“ Take me out to the ball game, take me out to the crowd, I’m allergic to peanuts and cracker jacks … “
Ahhhhh baseball, the great American pastime!!
I never dreamed I would be afraid to take my child to a ballpark. But then again, I never imagined that my child would have a list of 12 food allergies by 9 months old.
That first summer, as we re-learned the basics of living to accommodate Shaun’s allergies, I truly believed that taking him to a baseball game would be impossible. Thoughts of peanuts and peanut hulls littering the concrete, sunflower seeds being shelled and tossed aside, sticky ice cream dripping everywhere …. Frightening.
Too many allergens + too many people × a highly unpredictable environment = a RISK I was not willing to take!
BUT I was wrong.
In time, I found myself more comfortable with how food allergies looked for Shaun (example, he gets severe hives upon contact but is not anaphylactic unless he ingests the food protein he is allergic to). Knowing things like this helped me to make a plan of action that would allow us to keep him safe. I had become more confident in assessing where the risks might be and finding ways to reduce their possible impact on our experience. (Don’t misunderstand, there is still always a risk)
So at 3.5 years old (with 7 food allergies) we successfully took Shaun to a Hartford Yard Goats baseball game! Little man even got a game ball!
Here is how we made it happen!
Gather information on the ballpark:
Start with the park website (look for a stadium reference guide) or a phone call to the stadium’s office. (MLB Offices)
Do they have a peanut free game or section in their stadium?
What is their entrance and carry in policy? How should you handle bringing your food? Is there a special entrance that is set up to check bags with food and medication?
Where are their first aid locations in the stadium? (It may influence where you choose to sit)
Can you leave a notification with the medical team of the game that you will be attending and the location of your seats once you have your tickets?
Pick your game & seats:
Here are two elements you have control over:
Game date and seats are a personal decision that you can make to ease some of your worries!
Pick a game …
revisit the dates of the possible “peanut free games.”
Reflect on when other conditions connected to food allergies (such as seasonal allergies, asthma, eczema or chronic hives) typically flare up.
For example, if you know your hives and asthma are bad during May & June because of springtime seasonal allergies, then maybe choose a game mid-summer. This way you’re feeling your best before you even enter the ballpark.
As for your seats …
consider the information you gathered about the stadium
the rate of reaction and the sensitivity level of the food allergy at hand
your anxiety about attending the game.
From these thoughts, find a location that allows you to minimize anxiety leading to a better overall experience.
For us, we wanted to sit at the end of a row in case we needed to move quickly. We also didn’t attend a major league game but rather a double-A game which is played in a much smaller stadium. Therefore I was not as concerned about the proximity of our seats to the first aid location.
** If you are attending with a larger size group, consider a seating option that would allow you to surround the person with the food allergies. Rather than all sitting in the same row pick a block of seats in consecutive rows! It creates a bit of a buffer.
Thoughts for Game Day:
Pack a bag, with safe foods!
If your allergies allow for you to find safe food in the ballpark, fantastic! For our family, it is most reliable (at this point) to pack Shaun’s food!
Pack all needed medication! And it never hurts to keep a copy of the emergency action care plan on hand.
Pack lots of wipes!!
These can be used to wipe down surfaces before sitting or eating at them.
Consider wearing long pants, long sleeves, or closed toed shoes.
For those who have more intense contact reactions, this option adds another layer of physical protection between you and the allergens. You can wipe your seat, but you can’t control the wind. (This might not be ideal for scorching August games – another possible thing to consider when you plan and purchase your game tickets)
Be ready and confident to advocate if you need to!
Most places are very understanding when it comes to food allergies, but you never know when someone will question you showing up with food and medication! Learn your rights and speak up … even if it is as simple as “I am allowed under the Americans with Disabilities Act to have this with me.”
**The ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) applies to those with food allergies! The actual document is VERY legal (for good reason), so I have also included two resources that might help you learn about your rights under this federal law.
Enjoy the game!! It is a milestone moment!! You have planned and worked hard to make a trip to the ballpark a reality!
We enjoyed every moment with Shaun at his first game, and have gone back several times since.
A note about Dunkin’ Donuts Park, home to the Hartford Yard Goats:
In February 2019, “The Hartford Yard Goats Baseball Club, the Double-A Eastern League Affiliate of the Colorado Rockies, announced it would no longer sell shelled peanuts and Cracker Jack at Dunkin’ Donuts Park in an effort to make the venue more accessible for those with peanut and tree nut allergies.” See the full announcementhere
As it seems to be with most things in the world right now, many people are agitated the Yard Goats Ball Club adopted a policy that will restrict them from eating the traditional peanuts and cracker jacks.
