The $40 Quesadilla


We recently went on a vacation to Florida.  It really could not have been better; the weather was idyllic, the ocean had the perfect waves, there was a giant water slide and constant poolside activities for the kids.  One early afternoon they offered face painting.  Milo got right in line to get his face painted like a vampire.  The red paint around his mouth was dripping down his chin like blood in the hot sun.  Gino was next.  I checked in on him then I went to put something at the chairs.  As I was about to walk back to watch his face painting progress, I saw him speed walking, stiffly toward me.  I noticed one of the staff members racing behind him.  As he threw himself into my chest, she stood in front of me, shaking.  My heart thumped hard, was it food?  When I pulled him away from me, would he be covered in hives?  Would he be covered in vomit?  Would he be coughing and gasping?  I pulled him away, and all I could think was Thank God, he was only covered in blood.  I mean, how sick is it that I reveled at the sight of blood?  His lips were pursed to catch the drops trickling from his nose.  He had fallen into a very deep and rocky flowerbed.  He was fighting hard not to cry in front of everyone so we hurried to the room and got him cleaned up.  We placed the obligatory band-aids on the scrapes on his chest, covered his nose in a thick coat of Neosporin and put an ice pack on his face.  He was sad.  Not because he fell into the flowerbed but because he may have missed the face painting.

When we returned to the pool, the face painters had waited for him and since his face was pretty beat up, they drew a huge snake up his arm.  I saw the woman who witnessed the fall approaching us. She was holding an apologetic smoothie in her out-stretched hands… a peace offering.  I mean, as if he hadn’t been through enough already.  I walked away from Gino as he finished getting the snake tail painted and let her know that he was allergic to milk.  When she asked about a cookie, I told her he was allergic to egg.  When she suggested a bag of pretzels, I told her he was allergic to wheat.  I stopped her in the middle of her litany of food suggestions, knowing that it was futile, and I suggested instead a non-food item.  She returned ten minutes later with an orange Ugly doll and a t-shirt that burst into colors in the sun.  Gino was suddenly the happiest kid in town.  The fall became his very favorite part of vacation.  You can ask him!

Every game that the kid’s club hosted, Gino would win.  When he won the limbo, instead of an ice cream cone, he won an orange juice and three Chai tea bags (I think my mom had some influence on that prize)! When he won the balloon hula-hoop toss, instead of getting a bag of goldfish, he got two free movie rentals.  For a guy who couldn’t indulge in the poolside refreshments, he sure was making out like a bandit.

Toward the end of our vacation, Sal and Milo were feeling a bit slighted from all of the attention that Gino was getting.  In fact, Milo was so desperate for the same kind of attention from the staff that he wanted me to tell them that he nearly broke his neck in a wave.  The wave barely covered his head, but he could not have been more serious.  Sal felt like he deserved a cheese quesadilla from the poolside restaurant because frankly, it was safe for him and he wanted it.  I said no many times but somehow I turned around and he had weaseled his way into getting one.  As Sal was licking his bean-and-cheese-filled fingers, Milo honed in on this and begged me for a quesadilla too.  He felt that being able to eat one without Gino would somehow level the playing field.  I couldn’t muster up the energy to talk to the chef and find out if the quesadilla had egg or soy or if there may be any cross contamination issues.  I knew this wasn’t fair of me but we had great alternatives and I simply didn’t want to take the chance.  As a consolation, I told him that I would bring him to Chipotle the day we returned to Chicago.  It wasn’t a great deal and he knew it, but it would be good enough.

The instant the plane’s wheels hit the concrete a few days later, Milo piped up, “Mommy, remember you promised me a cheese quesadilla?” but when we pulled into the garage, the kids were exhausted.  We had been up at 4am and it was showing.  I put them on the couch in front of an episode of Bubble Guppies and hoped that they would sleep.  I set off to the grocery store.  As I was about to head out though, Sal jumped up and said he wanted to go with me.  He knew that going on this trip would likely result in food.  I could see hunger in his eyes, and of course, he was right, he would get food.  He hadn’t forgotten Milo’s cheese quesadilla promise and suggested that it would be totally unfair if he didn’t get one too.  A large cheese quesadilla with a side of black beans and chocolate cow’s milk.  $5.

