Crazy mom

I vacillate between keeping this blog focused only on fiber related matters and writing personal entries.  I have some pending entries as old as the blog.  Maybe one day I will release the hounds, but today I had to post about this:

Some of you may know I have two sons, ages 7 & 5, and they have allergies.  They are life threatening such that we have to carry epipens with us.  These are the kind of allergies that make their lips balloon up and their breathing stop.  They are severely allergic to dairy and all tree nuts.

This summer on a late afternoon I had both of the boys with me as well as one their friends over for a play-date.  My husband was out of town for work so I decided to take the kids to a neighborhood restaurant.  Their grown up food is pretty good too so it was an easy choice.  I just wanted the kids to eat well and have a good time with their friend.  We have been there before – quite a few times – but I did my usual explanation about the kids’ allergies and how their food had to be dairy and nut free, and how these were life-threatening allergies (really, I added, they are serious allergies).

Spaghetti and meatballs came and I noticed that kids’ pasta had cheese on it (I specifically requested that our waitress remind the chef to hold the cheese given the kids’ allergies).  As a result their pasta had to go back.  I hated to do this but the alternative was not acceptable.  Dinners came back, everybody ate and everyone was OK.

At this restaurant kids meals come with soda/juice and desert.  Since the restaurant usually does not have anything that is dairy-free my kids usually have fruit for desert.  This is why I asked our nice waitress for some fruit but she told me they now had fruit-ice, something like sherbet.  Kids were excited and I was happy.  I asked her to please ask the chef and read the label to make sure there was no dairy or nuts in the fruit-ice/sherbet.  She came back and told me that they had checked and all was OK, the desert was definitely dairy and nut free.

So like the idiot that I am I trusted our waitress (and the chef), and ordered fruit-ice for everyone.   Desert came and my kids tasted their sherbert and then half a spoon more and the coughing started.  It was as though their throats were itchy, they kept coughing and making this throat cleaning like sound.  They were also nauseous.  I called our waitress and asked her if she had really read the label and she said she was sure it was all OK.  I paid and we left right away.  I wanted to get the kids home or to the ER to make sure they were OK.

In the car things got worse quickly.  I called the restaurant while driving and doing my best to calm down my 7 year old; he kept coughing, crying and asking me “are we going to die mama, are we?”  At this point I am trying to keep calm but feel like my body is on fire with fear and panic.  I am frightened for my kids and I am angry, both with myself for being such a fool and with the staff at the restaurant for their carelessness.  In the midst of this mayhem I explain the guy on the phone who I am and ask him to get the sherbet container and read the ingredients to me.  After a few beats he starts reading and the 2nd (or may be 3rd) ingredient on the container is milk fat!  Milk fat!!!   Milk fat = dairy.  So easy, so simple, so unbelievable.  I was in shock, I hung up so that I could focus on driving and get some help.

As I said it has been a while and I can write about this in a somewhat calm manner.  Kids are OK and I will spare you the details about the aftermath.  I did call the restaurant and talked to the manager/owner a few days later.  I did not raise my voice, I was not rude, I did not request a refund.  I asked them, pleaded with them, to educate their staff and to take the necessary precautions so that what happened to my kids does not happen to others.  The gentleman on the phone was mostly quiet.  He did not have much to contribute other than a brief apology and a comment about how they had talked to  their staff so that this would not happen again.  He asked how the kids were and I could hear the relief in his voice when I told him that they were OK (problem avoided, they are not dead, yey).  I was not reassured.

We will not be going there again as I don’t believe that the restaurant did much to train their staff on how to properly read food labels and/or how to work with people with allergies (this is what I believe and I admit I am biased).  Maybe I expect too much and we should not take the kids out for food.  I know that I will be asking a lot of questions the next time we take them somewhere and I will ask for ‘the container’ so that I can read the ingredients list myself.  I will be “that crazy mom” and I welcome the title.

Thank you for listening.

15 thoughts on “Crazy mom

  1. Oh, I think you are a Wonderful, caring mom. For anyone with special dietary restraints, going out for a meal can be a scary experience. There needs to be full disclosure of all items on menus, how else can we make educated choices for our selves and our families? Someday, soon, I hope it will be a requirement as it is on store bought items. I can only imagine how difficult it was for you to deal with the part after you left the restaurant. Trying to keep calm, so you don’t scare your boys, while inside you are shaking with the OMG’s. Thank you for sharing. I’m glad you and your sons are well.

  2. I am so sorry that you had to go through this, this shouldn’t have been necessary. I am allergic to a few nut types myself, and I’ve been quite annoyed a few times, trying to get enough information from cafés or restaurants about ingredients. Luckily it’s not a matter of life or death for me, but I really think food allergies should be taken more seriously. The waiter or waitresses guess isn’t good enough! We need to KNOW! Argh! I can’t imagine how it’s like having several allergies, I think I’d given up and ate at home all the time. 🙁 Sad, but true.

  3. Here’s to you for being the “Crazy Mom”! I’m absolutely horrified at that restaurant for their stupidity and ignorance! I strongly suggest that you send a copy of this blog to the local Department of Health and to the Better Business Bureau, who both will have an interest in this type of behavior at the restaurant. In addition to that, I would also send a copy to the restaurant itself so that they will know their carelessness has now cost them future customers.

    Studies have shown that these food allergies are now more common than ever, and to be so casual & uncaring as this is truly frightening to all people who might possibly visit them. There are those who would say I’m over-reacting to this issue, but my husband is equally allergic to seafood and to nuts, with the same life-threatening response as your sons have! More than once we have had to send food back that we were told were nut or seafood free, only to find out otherwise. I have similar responses to foods prepared with MSG, and have been frightened by how my body reacts to even a miniscule amount mixed into my dinner. Both and I applaud your reaction to this terrible incident, and are very glad your children are okay.

    p.s. Do they wear Medic Alert bracelets? If not, may I suggest that you do get one for each of them? These can save their lives if you’re not there with them.

