February 14, 2013

Valentine's Day - a little less food, a lot more fun!

Valentine's Day is here.  What is typically anticipated as a sweet and romantic day sure generates a host of different emotions from those with food allergies or food-allergic children.  Sadness, exclusion, anger, dread, anxiety, terror.  And with an estimated 1 in 3 parents reporting that their food-allergic child has had a life-threatening anaphylactic reaction on Valentine's Day, it's no wonder that parents are on edge on this food-filled holiday.

I am happy to share that neither of my sons' classes will have a full-blown Valentine's Day celebration this year.   Woo hoo!  Really, this is mostly about keeping school time for school-related learning and not solely a decision based on the risks of food allergies...but I will take it as a minor victory in the name of food allergy families anyway!!  Kids are free to pass out Valentines and candies at the end of the day and kids are preparing heart bags to carry their love loot home.

Ryken's class is, however, doing a math project with conversation hearts and Gummi Bears but both are safe for him.  I also am a little leery and will pack a safe treat for Ryken in case some well-intentioned parents who have forgotten about Ryken's food allergies bring in armloads of store-bought cupcakes and cookies.  This happens occasionally to my disappointment and to the teachers' as well.  Divvies Bakery, a dedicated milk-free, egg-free, nut-free bake shop, recently sent me samples of their chocolate hearts which are available for online purchase.  I think these will go in the treat stash!

Although I don't consider myself a crafty DIY mom, I love making Valentines.  Construction paper, pencil, markers, and scissors.  Decorations: optional.  There is something extra special about getting a Valentine that someone put a little sweat into making.  In past years when Ryken was a preschooler, I helped him cut out hearts and had him dictate to me what he wanted to say to each of his friends.

My younger son, Callan, is now the preschooler.  His fine motor skills are a lot more developed than his brother's were at his age although his endurance for making thirty Valentines by himself isn't quite there yet!  So I made a little cardboard template of half a heart, traced the half-hearts on folded construction paper, and let Callan cut them out himself.  Callan wasn't keen on writing messages (again, the endurance thing) but I convinced him to write his name on all thirty hearts so that his friends would know it was a Valentine from him.  He was so excited to put the Valentines in the school cubbies.  One of his classmates found his and said, "Thank you, Callan."  Callan beamed with pride!

With Ryken being older, more skilled, and able to focus longer on a task, I gave him the option of working with the computer.  He happily accepted.  (Note: I rarely let the kids use the computer.  I still have to figure out the perfect balance of becoming computer-literate and becoming a game-playing tech zombie, if you know what I mean.)  I traced the hearts for Ryken to make the process a little easier since we only had a week to do everything.  He was responsible for cutting them out and composing messages on the computer.  This provided a good opportunity to get acquainted with Microsoft Word, typing, and general tricks on using our laptop.  Ryken loved the grown-up feeling of working on his project.  After he finished, we printed out the messages, cut them, and taped them to the hearts.

My kids have been surprisingly mum about Valentine's sweets.  They were so happy to make Valentines for their classmates and are excited to be getting cards from their friends.  Maybe Valentine's Day has been spared the reputation of being another food holiday?  Maybe love still prevails for this special day...

I still plan on making a special Valentine's Day treat for the kids.  We will start the morning with heart-shaped pancakes.  I made a batch of nut-free fudge by tweaking a recipe from a cookbook by vegan chef Chloe Coscarelli.  That recipe isn't quite perfect yet so I'll need to refine it before sharing it with you.  (In the meantime, we have a whoooole lot of first-try fudge to get through...)

Wishing you and yours a safe and happy Valentine's Day.  Let's hope with more awareness, education, and care in our communities, we can bring that 1 in 3 statistic drastically down.

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