Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Woman in the Parking Lot

When you have two small kids and you're out doing errands trying to beat an incoming Nor'Easter the morning before Thanksgiving, making small-talk with a stranger in a parking lot is not the event you'd like to have happen.

But yet, there I was yesterday morning hurrying back to my car after grabbing diapers when a woman saw me pushing my tandem stroller back to the mom-mobile when she called out "Happy Thanksgiving!". Not wanting to be a Grumpy Gus, I smiled and said "You as well!" to which she replied "Thank God this only happens once a year... right?". I then laughed in kind and heard her mumble "Oh, but then there's Christmas... and New Year's".

There was something in the way that she said those last words that gave me pause. This was not a woman who had joy on her heart, but rather seemed overwhelmed. I turned around as I loaded the second kid into the car to give her a smile and said "Happy Thanksgiving, again!".

She stopped and smiled. "Oh, yes. You too. I'm so... there's just so much to do..."

I closed the door to the car after making sure both kids were snug and secure in their carseats, and turned back to the woman. She was maybe in her mid-50's, sweatshirt and jeans, blonde-grey hair quickly styled. She looked overwhelmed and concerned. I made eye contact with her and smiled.

She put her hand to her forehead and sighed. "I work in a nursing home and I have to work tomorrow," she said. Then she looked at me as if wondering if she should continue or not. I could tell that she wanted - no, needed - to, so I acknowledged what she said. "Well, I can tell you that if I had family in a nursing home, I would be more thankful than I can express that someone would be there to make sure my family member had a good Thanksgiving. It's better than retailers making their cashiers work just to make a buck."

Market Basket - More for your Dollar (and heart, apparently)

I could see her shoulders relax as she continued to tell me the rest of the story. She wasn't just working in a nursing home on Thanksgiving. She had to get there and organize the meal; this meant she had to organize the team cooking and serving the meal as well as making sure that the reservations/serving times for each family were in order so the holiday could go without a hitch for the residents and their families.

She had to arrive at the nursing home at 2:00 AM to start this process. Then after that was all done, she had to go to the airport to see if her brother had arrived from Switzerland for the holiday.

As she wrapped up her story, the look of worry took over her face again as she sighed and rubbed her temples.

It was then that it hit me... the Nor'Easter.

She had to drive to work in the middle of a snowstorm predicted to bring snow, sleet, and rain. She wasn't just overwhelmed - she was nervous. And I could relate, because I hate (and I mean HATE) driving in those conditions.

I decided in that moment that I didn't care about personal space or the fact that this woman was a complete stranger. I walked over to her and gave her a hug. Suddenly she was laughing and I said "Have a wonderful Thanksgiving... be safe, have fun" and rubbed her arms before letting go. She smiled and said "Oh, thank you! You too!" and walked back to her car.

I slowly got in mine and put both hands on the steering wheel when I realized I had a huge lump in my throat and that I was holding back tears. I took a few deep breaths and as one of them let go from the corner of my eye, I said a prayer. I asked God to help calm her heart, to protect her on the roads during the storm, to let her find joy in the moments of service and to enjoy the holiday.

As I said "Amen", I heard my son's little voice from behind me. "Mommy, otay? Wanna go home now. Mommy otay?"

"Yeah, Buddy. Mommy's OK. We're going home right now."

I share this story because I want to encourage you today too. I want to encourage you to open your heart to let God move in and use you. Use you for big things, use you for small things, but to use you. I find that He tends to use me for small things, but I know that those small things - those "lead from behind" things - make a difference to His people. I encourage you to pray that He help you to hear His voice. I don't always, but I find when I do it's for something that requires love.

I don't know why I was moved to cry. But I do know that God moved me to love on that woman yesterday. To be there for her  - maybe because no one else was. Maybe because if she didn't have release in that moment she would not have been able to release some of the nervousness. Maybe because sometimes people just need to vent to feel better.

Maybe because she just needed a hug, and God knows that I love to hug.

I don't know the why, but I know that God used me yesterday.

He wants to use all of us.

Today - Thanksgiving - I am thankful that God uses His children to do things. To do big things. To do small things. But all of the things that He calls us to do... all of the things matter.

Ask Him to use you too.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Holiday (or Party) Allergy Guide for the Non-Allergy Crowd

When my husband and I used to lead the youth group at our church, I was always the one to be on top of who had food allergies and to say no to peanuts that may enter the room. At the time I had no idea how serious a reaction to peanuts could be, I had no idea that tree nuts could cause the same reaction, I had no idea how serious cross-contamination could be, and I only had a vague idea of how to use an epi-pen. All I knew was what I had heard peripherally; that peanut and nut allergies were serious business and could send someone to the hospital.

Then our firstborn child Will got diagnosed with peanut and walnut allergies when he was 16 months old. It's funny how what I did as a mindless precaution with children that weren't my own suddenly had to become serious, front of the mind business. 

Our garbage bag filled up with our beloved peanut butter stuff, anything that contained peanuts, anything with a walnut in it (like the bag of walnuts in my fridge), and anything that couldn't tell me exactly what tree nuts may or may not be included in their ingredients. We retrained ourselves grocery shopping to read every label, every time (yes, even things we've bought before - a salsa we've bought for ages recently started to indicate that there may be traces of tree nuts in it). Samples at grocery stores? Gotta read the labels first. Been around peanuts out with friends or at work before coming home? Strip down in the basement, start the washing machine, and put on clean clothes before saying hi to Will. 