  4. My granddaughter, who will be twelve next month, suffered severe allergies as your sons do.
    She was allergic to dairy products, melon, eggs and some other things.
    She is still allergic to nuts, fish and turkey(?).
    We have had lots of experiences such as you describe. Some people just don’t understand the severity of this problem.
    We always kept benadryl with us when going out with Hannah, as well as her epi-pen and she has become wary of any unfamiliar foods.
    Keep vigilant and take comfort in knoeing that some of these allergies disappear as your children get older.

  5. Be the crazy mom. I’m the high maintenance person who insists on talking to the chef personally when I go to nice restaurants to discuss my gluten free dinner to be. I feel like if I’m going to pay twice as much, or more- sometimes much more- than it would cost me to make the food I’m eating, I darned well want it not to be poisonous for me. Also, I’m knowledgeable enough to educate them, and generally raise awareness so that people who are new to gluten free eating can benefit from my insistence.

    It is not unreasonable to want to know what you are eating. It is not unreasonable to take your child out to food and expect that food not to make them sick. Restaurants need to understand how important this all is, and become more sensitive to the way they make food so that people with allergies can still eat there.

  6. I am afraid that while I agree with all the comments, I hold out little hope for a solution to this kind of problem. Restaurant workers as a group are underpaid and often uninterested (I know, not all of them) in the kinds of educational effort that it would take to make them knowledgeable. I live in a college town and the vast majority of servers are students who are just trying to make a buck. They are bright and pleasant, for the most part, but I don’t think I would ever ask them to tell me what’s safe to eat if I had this kind of problem. They wouldn’t know the correct answer, although most of them would be inclined to act as if they did know. I am sorry for your terrible experience.

  7. Reading your post reminded me of a chef I saw on television that was talking about this issue. His name is Ming Tsai, and he has a child with food allergies. He is also a restaurant owner, and is trying to educate other restaurant owners and staff. I found him on line, see below.

    Thank you for sharing your experience, although I’m sorry you and your children had to go through that.

  8. You’re not crazy — the situation is.

    My kids are 5 and 7 too, and also allergic to dairy and nuts/peanuts. We don’t eat out much, and when we do, I actually ask to read the boxes in the restaurants because I don’t trust them to do it. Yes, I’m that crazy customer.

    On the “bright” side — it’s stunning how much restaurants rely on pre-processed foods, rather than preparing the food from scratch.

    The situation has also made me into a better, more imaginative cook. Last weekend, I did corn muffins with large broccoli florets in them — amazingly tasty, and pretty too! Mmmm … must make more tomorrow morning before the kids get up.

  9. You’re not crazy. I would have asked for the package too. My best friend from high school lost his dad to a fatal allergic reaction to a food he ate at a restaurant in France. At the age of 52 it was his first trip out of the country, because he was afraid of eating in restaurants.

  10. I am so sorry that your family went through such trauma when all you were looking for was a relaxing night out. It is dreadful for a child to feel that the world is out to kill him, and if I were the parent in such circumstances, I’d be spending a lot of time trying to explain the difference between “evil” and “stupid” (although in a pragmatic sense they often amount to the same thing).

    I’m fortunate not to have any food allergies that I know of, but as an ethical vegan I often run into this kind of stupidity. The worst example was probably the awards dinner when we had requested vegan meals, and while the waitress was giving everyone else something beefy, she announced perkily that our chicken would be coming out of the kitchen any minute. She was truly shocked when I asked, “What kind of a vegetable is a chicken?”

    The lack of understanding regarding people’s dietary needs and choices is endemic. When I’m in a foreign country, I carry a card that explains veganism in that country’s language and hand it to the waitstaff. Maybe carrying a card that explains the severe consequences of your boys’ food allergies and also lists specific ingredients they must avoid, would be a solution. Just as a for instance, how many restaurants would realize that whey and casein are dairy products.

    Give your sons an extra hug for me.

  11. Oh Fulay, I’m so glad to hear that the boys are okay! What a terrifying ordeal. You didn’t mention your sons’ friend though – is he okay too? I mean, he may not have had an allergic reaction, but seeing that happen to your friends at such a young age could be deeply traumatic!

    Also, I can’t believe they didn’t offer you anything to make up for it, or at least show a little more concern. Clearly, they have no idea of what customer service looks like these days! I wouldn’t go back either.

  12. Oh, Man!
    That experience must have wiped you out. In our local middle school, a student died a few years ago b/c of similar ignorance as you describe. They just didn’t understand that some kids are so sensitive, it literally takes a spec of the allergen to kill them.

    So glad they’re alive; thanks for sharing.


  13. Dear Friend:
    You should try eating at kosher restaurants. They are either meat or
    dairy–never both. They also have lots of deserts which are “parve”
    or neutral at the meat restaurants. Also, look for parve products at the
    supermarket. Hope this helps.

  14. Let’s all be crazy moms, after a couple of generations we will all be crazy and everyone will be safe! When I was pregnant with my 2nd child, I ate a few bites of a supposedly nut-free sandwich … luckily everything ended up OK for both me and my daughter-to-be. Like you, I was assured that all the ingredients had been checked and I was safe. It’s the opposite of a random act of kindness – the one small thing that makes a big positive difference for someone else. In this case, carelessness about some small (to the server) detail that is life and death for your kids. So glad you are all OK 🙂

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