A celebration of parenting with Katrina Roe

Monthly Archives: March 2010

Being the parent of an allergic child is no picnic. We’ve just returned from our annual trip to the RPA allergy clinic for the latest round of skin prick testing to see how Birdy’s allergies are going.  While we were waiting, I was sitting near a mum and her young son.  I couldn’t help noticing how bad the boy’s eczema was on his hands; they were just a mass of sores.  When I commented to his mother, she sighed and said, ‘Yeah, he’s allergic to everything.’  I asked her, ‘What do you mean, everything?’  ‘Everything,’ she replied.  She then went on to list just about every food known to mankind, including peanuts, eggs, wheat, soy and dairy.  ‘And he used to be allergic to potatoes, but he can eat them now.’  ‘So what does he eat?’ I asked her.  ‘Mainly rice,’ she replied and she also named some kind of protein supplement.  What a nightmare.  I cannot imagine how hard it must be to feed that child.

I’ve always thought I had a tough job feeding my family with Birdy’s egg and nut allergy and my husband’s gluten intolerance.  But at my latest visit to the allergy clinic I learned that it’s not just food I need to worry about.  This time, Birdy’s skin prick test showed a new allergy to almonds.  My paediatrician asked me how Birdy had been exposed to them.  (A new allergy can’t develop unless the child comes into contact with that food.)  As we have never let Birdy eat an almond, and don’t keep any nuts in the house, the source of the allergy was a mystery to me.  It was only later that I remembered that for about a week we had used a moisturizing cream on Birdy’s eczema that contained almond oil.  As soon as we realized it contained nuts, we stopped using it, but even that small amount was enough for her to develop an allergy to almonds.  So it’s not just food we have to watch – it’s also creams, lotions, bath oils etc.

So just when you think you are getting on top of this allergy thing, there’s always something new to learn.  Here’s some of my latest discoveries about asthma, eczema and allergies from my latest visit to the allergy clinic.

–       Jumping on the bed and pillow fights are one of the worst things for asthma because the exercise brings on asthma while the jumping stirs up the dust mites in the bed and triggers an allergic reaction.

–       Sleepovers, school camps and holidays are usually the worst time for asthma and allergies as old blankets, pillows and mattresses are pulled out of dark, dusty places. Grandparents houses and holiday houses can also have older carpets and furnishings that are full of dust or other allergens, such as mould and cat hair.  To prevent problems, you can choose to give the child an antihistamine for three days before they go away.

–       I always thought I was doing the right thing by packing up all my blankets and doonas over winter to stop the dust getting in them.  But when doonas and blankets are packed up with no light and no ventilation the dust mites that are already there breed like crazy.

–       You should never force an allergic child to eat something they don’t want to, as they may be feeling tongue tinglings, which are the early warning signs of an allergic reaction.  Even if you think the food is safe, it may have been contaminated.

–       If somebody brings a banned food into a group environment, like a peanut butter sandwich, the allergic child shouldn’t be made to sit separately, or miss out on the activity.  The child with the allergic food should sit separately so the allergic child isn’t excluded.

–       Easter can be a tricky time but there are more nut-free Easter eggs on the market now.  The most readily available brands are Kinnerton, Heritage and Sweet William (also dairy and gluten-free), which are available at major department stores and supermarkets. (eg. Coles, K-mart, Big W, Aldi).  But always read the labels carefully to check that it meets your specific needs.

By far the biggest thing I’m learning is to be more assertive to protect my child when she can’t protect herself.  In the past, my husband and I have made the mistake of staying at events where peanuts have been present, even after Birdy has had an allergic reaction.  We just didn’t want to offend anyone by insisting that the peanuts be put away.  Unfortunately, many people still say things like, “Well just don’t let her eat any peanuts.”  They don’t realize how easy it is for cross-contamination to occur.  It only takes one person (including the person who prepares the food) to touch the peanuts or a satay skewer and then touch the chips or bread and we’ve got one seriously ill child on our hands.  So in future, we will have no hesitation in saying, ‘Either the peanuts go, or we go.’  We owe it to our child to put her health and safety first.

Do you or your children have asthma, eczema or allergies?  Have they got better over time or have you got better at managing them?  What have you learnt along the way?

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Photo by Lisa Jay

I’ve been thinking lately about the impact kids can have on our friendships.  Recently, a friend told me this story.  She met up with a girlfriend for lunch at a café and the first thing her friend said was: “Oh… I didn’t realize you were bringing the baby!”  (Her response was, “What, you thought I’d lock her in the car while we sipped lattes?”)  Naturally, my friend was a little offended on behalf of her child.  Nobody wants to feel that their kid isn’t welcome.

However, those of us who are parents should take a moment to dig back into the deep recesses of our sleep-deprived brains and remember how we felt before we had a baby.  I remember asking one of my friends, “Are you bringing all the kids?” and I also remember her terse reply, “Yes, I am bring all the kids.”  The thing is, I didn’t ask her that because I don’t like her kids, but because I knew that if she was bringing all the kids, I wouldn’t get one single minute of uninterrupted conversation with her.

So when our friends ask us, “Are you bringing the kids?” it’s not because they detest our snotty nosed, grubby, noisy, messy children.  (OK, well it could be that.)  But more likely it’s because they miss us.  They miss having just an hour or two of our undivided attention.  They miss being able to talk in great detail about the latest boyfriend or promotion or overseas trip.  I remember how that feels.  Many years ago, I went to spend the weekend with a friend who had two kids under two.  About halfway through the second day my friend turned to me to ask, “Anyway, Katrina, how are you?”  I thought, “Hallelujah!  Finally, she’s noticed I’m here!”  I opened my mouth to say how I really was and got about four words out before she started bellowing at her two year old, who was about to hit his brother over the head.  That was as close as we got to a conversation the entire weekend.

Of course these days the shoe is on the other foot.  A few weeks ago I met a friend (who doesn’t have kids) at the beach with Birdy in tow.  I thought it would be a good outing for all of us because both 3 year olds and 30 year olds can enjoy fish and chips on the beach.  Of course my normally angelic child, was whingey, demanding, unhappy, refused to play, complained about everything and completely spoiled the afternoon.  Between us we hardly got out four words of uninterrupted conversation.  I’ve been meaning to make up for it ever since.

It’s only natural that those of us with children tend to gravitate towards other families with kids the same age.  But if we want to stay friends with our old friends who don’t have kids, we probably need to put a bit more effort into those relationships.  Every now and then, we could leave the baby at home with Dad and catch up for a child-free uninterrupted coffee (without a babycino on the side).  At least then our friends without kids will know that we still care about them, even if we can’t always show it as much as we’d like to.

Have your friendships changed since having children?  Have you oriented towards other families with kids the same age, or do you still spend time with your old friends who don’t have kids?  Have your single friends been supportive of your decision to have a baby, or do you sometimes feel that they don’t understand your life as parent?  If you don’t have children, do you miss quality time with your friends that do?

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