Last week, my mom and I braved a road trip with a 15-month-old to see all of my family in another state. One that would involve over 20 hours of driving in just five days.
For weeks leading up to the trip, I fretted over the whole ordeal. E gets bored in the car driving to the grocery store, so how on earth was I going to keep her occupied for 1500 miles?
I’ll leave you in suspense here a moment. What I will tell you is that the driving was not the most difficult part of the journey.
The hardest part was the food. Before we left, I mentioned to my mom I wanted to come up with a game plan for feeding E while we were there. Feeding a toddler who can’t eat dairy, eggs, and peanuts is no easy feat, and it’s definitely not something you can accomplish without planning. At home, we eat what E can eat. I wasn’t going to expect my aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents to do the same; but at the same time, I didn’t want E to watch everyone eating the same thing while staring at something else on her own plate for five days straight. There had to be a middle ground, a compromise of sorts, and that’s what I’d wanted to plan. My mom reassured me they would all understand, and we didn’t need to plan. It would all work out.
From the moment we arrived, everyone wanted to eat at restaurants where E could literally eat nothing. Our first night there we went to a pizza buffet where even the one E-friendly thing there (peas at the salad bar) was contaminated with hard-boiled egg particles. I had some snacks in the diaper bag but nothing that would constitute a meal since we had just pulled into town an hour earlier. E immediately pulled my plate of pizza in front of her and she was devastated when I took it away. One hour into the trip and my heart was already ripping to pieces.
I ended up making a trip to the grocery store to buy some “real” food for E. It took away some of the stress at the times my family chose to eat at places whose menus didn’t jive with E’s allergies. However, it was difficult not to be in my own kitchen where at any given moment I know I can throw together an entire meal for E in a pinch with all of the things I have on hand.
One night we traveled to another town to stay with a cousin from the other side of my family. She’d invited about 20 or 30 people from our family over for a barbecue, and to my relief she asked me for a list of things E would be able to eat. Although there was plenty of food there that was safe, there was also a lot of unsafe food. When we arrived, I asked all of my family to not give anything to E without asking me first, and everyone seemed agreeable to my request. Unfortunately, they didn’t realize that also meant they had to watch their kids and grandkids, who put Cheetos right into E’s mouth. I quickly took the chip away and the girl who’d given it to her (four or five, maybe?) got extremely upset. “But she likes it! Why you won’t let her have it?” I explained to her that it would make E very, very sick, but she didn’t understand and continued to try giving them to E. From behind me, my aunt cried out, “Well, she’s just a kid, she doesn’t understand allergies!” I bit my tongue but I desperately wanted to remind her that a child of that age knows what “sick” means and it would be nice if she would jump in and help her own granddaughter to understand she couldn’t feed that kind of food to my kid.
This is why I need help. This is why I need other adults, especially my own family, to listen and to understand the seriousness of food allergies and how DAMN HARD it is to be the mother of someone who has them.
Our last night before heading home, my grandpa really wanted to take us out to a new fancy steakhouse that had just opened. It was expensive, one of those “special occasion” type restaurants, and since my grandma passed away two years ago, special occasions are rare for him these days. By then I was plain exhausted from all of the fighting and compromising I’d done just to feed E during our trip. But it was important to my grandpa and it was one more night. I could do it. I spoke with the waiters, who spoke with the cooks, and they were able to grill E a chicken breast with absolutely no butter or marinade. Paired with a side of apple slices, E had a delicious meal that was served to her in a cute little cardboard car, and I was ridiculously relieved.
In all fairness, other than the food the trip was phenomenal. E was in the most spectacular mood and she charmed the socks off of everyone. She got to meet cows and horses and tiny little puppies. For being on the road so much and away from everything familiar to her, she did great and I’m such a lucky mom for that.
So, back to the driving portion of the trip. E handled 23 hours on the road better than the two grown-ass women in the car did. The secret? Playing “The Secret Life of Pets” movie over and over and OVER AND OVER. As long as that movie was playing, E was a happy camper. Oh, and a continuous pile of Teddy Grahams may have contributed to our success.
All in all, I feel confident that E will be a good traveler. I know now that next time, not planning for E’s food is not an option. I don’t fault my family for how things went. They don’t deal with it every day. They don’t experience it firsthand. They don’t understand, like many people don’t until you’re in my shoes. It just means that we cannot successfully travel anywhere without truly planning out how we’ll feed little E. It will never work to assume that anyone will understand our situation and adapt to it.