Why such extreme measures? Don't we carry an epi-pen or Benedryl? 

Here's what the non-allergy crowd doesn't realize and the reason that I'm writing this post. 

Exposure to the allergens that cause an anaphylactic reaction isn't just a hit with an epi-pen. It's a 911 call and an ambulance ride... and usually another hit with an epi-pen, and risk of the reaction coming back in the few days following the initial reaction. Which can mean starting the epi-pen/ambulance cycle over again. 

Well... this just became "the year the ambulance came"...

I've now been on both sides of the coin and I have to tell you - it's so much easier on the non-allergy side. I've had to send emails out to Will's playdates asking them not to bring peanut butter on picnics because toddlers - no matter how many times you tell them - just can't not touch each other's food. There's a new Chik-Fil-A with a play place opening up near our house, and I'll have to turn down times with Will to hang out with his friends because they cook all their food in peanut oil (and while I can bring food for him to eat, that grease will be all over the twisty slides). 

The worst was when I recently had to tell my grandmother that I couldn't accept her gift of animal crackers for him because they were made in a facility with nuts. My grandmother. Animal crackers. 


I'm now that parent. The one that I am sure other people roll their eyes at in stores when I block the aisle reading labels. The one that feels rude and awkward turning down gifts or dictating what lunches people can't bring on outings. 

So it is with this post that I ask the other 85% of the population (our allergist said that 15% of the population suffers from food allergies) to be compassionate, patient, and maybe even help out the allergy parents and allergy kids (and even allergy adults) this year at your holiday parties. There are a few simple yet super helpful things that we can all do that will help those of us in the 15% category to feel less awkward and like there is a community of friends and family helping us to protect our kid. After all, the holidays are a time to spread love and joy and parties should be a time to relax and celebrate. 

Family parties shouldn't be scary places. For anyone.

So... what can YOU do to help?

1. Be aware of what's in what you bring to a party. This is as simple as reading the labels of whatever you put in the dish and making either a physical or mental note of what does/may or may not have an allergen* in it. I mentioned that we had to switch salsas recently, so don't just assume that there'd be no way something would have any nuts in it. Things I've been shocked or annoyed at for potential nut contamination have been the aforementioned salsa, steel cut oatmeal (it's what Will prefers and there's only 1 brand I've been able to find that is totally safe), some flours. You could even cut the labels off the products you use and bring them with your dish so people can make their own determinations. Which brings me to number 2...

2. Label your dish OR if you're the host provide labels for people to write on. This way there's no question, no random asking "what's in this", no needing to hunt for who brought the thing and asking what's in it. It also makes it easy for you to tell your child they can have this this and this, but not that that and that in one fell swoop. At our church cookout this year a few people did that at the dessert table and it meant that I could find something for Will without belaboring my decision. It was amazing. 2A: Do not cross-contaminate serving utensils from one plate to another - you never know what someone else put in their dish!!! In fact - please bring a separate serving utensil for your dish OR if you're the host, provide additional serving utensils for people to use. 

Something like this would be simple & perfect for your guests!

3. Don't share your food with someone else's kid. Period. Don't offer something off of your plate even if you know it's safe - something else on your plate might have cross-contaminated it without you realizing it. If a kid asks you for a bit or says they want some, redirect them to their Mommy and Daddy to ask them if it's OK. There was one day I went to the beach with some people and Will started to cough in the back seat; all I could do was wonder if he had eaten something I didn't know and whether or not it may have had nuts in it. When I pulled over he was fine and had just choked on his own drool falling asleep... but what if that wasn't the case? 

4. Throw your plate out when you're done. I know, this seems simple and I'm sure you're saying "Of course! Who doesn't!". Turns out the answer is most people don't immediately throw away their plates at a party because they're deep in conversation or they're people watching or playing with their phone or whatever. Think about it. We've all taken a turn being the person that collects a handful of garbage and makes a trip to the trash can asking "Are you done with this?" to everyone in the process. Here's the problem from the perspective of the parent of a toddler with allergies... the word "toddler". Toddlers - no matter how many times you tell them - don't understand "don't eat off of someone else's plate". They see "stray cookie" and they pick it up and it makes its way to their mouths. Will had hidden a brownie in his Batmobile that he pulled out four weeks later and started to eat. They don't care. Throwing your plate out helps the already-stressed parents of the toddler in ways I can't even begin to describe. 


I want to say that I fully recognize how easy it can be to say "just watch your kid" or "there go the allergy kids making everything a pain again". But take a minute and remember how "easy" it is to watch a toddler's every single move (don't you need to go to the bathroom or eat your own dinner?). Or think of a time that you felt really awkward at a dinner party when someone made something that you didn't like or couldn't eat for some reason. 

Now imagine that happening every time you go to a dinner party. Every. Single. Time. Only instead of a bad taste in your mouth if you eat it, you end up in the back of an ambulance with a loved one beside you praying you're going to live through it. 

All that the parents of an allergy kid want is for their kid to have as normal a life as possible. 

All that I'm asking the other 85% to do is to be a part of the village that it takes to raise a child and help out with that. 

Enjoy the upcoming season of celebrations and thanks for taking the time to read this and hopefully incorporating these simple steps into your holiday plans. 

*The eight common allergens are peanuts, tree nuts, dairy, soy, shellfish, wheat, eggs and fish.

For more information about food allergies, visit