SO TODAY I have a small piece in TheTimes’ Weekend supplement, ‘Life With My Allergic Toddler’, about the pain in the arseness of trying to shop, cook and cater for a food allergy tot when everything you try to buy ‘may contain’ this that and the other. (Here’s the link. It’s a shorter piece than originally intended but I’ll post the full and unabridged soon…)
Meanwhile, this morning I headed out to the supermarket to buy ingredients for a Sid-friendly cheesecake (recipe also to come). And instantly proved my point.
Sainsbury’s Organic double cream? “Not suitable for nut allergy sufferers”. Silver Spoon icing sugar? “May contain traces of egg.” Sainsbury’s ‘Free From’ digestive biscuits? “May contain nuts”. Three separate shops later and I think we finally have what we need. Minus the cheery disposition I may or may not have had when we started…
While there’s no way I’m sending Sidney to nursery until he’s old enough to communicate how he feels, there are crazy waiting lists in our area (I’ve heard of otherwise sane women putting their prospective babies’ names down virtually the minute the stick turns blue) so we’ve been checking out the local options.
We’d heard good things about the nearby community nursery, set in a Victorian former fire station, with its philosophy of celebrating diversity, representing a proper cross-section of local people, all that fine stuff. We booked ourselves in for an open day.
It was a bit hectic and tumbledown but had a nice feel to it and the kids looked happy. So I asked: “What’s your policy on children with severe food allergies?”
“Oh, it’s no problem,” came the answer. “We’ve got loads of kids who are vegetarian, and even one who doesn’t like cheese.”
You might say she was the wrong person to ask – she wasn’t the manager, just one of the nursery assistants – but, for me, unless every single member of staff, permanent or itinerant, is properly trained in food allergy control and Epipen use it’s out of the equation.
I should have fired off an email to the manager, telling her exactly that and asking why they didn’t have a proper allergy policy in place. But I didn’t. I ought to get round to it. Who else will be our advocate, after all?
On the plus side, and after some trawling about, we have found a nursery that seems to have its act together. It’s cosy, jammed with cushions and squashy dens and books and murals, and it’s immaculately clean. As parent to an allergic child it’s the first thing you look for – in doctors’ waiting rooms, playgroups, cafes, even (guiltily) other people’s houses: how clean is the floor, how clean are the toys?
More often than not there are crumbs coagulating in the corners, smears of food, smudgy fingerprints. For most parents this would be fine: a little bit of dirt’s got to be good for the immune system, right? But for us it’s a gateway to worry: were those mucky hands clutching a peanut butter sandwich? Are those crumbs from a seed-packed breakfast bar? Is that smear – gulp – hummus? It’s a wonder I’m not sponsored by Milton’s, the sheer volume of their wipes I get through.
But the joy of this nursery was that, peer as I might (and I can peer mighty well), everything looked spotless, spick and span.
On the walls were boldly printed, carefully typed sheets detailing the various allergies of children at the group – this one’s Coeliac diet, that toddler’s milk allergy, little so-and-so’s wheat intolerance. In the kitchens the prep areas are carefully delineated and potential allergens kept at a safe distance from foods eaten by allergic tots. A member of staff is charged with monitoring each child with an allergy during every meal time. And they are Epipen trained at regular intervals – and given booster training every time a new allergic kid is admitted.
Hurrah. We’re putting Sid’s name down for September 2013.