When we returned home through some sixth-food-sense, Milo could tell Sal had eaten at Chipotle.  Maybe he could see the satiety in Sal’s eyes.  Milo insisted, in no uncertain terms, that it was his turn.  I could not have been more exhausted.  He couldn’t have been more insistent.  As Milo got dressed, I saw Gino’s eyes gaze downward.  Despite all of the spoiling on vacation, this was different for him.  His expression rode directly on the border between sadness and anger.  I don’t even think he knew which emotion that he felt more.  He wasn’t sure if he wanted to cry or slam a door. Even though the quesadillas were meant to even out some inequality from vacation, vacation was over.  We were back home and suddenly things didn’t feel fair.  I told him to think of something special he wanted to do with me when Milo and I got back.  At Chipotle, Milo joyfully shoved down his cheese quesadilla with a side of black beans and a chocolate cow’s milk.  $5.

When Milo and I got home, Gino was sitting on the stairs with his coat on.  As we headed out, from the couch, Lucy yelled out, “Me?  Pink surprise?”  I couldn’t believe that she was in on this too!  Gino chose to go to the toy store.  We first picked out the cheapest but cutest pink surprise we could find.  A pink bracelet.  $10.  Then I encouraged Gino to choose a small toy, perhaps a multicolored pen or a puzzle or a deck of cards.  He, instead, found a build-it-yourself transistor radio and once he set his sights on that toy, nothing else could measure up.  $20.

It cost me $40 that day to make things feel fair.  Obviously, I am not the master negotiator.  But boy, if a build-it-yourself radio helps ease the ache of a quesadilla-less world and make things feel right and just, so be it.  I know that there will come a time when all of this overcompensation simply won’t be enough and no matter how many toys or color-changing t-shirts that I shower over him, he will come to the very true realization that it just isn’t fair.  I hope that when all I have left to offer him is a big hug that somehow that will be enough for both of us.

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38 Responses to The $40 Quesadilla

  1. Danielle says:

    We deal with this, too. Know you’re not alone. Each holiday that involves kids getting treats like Halloween or Easter we make a deal that my son can partake in the activities without eating anything and that he can turn his candy in for a trip to the toy store. He does seem to actually prefer the toy over the candy, but the weekend Easter egg hunt cost me an extra $18 for a Hex Bug toy. And we have another egg hunt next weekend! These things add up fast, but I’d rather have him partake and get to be a kid instead of force him to sit on the sidelines or fight over not getting to eat the good tasting stuff.

    • Sarah says:

      I agree!! It’s so much about keeping them involved… with just a different slant on things. Often even MORE fun but often a lot more creative brain power needed on our end:) Thank you so much for reading!

  2. Kim says:

    I have four boys. Two with multiple food allergies, two without any allergies. I always had exclusively “safe” food and snacks in my house. I was shopping with my oldest son (no allergies) and he asked me to buy donuts. I said no. I told him it wasn’t fair to have something in the house because his two brothers had allergies and they couldn’t have them . He looked up at me with those big, brown eyes and said “But I don’t have allergies, I can have them”. Aha moment. I’ve been buying unsafe snacks for my other two boys ever since. I struggle with what’s fair for all four boys all the time. Not sure I’m doing it right, but I’m doing my best.

    • Sarah says:

      That is one definitely one of the biggest struggles that we have in our family. I also keep the house safe for everyone – which means top 8 plus some – so for my oldest, Sal, without food allergies, it can be difficult. (It is also difficult for Milo who just has 2 food allergies.) I keep a secret stash outside of our door in our foyer on top of a cabinet so their needs can be met too. The non-food allergic siblings of children with food allergies are certainly special children and I think they will grow into wonderfully empathetic and caring adults. I have a post in the works about this awesome group of kids!
      And Kim, if you’re doing your best, I’m sure it’s right.
      Take care and thank you for sharing!

      • Wendy says:

        I have a 19 year old peanut allergic son and a 17 year old daughter with no food allergies.