This allergy momma is filled with gratitude!
Now I know this seems obvious, but I would like to breakdown the “why?” of my gratitude.
If you recall, we face more than just a peanut allergy with Shaun. So why would I feel gratitude for this new policy?
Because with this policy, I know that this organization will help me develop (at the very minimum) reasonable accommodations so we can participate.
It is bringing awareness to the public that the food allergy community desperately needs
The policy stands as a model to other ballparks & stadiums that the allergy community matters!
That accommodation can be made while remaining hugely successful!
It is a tremendous gesture of compassion to those fans living with food allergies!
I extend a sincere thank you to Tim Restall, the Yard Goats President and the entire Yard Goats Organization for being amazing Food Allergy Ambassadors!
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In January of 2017, Shaun accompanied me on our weekly trip to the grocery store. As we made our way through the produce section, we began our usual conversation about what foods are Shaun Safe and what foods are not. (Although Shaun was only two years old I believe these conversations were/are critical to helping him learn about navigating his allergies.)
Me: Shaun, what are these?
Shaun: Kiwi, I’m allergic.
Me: Great! And what did momma just put in this bag?
Shaun: Cucumbers, I love cucumbers. They are Shaun safe!
Me: I love cucumbers too. Okay now, what do you see over there?
Shaun: Peanuts and Tree Nuts! Not Safe! I am allergic!
A woman in the produce section with us overheard our conversation. She stopped me to ask about what Shaun’s allergies were. I proceed to share Shaun’s allergy list with her. She seemed surprisingly unfazed by the long list of things we avoid, but I was grateful that she showed an interest in food allergies.
What happened next though threw me for a loop!
She continued the conversation by telling me that it was a shame that Shaun had missed the newest development in the medical food allergy world. She wanted me to know that it had been all over the news and social media that “early introduction” to allergens such as peanuts would prevent food allergies.
I smiled at her and thanked her for the information. I know that this lady was trying to be kind, that her ignorance was due to lack of experience and knowledge, but at that moment, I felt alone, misunderstood, angry, and sad. It bubbled up all the emotions that I should have done more for my child, even though I knew that I had done everything I possibly could!
Okay, let’s break this down.
I was aware of the new guidelines that the NIAID had adopted regarding the early introduction of peanuts.
I was aware of how headlines around this gave an inaccurate picture of the depth and details within the actual guidelines. (This conversation was confirming that)
I was aware that although the NIAID was releasing the guideline now in 2017, Shaun’s allergist recommended early introduction in 2015; however, Shaun was not eligible!
For the record, according to the guidelines Shaun’s eczema would have put him in the high-risk category for a peanut allergy. As the guidelines suggested, we talked with all the doctors caring for Shaun and decided that we would introduce peanut immediately as long as he showed no signs of reaction based on both skin tests & IgE blood work. Unfortunately, he was already reactive to the peanut proteins, so strict avoidance was recommended until he is old enough for us to consider immunotherapy (which is a post for another day but something we hope to take advantage of!)
Below are some ideas to consider if you ever find yourself on either side of this interaction.
To anyone, not living with allergies, who find themselves in the position of the lady in the store:
Please be careful not to think that I, or any allergy, parent, could have avoided this allergy by exposing my child younger. If I could have … I would have, but it wasn’t an option for us.
Read more than just the headlines! Food Allergies are complicated, and there is often critical information that is found in the body of the article or in the research that provides a complete understanding.
If you engage a food allergy person to listen to them. You will learn! (If grocery store lady asked me if I heard the new guidelines or what I thought of them she would have learned something new!)
It is always safe to offer a statement of support, hope, or praise! (The grocery store lady would have made my day if she told me she was impressed that I was teaching my son how to take care of himself!)
To anyone, living with allergies, who find themselves confronted by the lady in the store:
Take a deep breath!
Assess if you can use this moment as an opportunity to share and spread awareness.
Remember how little you knew about allergy life before you were forced to live it. Think about how long it took you to learn it well. Not all people live with food allergies, and unless you do, you can’t understand one hundred percent of it. So be informative and kind! This will help grow awareness and a positive name for the allergy community at large!
You will encounter people like this at times, and it can weigh you down emotionally. Rely on the people in your life who DO understand; Allow them to be a balance point!
You are doing a great job! And if you don’t have someone to tell you that email us! We know the value of support from people who live this life and want to share that with you too!
