I have always been a fan of the spirit of Halloween. The idea of people – young and old alike – embracing a little whimsy for a night (or a week or two as the case may be) has always reserved a special little spooky place in my heart.
Halloween is a little tougher for us now that we are managing Oliver’s galactosemia. Not only is it a celebration that largely revolves around candy, much of which contains dairy, but it also serves as the unofficial kickoff for what is essentially an entire season of holidays centered around gatherings at the table and food-centric parties and events. Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Festival of the Seven Fishes, Diwali, Christmas – there are no shortage of food landmines to skillfully navigate if you and/or a member of your family follows a restricted diet.
The desire to have our child still feel included and find joy over the next few months is an added layer of stress during what can already be a stressful time.
This was the first year Ollie actually traveled door-to-door for trick-or-treat night and here are a few strategies we implemented to try to ensure a successful and fun Halloween:
- Manage expectations. Even at almost three years old, Ollie has already started to be able to identify things he can and cannot eat. When we walk by the dairy case at the grocery store, he will usually point over to the regular section of milk and wag a finger back and forth announcing, “No cow milk!” So in the lead up to trick-or-treating, we have not only talked about the procedure to expect (knock on door; say “trick or treat”; get candy; say “thank you”; rinse and repeat) but we also reminded Ollie that a lot of what he might get in his bucket will have milk in it and therefore he won’t be able to eat.
- Prepare for the switcheroo. A few years ago I read about the concept of the “Switch Witch.” The idea seems to have been developed as a way to curb kids’ post-Halloween sugar consumption but has also been adopted by some families with food allergy and sensitivity issues, dental concerns, and other health conditions that can be impacted by diet. Not unlike the Tooth Fairy, the kiddo leaves a little something behind for the Switch Witch – some or all of his candy haul in this case – and the Witch comes in the middle of the night and exchanges it for a toy or gift. Leading up to Halloween night, we would casually remind Ollie so it was not a big surprise for him when we got home and there was a little basket waiting to receive his candy gift for the Switch Witch later that night.
- Have replacements ready. Not only can Ollie not have most chocolates and caramel, but because of his age and the risk of choking, we still avoid most hard candies, gum, and things with whole nuts. That knocks out a lot of Halloween candy, so we made sure to pick up a small bag of galactosemia friendly candy so that if he happened to only receive candy he couldn’t eat, we would have backups to slip into his bucket to at least fill in slightly what we had to take out. In the end, we left him with about a dozen pieces of candy to enjoy.
- Support the Teal Pumpkin Project. Started by FARE (Food Allergy Research and Education), the Teal Pumpkin Project encourages households participating in Halloween to also offer non-food items for children with food allergies. Although Oliver does not have a food allergy,* we consider ourselves allies to the food allergy community. We believe that food labeling and handling regulations, providing safe inclusivity of all children at school, restaurants, and elsewhere, and greater understanding and research into the causes of food allergies, benefits us all. That being said, the Teal Pumpkin Project not only serves families managing a food allergy, but also allows families with children dealing with a variety of other health issues, including galactosemia, enjoy the holiday a little more as well.
I won’t say that everything has been perfect. We’ve had our share of tears and hurt feelings this Halloween, but every day Ollie seems to understand a little bit more about what his condition means for everyday life and is learning to adapt and bounce back from difficult situations. And that’s really what it is all about for us.
*I make this point not because there is anything wrong with having a food allergy, but because the distinction between food allergies and a metabolic condition like galactosemia is an important one. The consequences and short and long-term complications are very different for the two and it’s important for people in Ollie’s life to understand that.