are scattered playing and enjoying cake…but for that one moment…the world around them stops and love literally surrounds that birthday boy or girl. And that is a priceless treasure. Those are moments, as my mother has always said, to take a photo with your heart before your camera.
Now enter a severe Peanut and Tree Nut Allergy Diagnosis.
When our Cub got his food allergy diagnosis, I feared the worst when it came to birthday parties. I read allergy blog post after allergy blog post about children who are avoided, outcasted, or turned away due to their allergy. In no time at all, I had begun to adopt the fears that every mother of a child with a peanut/tree nut allergy faces: “Will he still be included?” “Do they see all that he is beyond this allergy?”
One-by-one birthday invitations still came for the Cub. And in 10 months time, I can say that we have thoroughly enjoyed celebrating and singing for 13 wonderful birthday boys and girls at their parties. I have had wonderful success in navigating his food allergies at these parties and I am extremely grateful to all of our friends who have discussed the food plan with me prior to the party, so that we can enjoy the party as guests and focus on the most important person of the day – the birthday boy or girl!
I’ve learned a ton from the perspective of a food allergy mother over the past 13 toddler birthday parties. For starters, it’s true that as a culture we absolutely love celebrating with food. It’s something that I took for granted before and I still love celebrating with food, but a lot more planning goes into safe keeping now. Here are the steps and the perspective that our family has adopted when it comes to attending birthday parties.
Food Plan: I call the birthday party host prior to the party for the food plan. It helps me to determine what will be safe to eat and to plan what to bring for the Cub. I always bring a cupcake in place of the cake (more on this below) and snack alternatives that I know are safe if our Cub wants a snack. This takes the worry off of me and also gives the host some peace of mind too. I have had more than one mom relieved to know that I will bring substitutions and that they don’t have to provide them.
Pre-Gaming With Food: We literally eat right before we walk out our front door. I absolutely make our Cub a delicious meal, preferably one of his favorites, so that he fills that tiny belly and he arrives to the party ready to play and having no interest in slowing down to eat.
Arriving On Time: We arrive on time. I do this so I have time to check everything out and be sure that anything unsafe is out of reach or at least on my radar. I have so many girlfriends that have amazing attention to detail with these parties and should absolutely be event planners, so this is also a time for me to be in awe of all of their hard work and to tell them so!
Play, Play, Play Cub: We let our Cub be a two-year-old boy and teach him to focus on the people, not the food. We watch him play with his friends. We watch him run, climb, jump, hop, gallop like a horse, share, paint, color, dig, explore. We watch him tire himself out and we love it.
Happy Birthday & The Cake: My most favorite time of the party is the cake. Most allergy moms would probably not say this, but as you read above, I love the moment when the world around a loved one stops for a few minutes to honor the greatest gift of all time – their life.
Having coached my son that the cake is not safe for him at the last 12 birthday parties, I have never been prouder than I was at our last party. It was a third birthday party for the Cub’s sweet friend, Parker. The Cub stood right next to her during the song and sang every word of Happy Birthday. When the song was over, he immediately walked away from Parker and her Calliou cake (Cub’s favorite), came over to me and asked me for his cupcake. He knows that he gets a cupcake at birthday parties and Parker’s mom even had a separate Calliou printable for me to stick into it. He was thrilled. He took 4 licks of the icing, put the cupcake down and went right back to playing and never looked back.
This brings me to our perspective on birthday cupcakes and cakes. As a food allergy mom, it is a given, we have to either purchase or make our own cupcakes to take for our children to each and every party, school gathering, after sport-practice snacks, etc.. Bakeries, unless specifically allergen-free, are not safe due to cross contamination with nuts and nut flours. That being said, allergy moms become instant bakers, sometimes whether they want to be or not. In the beginning, as a new food allergy mom, I was on a mission to keep everything the same for my Cub. I have more natural food colorings in my cupboards than I would care to share, all in the spirit of letting my baby feel exactly the same as all the other kids.
I was on a roll too, until I spoke to a mom that told me she was making a seven-layer rainbow cake. I knew how beautiful that was going to be, and how much time and effort it was going to take that mom to bake it for her baby and I may even make one for my son in the future…but at that very moment…I knew that I was not going to make a seven-layer rainbow cake at home, just so I could take one piece of it for my son. And that is when the reality set in that my son was going to have to learn at the young age of two that sometimes when we see a fantastic cake or cupcake, the answer is just no, because they are just not safe. And sometimes, we just can’t have everything be exactly the same. At my first realization of this, I was very upset…but upon further reflection, I realized that it wasn’t really a bad lesson at all. In fact, it was an important life lesson. A potentially life-saving lesson. And what I ultimately learned is that our son didn’t care what his cupcake looked like at all. He just wanted to eat one. A much appreciated lesson in motherhood for me.
I recently saw an allergy mom post a photo on a nut free blog that I follow, of a monkey-faced cupcake, that she was trying to re-duplicate . She was anxiously requesting help from other allergy moms in her search of a peanut safe licorice strip to use for the monkey’s mouth so that her child’s cupcake looked exactly the same. I knew the immense love that mom feels for her child the moment I read her post. I also know how exhausting re-duplicating cupcakes can be. I am grateful that I came to my senses early (my husband is too!). I am not sure if our perspective on this is the right one at all, I just know that it works very well for our family.
As I mentioned above, my son loved every one of those four licks that he took of the icing on his cupcake. Icing that was made homemade that very morning in our kitchen and that was placed upon his homemade vanilla cupcake. A treat that took me about an hour and 15 minutes to make and that took less than five minutes to be licked and forgotten about. And this makes me smile. Mission accomplished: a safe and happy Cub.
After Cake Departure & Goodie Bags: About 15 t0 20 minutes after the cake, we make our departure. This gives the Cub time to enjoy his cupcake licks and get a bit more play in before we have to worry about any cross contamination starting to happen from tiny hands or shared noise makers (so fun, but a tempting danger zone for us). We express our thanks and we give one extra birthday wish before saying good-bye. I accept the goodie bag and the Cub knows that it needs to be checked before it is handed over. He gets excited about it on the way to the car and waits patiently. Once the Cub is strapped in the car safely, I take out everything in the goodie bag and sort the safe from the unsafe. All safe treats are put back into the bag and passed to him to enjoy going through on the drive home.
I’ve learned rather quickly that by planning ahead and bringing safe alternatives, we are able to successfully navigate through children’s birthday parties. So far our friends have shown us that they do see our son beyond his allergies and he has remained included. We feel so happy celebrating each and every year with his tiny friends and we love watching them grow. We hope that this information is helpful and we wish you all the Happiest of Birthdays.
Thanks for Reading,
Chew Chew Mama
P.S. A special thank you to my girlfriend, Shannon Kean, for taking the sweet photos of my son in his party hat!