Living well with food allergies is really about keeping perspective and understanding that a lot of the ignorance towards our community comes from lack of information and exposure. So let’s share information and be open to letting people see our life with a hope that in time, people’s grocery store conversations will sound different than the one I had that winter day in 2017.
To keeping perspective,
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Our book reading, dinosaur loving, order seeking, joke telling, karate kicking, joy spreading four-year-old. Looking at him today it’s hard to believe how far we have come!
For some, the food allergy journey begins with eczema.
You see, just two short months after Shaun was born he began to show signs of eczema on his face. It was January in Connecticut, and so Shaun’s pediatrician advised us to put a humidifier in his room and to use a bit of baby eczema lotion. Unfortunately, within a week, Shaun’s skin was getting worse instead of better.
And just like that our world got turned inside out! My Mama’s heart knew that this wasn’t just winter eczema.
February & March contained numerous doctor appointments. John and I were in contact with Shaun’s pediatrician daily to check in about the condition of his skin and what skin care plan we were using.
At the end of February, I began to insist that we get referred to an allergist because it is well documented that eczema and allergies are often connected. It felt like overnight I had to become an advocate and liaison between the pediatrician, the pediatric dermatologist and the allergist. I was making sure that Shaun’s care plan included the perspectives of all his doctors.
I wish I could say this is where Shaun’s story began to get better. Instead, Shaun’s skin continued to get worse. At this point, he was covered from head to toe, with angry, red, infected, weeping, bleeding eczema.
As parents, we carried on because we needed answers. Shaun required solutions.
But we were tired, first-time parents. Our hearts were breaking at the inability to help our son. We were angry confused and overwhelmed.
Thank God for our support system throughout this time. Family and friends stepped in to shop, cook, clean and pray so John, and I could stay focused on Shaun’s care.
We tried many natural remedies, creams, ointments and prescription options to calm his skin. We were aware of soaps, detergents, perfumes and environmental irritants that could have been affecting his skin quality. Because I was nursing him, we began to experiment with my diet to exclude foods commonly known to cause eczema in babies. None of these adjustments had any impact.
Enter, Dr. H.
She was the covering allergist for Shaun’s weekly allergy appointment, and since that day she has been the only allergist we see! She took her time. She listened to what my observations were. She asked questions and answered all of mine. She checked in by phone and would often spend 40 minutes in conversation with me to make sure I was comfortable.
It was Dr. H’s tweaks to Shaun’s care plan, in April, that started to turn the tides with his skin quality. Her plan was more aggressive than I had hoped for, but we were desperate. It was time to make some concessions. Shaun was one low-grade fever away from being admitted to the hospital with a blood infection (due to eczema).
Dr. H told me that our previous care plans were like using a bucket brigade to put out a fire in twenty story building. And it was time to match the intensity of the care plan to the severity of Shaun’s eczema.
On April 22nd we began:
A substantial ten-day antibiotic (for the staph infection on his skin)
A five-day oral steroid taper (for eczema)
An antihistamine every 8 hours (for the itch)
Along with a strict topical skin care regimen that we completed with every diaper change!
He also started a prescription formula (and I pumped at his feeding times with the hope of returning to nursing him once his skin was manageable)
We All held our breath as he tapered off the steroid, praying that his skin would stay calm. And it did!
In May we were finally able to talk about testing him for food allergies and starting him on solid foods. And over the next several months we used blood tests and skin tests to see what foods (and environmental) allergies Shaun had. We were told to practice strict avoidance. So before he was a year old, we were carrying epinephrine and avoiding:
Cod & Tilapia
Getting answers was a giant step forward. Since then we have spent three years learning how to live in a food-centric culture.
Building routines in our kitchen that help keep Shaun safe
Learning how to read labels and grocery shop (I have cried more than once in a grocery store)
Cooking with restrictions
Strategizing how to attend social events
Uncovering places allergens hide
Educating Shaun and his caregivers
Challenging allergens, with doctor supervision, to open up Shaun’s diet (he is down to 8 allergens)
Helping other allergy families
And so much more.
Today, with our feet under us, looking back is emotional! It was long, beyond hard and at times incredibly lonely! I am filled with gratitude for John, the doctors, our family, and friends. And I am grateful for Shaun and the joy he radiates into the world in spite of it all!
If you have a story that looks the same as Shaun’s, know that you are not alone!
And if you are living this right now, know that it will take time. It is hard and cumbersome now but piece by piece you will find strategies to recreate your life with food allergies. If this is the case, I hope that you find help and community here.
To looking back,
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