Every day, the same ice cream truck visits my son’s day camp. Every day, it’s waiting there as we pick him up and he begs for ice cream every single day. We appease him once or twice a week even though “everyone else gets ice cream money every day and we are so mean.” To that, I say, “Well, I love you more than everyone else’s parents.”
The rule is that he can have packaged popsicles or ices. We’ve identified the specific items on the menu that he is allowed to eat. He is not allowed to have the soft serve cones with their free range toppings (nuts included).
Last week, I was washing dishes while my son was drawing at the kitchen table. “Mommy,” he quietly asked, “Can you remind me which kinds of ice cream are okay to eat from the truck?” Instantly on high alert, I tried to keep my voice calm as I answered, “Just the popsicles, honey.”
That’s when he told me he’d eaten a soft serve vanilla cone at camp that day.
Herein lies the problem that every allergy parent has experienced: do I calmly explain why his action was wrong and educate him for the future or do I just FLIP OUT and scare him into avoiding that ice cream truck forever?
Of course, I ended up choosing the first option, because I don’t need to give him any more material for Dr. Phil, but I’m not entirely certain I made the right choice. One point of his rationale was truly scary to me, “Well, I’ll be fine because I have my Epi-Pen with me.” Perhaps in teaching him how to use it, he took that to mean it would completely save him in an emergency. If he thinks to use it in time. If he’s able to correctly administer it himself. If the ambulance arrives in time. He’s only 6, for goodness sakes.
We reviewed the simple facts of the ice cream truck. The man is inside the truck. The truck is small. The man might be wearing latex gloves to protect his hands. How often does he change the gloves? He picks up the cone, fills it with ice cream, then dips it into chocolate sprinkles, then nuts, then rainbow sprinkles. This is called cross contamination. The nuts could be on the gloves, in the rainbow sprinkles, in the chocolate sprinkles. It’s all contaminated!! (I’m really freaking myself out writing this, guys.)
Every summer I get sad that we can’t go to an ice cream or frozen yogurt shop like other families, but I just can’t trust that the 17 year-old working there hasn’t mixed the nuts with the candies.
Now that some time has passed, I might sit the whole family down for a screening of FARE’s Discovery Channel documentary “An Emerging Epidemic: Food Allergies in America,” narrated by Steve Carell. Even though the trailer made me cry a little. Maybe it might scare him a little, but in a calm and clinical way.
I thought I had this one solved, but I think it’s more of a work in progress. It’s the endless possibilities of my overactive imagination that can sometimes make being a food allergy parent incredibly stressful. How would you handle this situation? I’d love to hear your experiences.