Ah, summertime: the lazy days full of sunshine, spontaneity, and scoops of ice cream—unless you’re a food allergy mom like me.
When school winds down and heat ratchets up, I start to sweat in more ways than one. Camp is complicated. Swimming pools are suspicious. Vacations are vexing. Parties are problematic. And don’t get me started on ice cream cones. With all our allergies around here, ice cream is virtually impossible. For families like mine managing life-threatening food allergies, summer is anything but carefree.
Food.is.everywhere, so allergens are everywhere too. Allergy families have to say no to so many “normal” things just to keep our kids safe. We end up missing out on time-honored traditions of summers gone by, like eating funnel cakes at the fair or sharing s’mores around a campfire. We modify things, of course, but we wish we didn’t have to. Our kids feel like they’re missing out on all the fun. Shoot–we do too, if we’re honest. It’s hard, and it hurts.
But—I’ve learned the secret to making summer every bit as awesome starts with me. Instead of letting summer get me down, I set up C.A.M.P. first and nurture a joyful heart there. Here’s how I do it (and how you can do it too):
Cultivate New Traditions
Make peace with your can’t, then get creative with your can. Make an event out of everything! Invite friends over for snow cones to celebrate the last day of school. Organize an epic water balloon fight. Let your kids stay up late catching lightning bugs in painted glass jars (and ask your neighbors to join you). Treat the neighborhood to patriotic popsicles on the 4th of July. Churn a batch of ice cream at home on national ice cream day and let your kids build their own safe sundaes. Repeatedly do what works with a happy heart, and over time summer won’t be the same without your traditions.
- Address Your Own Assumptions
What silent assumptions do you make about what your allergy family can and can’t do? Before making plans (or passing up opportunities), ask yourself how you subconsciously expect others to meet your unique needs. Do you avoid certain situations because you don’t think they will be allergy friendly? Are you surprised and offended by signs that say, “no outside food”? What do you wish your kids could do, but aren’t really sure if it’s safe for them?
Don’t assume your family can do everything, but don’t assume they can’t do anything, either. Ask yourself what assumptions you make about how others will (or won’t) adjust to accommodate allergies, then adjust your own expectations accordingly. Ask questions, make reasonable requests. You’ll be surprised how often people are willing to help. And remember: focus on the fun, not just on the food.
- Model Contentment
Missing out on summer activities is a bummer, for sure—but when you’re upset about it, your kids will be upset about it too. Instead of dwelling on disappointment, get outside and make the most of what you can do, then do it with an upbeat attitude. Be gracious as you go. Say thank you when people make accommodations for you. Remember the good things you have and take time to really enjoy them. When you model contentment, your kids learn to be happy with what they have, too.
- Practice Hospitality
When you can’t join the fun elsewhere, invite the party to your place. Make your house a place to show off how awesome allergy life can be. Ask others about their allergies: make it a normal part of your invitation process and others will start doing that, too. Open your doors wide; grill hotdogs at home; pass around popsicles; build a fire pit and roast marshmallows; show a movie under the stars. Be generous with what you have and welcome others to come along for the ride. Your warmth and welcome will motivate others to make their home a safe spot for you, too.
When the heat is on, it’s hard to stay cool–especially when food allergies force us to miss out on some of the best parts of summer. But when we choose joy and set up C.A.M.P. right where we are, summer really is sweet again. New traditions keep us calm enough to take advantage of lazy, loose schedules and make the most of what we have. Adjusting our expectations empowers our minds and protects our hearts. Creating our own brand of fun creates a grateful spirit in us—and inviting others along for the ride makes everything more enjoyable for everyone.
No, food allergy life still is not easy, and making summer safe and memorable takes a lot of intentional effort. But the work is absolutely worth it.