As a former Girl Scout leader for several years, I can tell you that a kid with an allergy is... super annoying. I know, I know - that's terrible, but really. Between our group of girls one year, we had to plan around a dairy intolerance, a nut allergy and a gluten allergy. Not to mention that one kid that hates everything. By my last year of leading Scouts, we had done away with snack time. I never thought that my kid would be one of "them".
The problem with a dye sensitivity (I shy away from calling it an "allergy"), is that dye is in things you wouldn't even think of. Did you know that Pillsbury crescent rolls contain both red and yellow dyes? Or that nearly all toothpaste contains dye? These are things I didn't even think of when we started this diet. (Shout out to Tom's of Maine for their dye-free strawberry toothpaste, which Jericho LOVES! We bought ours at Target, or visit www.tomsofmaine.com to check out this and all of their all-natural care products!)
When there are birthday parties at school, my kid can't have a cupcake, piece of birthday cake, most ice cream or any candy that's handed out. This is torturous for a Kindergartner. Don't think that each time there's a party at school, it doesn't cross my mind to send a personal email to each and every parent asking them to send a dye free snack. The problem with doing that is that my kid lives in a colorful world. I can't possibly ask everyone he encounters throughout his life to accommodate him. I have to teach him what he can and can't eat and hope he makes the best decision he can. Jericho can barely read, but has learned to read a nutrition label.
One of the questions that I've been asked several times is how Jericho copes with his new diet. When I started this diet, it honestly didn't even cross my mind that I was going to have to explain to a 6 year old that he couldn't eat most of what he loved. As I packed Jericho's first lunch for this new adventure, I carefully explained to him that he wasn't to eat anything that I didn't send him to eat. He agreed at first, then asked why. This was not a question I was prepared for. I started by asking Jericho if he was aware of the fact that sometimes his body "made poor choices". I explained to him that when his brain told his body to sit still and his body wanted to move anyway, that was his body making a poor choice. He understood and agreed. I then explained to him that I thought that maybe something he was eating was telling his body to make poor choices. This made sense to him.
I spoke with Jericho's teacher who knew not to feed him anything that wasn't sent from home. His teacher keeps a small refrigerator in her room and was gracious enough to allow me to send some tubes of Simply Go-Gurt and string cheese to keep for him for snack time. She also offered to only bring in dye free items when she brought treats in for the class. I was really impressed with how well both Jericho and his teacher took to his new diet. His first few days started without a hitch, and while I felt that his behavior was starting to improve, I knew it was probably wishful thinking and that it would take some time to get the dyes cleaned from his system. I didn't realize how much his diet was affecting him until the third day of his diet - Valentine's Day.
As I mentioned before, Jericho's teacher and I had a pretty good plan for his classroom party. She would allow the kids to pass their treats out, and before he could open his box, she would replace his candy with other goodies I had provided for him. All was well until we got home that evening. Jericho was playing with a friend next door who, as I'm sure had been advised by his well-meaning mother time and time again, kindly offered to share a snack with Jericho. Jericho took his friend up on his offer. A short time later, Jericho came inside very upset and explained to me that he had some of the candy his friend had offered him... a handful of jelly beans. While I was disappointed that we had a set back so soon, I did look at this as a way to see if this had any affect on Jericho's behavior. The night carried on and everything seemed normal for a while. A few hours later I was sitting at the kitchen table and looked up to see him running down the hall to his sister's room. This was not an abnormal sight, but when I watched him for a moment, I realized that he wasn't running anywhere in particular. He was running, full speed, from one end of the hall to the other. And did so about 20 times before I finally asked him to stop. This was the first time I really noticed how different he had been in the last few days. Jericho noticed, too. I asked him why he was running back and forth and he had no idea. The following day, we talked about it again. This was a good example for me to use as to why I thought the dyes were bad for him.
It takes, I'd guess, about 2-4 days to get the dyes out of his system each time he's exposed. I can tell by Jericho's behavior if he's been exposed even without knowing for sure. The hardest thing for me to explain to people is that he can't have "just a little" of anything. Not one piece of candy, not one bite of cake - nothing. My friend who told me about her son's red dye sensitivity (shout out to fellow blogger momma Ariena Krieger of One Krieger Chick http://onekriegerchick.com) told me a story about how he was given one SweetTart and was out of control for days. I assumed this was a slight exaggeration. It was not.
If this were one of my Girl Scouts, I would have given myself the mental eye-roll when you explained to me that your kid couldn't have dye. Lucky for our family, we have been surrounded with a support system all full of people who have been extremely supportive of this undertaking. His sister has even learned to look at labels when I'm not around to make sure that he isn't having something he can't. I'm amazed and humbled each time someone asks about his diet or checks with me before giving him a treat.
...Because I know that a kid with an allergy (or sensitivity) is super annoying.