Allergy Alienation

You may have noticed a surge of reports in the news about very avoidable deaths and serious injuries due to allergic reactions because somewhere along the line, someone was careless. It makes my blood boil and my stomach turn.

That level of carelessness and thoughtlessness affects people with allergies all the time and as a result, some people just don’t feel comfortable going to certain places.

My recent experience at a local soft play centre – one that previously made me feel very at ease compared to others – made me feel alienated more than I ever have before. Ultimately, it just hammered home that my little boy is different from other kids and that my experience of parenting has been skewed by that. I like to think it has made me more considerate but in reality it has just made me anxious and controlling.

So, what happened?

There is a small soft play area within the restaurant at a local garden centre, you pay for your soft play session with your drinks/food at the till and go around the corner to the enclosed soft play room. You sign in with a member of staff at the door and you get your wristband and in you go. This particular day was busy enough that I would have avoided it if I had known before I paid. I can’t stand busy play areas of any kind, it’s too chaotic for me. I entered the room with my son and a tray with my coffee on it and before I had even sat down I managed to cause a scene.

I didn’t set out to, but it happened and it was mortifying. I saw a grandparent give their granddaughter a bag of cheese and onion crisps and send her on her way. I tried to get their attention quietly but it was loud in there and it was urgent – the child would disappear into the climbing frame in seconds. So I shouted. The other parents in the room fell silent and stared at this woman who had only been in the room for three seconds shout at a perfect stranger.

She didn’t stop the child right away, why would she? She asked me why. I muttered something incoherent about my son being allergic and she looked at me like I was crazy, did she really not understand? She reluctantly took the bag from her granddaughter who had, by some miracle, stayed near the front of the play area and rather than wash her hands off and send her to play again she just let her go in with one crisp at a time. This set me on edge but I still had some determination left for my son to have a nice afternoon playing with other children.
 
After that, everyone went back to their conversations slightly subdued. I caught people stealing glances at me and muttering to their companions. I couldn’t relax – what if there was already something in there with milk in it from before I arrived? After about 10 minutes another family arrived and sat their young daughter in a highchair with a tippy cup of milk, the kind with a free flowing spout. Something else for me to watch. Sure enough it went on the floor almost immediately and splashed milk everywhere. The parent went to pick it up, got to eye level with their baby and made the effort to tell them and sign to them that they mustn’t throw the cup…but left the milk all over the floor. I didn’t want to cause another scene so I left it for as long as I could stand to, almost in tears. I lasted about a minute before I got some of that blue tissue they have in shops and silently cleaned under the table myself. More looks, more muttering, more discomfort for me.
 
As I sat back at my table and held back tears again I saw one child enter the play area with cake and another enter with crisps. What on earth am I supposed to do? People have clearly been doing this all day and they aren’t going to stop. I only had one choice, I had to pack up and leave. We had been there for less than half an hour and my son doesn’t like leaving after 2 hours, of course he cried his eyes out whilst I explained to him why we had to leave. Maybe he doesn’t fully understand it yet but at least he knows it isn’t his fault, he isn’t in trouble. I could feel the people staring at us as we left and by the time we got as far as customer services my devastation had turned to anger. I explained everything that had happened and received a full refund. I would have rather stayed and let my son enjoy being a kid, for the sake of a couple of quid.
 
My son was subsequently ill from the contact with his allergen for about a week after this and I spent the whole time beating myself up because he was suffering for a lesson I should have learnt already.
 

What can you do?

It’s not much, but it means the world to allergy families.
  • If you’re in a play area don’t let your children walk around with food, and if you are able to then wash their hands/faces before letting them play again.
  • If your child has eaten in a shopping trolley or in a cafe highchair, wipe it down before you put it back.
  • If you or your child drops food or drink on the floor where other children might play then clean it up.
  • If you work in a food serving establishment be patient with allergy families and don’t ever answer questions you aren’t sure about – we’d rather go hungry than eat something that could make one of us incredibly ill. We will always be grateful for the honesty.
  • If you work in a nursery, try and get all of the children to wash their hands AFTER food as well as before.
  • If you’re hosting a children’s party try to cater for the allergy kids if you can and be considerate of cross contamination if you can’t – something as simple as slicing cheese rather than grating it so it doesn’t fall out of sandwiches makes a huge difference.
  • If you see someone like me out in the wild, don’t gawk and mutter. Try and offer some friendly words and maybe even a bit of back up if things go even further south.
Allergy Alienation - The truth about days out with food allergies

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Maria Martin

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