I was driving down the East Coast from Massachusetts to Florida and back last week. In the beginning of the drive, I had nice, safe, healthy food packed. As the drive wore on, I started getting tired and desperate for snacks. At one of the rest stops in Virginia, I went in, and there on a rack were Hostess cupcakes. I can’t remember the last time I had a Hostess cupcake, and decided that would be my unhealthy snack.
As I opened the package and took my first bite, memories of birthday parties when I was a child flowed back. In my hands, placed on top of the birthday present for my friends, there was always a pack of Hostess cupcakes. By doing this, I would always have my own safe cake to eat at parties. I can picture walking in to a birthday party with my dad. I was five years old, dressed in this green, sweatshirt type dress. We walked in, holding a present, two Epi-pens with Benedryl in a plastic bag (this was before we realized the importance of insulator bags), and a pack of Hostess cupcakes. My dad walked over to the parent of the child whose birthday it was, showed them my medicine and the Hostess cupcakes, as well as making sure I knew the parent and where my medicine and cupcakes were being kept. I would then go play with my friends like every other child.
When it came time for cake and everyone would sit down at the tables with plastic or cray-paper table cloths, I would go get my cupcakes, place them on the paper plate in front of me, wait for everyone to get their cake, then I would eat the cupcakes. Sometimes I felt jealous of the other kids. I was always the only one with allergies. Everyone else could eat the cake with colored sprinkles, while I ate the Hostess cupcakes.
Birthday parties with food allergies can be quite tricky. I never fought it. I always knew what I needed to do to keep myself safe. This understanding of was mostly due to my parents. From a very young age they were both showing and telling me about my allergies. I understood and listened to them, because I knew I had to. I always wanted to fit in though, and having that desire while feeling like that was nearly impossible was pretty tough.
Sometimes I felt like I stood out to everyone, which is something I have felt my entire life. That is certainly not to say that standing out is always a bad feeling. Sometimes it can be nice to have the attention, but other times it can feel isolating or lonely. This is why in a way, that the growing allergies among children help kids with allergies feel less lonely because now children know others with allergies. I was 16 years old before I met someone with severe allergies like mine. This means I went through the majority of my growing up feeling like I was the only one who had these crazy allergies! The only one who had their own “special” food. The only one who had to ask about the ingredients in anything I put in my mouth. The only one who was often singled out accidentally in school to go get my special snacks or come up and check ingredients. I knew (sort of) that other kids existed with allergies out there in the world somewhere, but I had no proof. I had never met them!