Friday, June 26, 2009

Around the World in Grocery Stores

I was in the grocery store picking up an ingredient for dinner, when I started thinking about all the different grocery stores I had been to. Throughout my travels, grocery stores have always been a place where I have scavenged shelves looking for food with English ingredients. They have been places where I have learned about the city or country I was visiting, just by perusing the scene and food-stocked shelves. The mice I saw scurrying around the grocery store in Paris, or the non-refrigerated eggs sitting on a shelf on one of the regular food aisles in Australia, display aspects that a regular traveler may not ever see.  A grocery store is not a typical tourist excursion, but for those like me, who need to find allergy-friendly foods, they are a must-see destination.

Coles was my grocery store of choice when I lived in Australia. I would buy all of my food there. Everything food related in Australia, encompassed only a few different areas for me. I could eat fresh foods, like fruits, veggies, deli meat, other meats, some cheeses, yogurt, and eggs. The only other foods I could eat were Carr's crackers (which are imported from the U.K.) and some pastas. The only chocolate I could eat there were Twix bars (although I can't eat them in the U.S., but I could eat them in Oz because they were manufactured somewhere else). It was a pretty limiting (and expensive) diet! I went to the grocery store every other day to buy fresh foods. Everything spoiled there quickly! 

When I move to Italy at the end of August, I am curious to know what kind of grocery shopping experience I will have.  Will I find any packages with English ingredients?  How many hours will I spend trying to translate words and decipher any warnings on food packages?  There are so many questions about how it will be to move to a country where I barely speak the language, and don't know anyone, but I am not worried.  I have traveled to many countries where I don't speak the language.  I have lived abroad before, and figured it out.  Finding food is always a challenge, but I am sure that the many hours I will spend in my new Italian grocery store, will only help me to understand the new place I will be calling home. 

Monday, June 22, 2009

"Don't feed the elephants"

"I was mad because I couldn't eat peanuts and Dumbo could. I wanted to be like Dumbo," my dad stated to me rather matter-of-fact last weekend when we were talking about growing up with peanut allergies. My dad also grew up with a nut allergy. He still is allergic to nuts, but not as severely as when he was a child.

When my dad said this, it reminded me of how it feels to be allergic when you are a child. It is difficult because I remember feeling like I wanted to be able to eat what everyone else could eat. I wanted to feel like I fit in. I usually felt like I stood out though with my allergies. It is difficult not to feel that way when you have to bring your own cupcakes to parties, food to friends houses, and ask questions when you order food out. I also remember sometimes feeling bad because it seemed like a lot of work for other people.

There were plenty of times though where I felt like I could forget about my allergies. When I was with my family when I was little, I never worried about my allergies. When I was with my closest friends and their families, I rarely worried. It was only at birthday parties and summer camps where I felt like it was noticeable, and where people wondered why I couldn't share food or eat what they ate.

Something that I think is helpful for children now, is that they are in company. More likely than not, there is at least a few other kids in their class or grade that have similar allergies. This helps them to not feel alone. In a way, I think that is good that they don't have to feel like the only ones. Of course, I am concerned with how many children are getting food allergies now!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Allergy Disappointments

Just like many things in life, sometimes my allergies can be frustrating and disappointing, too. Most days I don't think twice about them, but when it comes to finding a job, they can often get in the way!

I thought I found a summer job.  I had spoken on the phone with a mother who needed someone to babysit for her three-year-old daughter during the week.  The mother sounded fabulous on the phone, and I was really looking forward to meeting her.  They lived in an ideal location for me, and it sounded like it would be a great job.  Since there was nothing in the advertisement about pets, I didn't think about asking if they had a dog.  When I went over to meet them, I walked in and immediately felt my chest tighten.  A few minutes later the mother mentioned the dog, and I knew it wasn't going to work out.  They had a big, fluffy, furry, long-haired, easily shed-able dog! I was so disappointed, they were so disappointed, and this was a time when I felt extremely frustrated with having allergies!

This experience taught me to always ask if a family has pets!  I usually think about how my food allergies will affect nannying or babysitting for a family, but sometimes I forget that my environmental and pet allergies play a role too!  After this, I won't be forgetting to ask next time!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Being the new kid with food allergies

The first time I was the "new kid," I was in third grade. It was a year of many firsts for me. My first time at public school, my first time at a new school since preschool, etc. Yet again, I was the only student in the entire school system with food allergies. Of course I stuck out. Not only did I have allergies, but I also did school choice, so my dad drove me a half an hour to school every morning, then my mom came to pick me up in the afternoon. For the most part, everyone else lived in the same town that the school was in.

It was also the first school I went to that served food in the cafeteria. Most students bought food. I was one of few students who actually brought their lunch to school from home. On field trips and other school trips, I had to be careful of all the peanut butter sandwiches. At that time it was really important that I was my own greatest advocate, since my parents weren't with me all day, and no one else had allergies. I always carried my epi-pen everywhere and wore my Medic Alert bracelet!

What ended up helping with being the "new kid" was forming new friendships and finding a great group of friends who were always there for me! There is a group of five of us girls from elementary school, who are still good friends, even after so many years. These girls were always watching for me and there when it came to my allergies! I was lucky to find such great friends! I think finding lasting friendships are so important to have, especially for this reason! Helping your children to find friends who will be there for them and help them is a great way to feel a lot better about being the "new kid" with allergies!