        When my son was young and so disappointed that he couldn’t eat some treat, we always headed for McDonald’s since he could have their sundae. We kept that as the ‘treat’ food. We acknowledged it wasn’t fair that he had to miss the ‘treat’ (usually some unscheduled thing at school) and by the time he was in 3rd or 4th grade, he accepted that. We still got the McDonald’s treat but somehow he accepted the unfairness as just part of his life. That sounds bleaker than I mean it to be but I think it was easier for him (and us) once he accepted it. And of course we sympathsized.

        My daughter has always been very empathetic of her brother and often turned down a treat when she knew her brother couldn’t have it either. And sometimes even though those trips to McDonald’s came much later in the day after the missed ‘treat’, she accepted that McDonald’s sundaes were just for her brother to make up for the treat he missed earlier. (It helped since it turned out she didn’t like them much anyways). I am so very grateful that she is naturally kind and empathetic about her brother’s allergy.. It has made all of our lives much easier.

        • Sarah says:

          Thank you so much for sharing this story. For families with younger children with food allergies, it is always nice to hear from families who have been through the same struggles we are facing now. That is such a sweet story about the McDonalds! I don’t think it sounded bleak, just realistic. I hope that you continue to read and share your perspective. We all appreciate it! Have a wonderful night!

    • Kelly says:

      I always try to teach my kids that there is a difference between fair and equal. It’s a hard lesson for kids to learn, but an important lesson none the less.

      • Sarah says:

        It is such a hard lesson when you are 5… I mean, it’s a hard lesson as an adult. You are so right, fair isn’t the same as equal. Thank you for reading and for your comment, Kelly.

  3. cc says:

    Perfect!!! That was so cute. I felt like that was the day I was there with you all!!!

    • Sarah says:

      I think you actually were there with us that day!!! When are we going back? It was sooo nice. Sorry I couldn’t make it by to see you today at WF. Couple coughers here at home :( Plus the whole egg allergy thing… Let’s get together soon!

  4. Jennifer says:

    I am sure Claire, the sibling in our house with no food allergies, is totally going to be the one with the food issues. I know taking her out for frozen yogurt or cookies whenever her brother is busy somewhere else contributes to this. But gosh it’s fun to go out and not have to cross-ex and worry. It’s sweet when we went to the new frozen yogurt place while big bro was at a school dance last month. She scruntized the topping choices to see if there was anything he might like. He couldn’t have the yogurt, but she figured he might enjoy a bowl of gummy worms and skittles.

    • Sarah says:

      Jennifer! I think about that all the time! Sal (no FA) was at a birthday party today and the pizza came late so everyone pretty much left. He insisted on staying because he wanted the pizza so bad. He ate 7 pieces… and smiled the whole time. Heck, I don’t even know what normal is anymore. Maybe I don’t even care as long as somehow they are all happy enough. :) Wish we could take Claire and Sal out together!! We’d all be stuffed.
      Thank you for reading!
      Sweet dreams,

  5. Liz says:

    It is amazing how much our world revolves around food- I never realized this until I had a child who couldn’t have it- every celebration, incentive, party, reward etc etc- so it requires a lot of creativity to try to substitute –
    I was wondering for those with milk allergies- are they shorter than their peers? I was concerned bc my daughter suddenly seems so small, and I read a really interesting article about kids who do not consume cows milk have shorter stature? I always worry about nutrients and whether she is getting enough calcium and protien- in the same article it said the beat protien sources for kids were egg and cows milk- neither of which my daughter can have- just wondering if others have any suggestions and whether their child seems smaller for her or his age?

    • Sarah says:

      Kids who avoid milk shouldn’t really be any shorter than other children. If you are concerned with what your child is eating and getting in terms of nutrition that she would be getting from cow’s milk, I highly recommend seeing a nutritionist. I felt so much better after meeting with one and her reassurance and advice regarding Ca and Vit D was very helpful. She was able to look at ALL that my child has to avoid and come up with an individualized plan. I rested much easier after that appointment.
      One of my boys who is allergic to milk is in the 25% for height, my daughter who is also allergic to milk is the 75% for height. Go figure:)
      Thank you for reading, Liz!

    • Amy says:

      My daughter & I are gf & df, dh can have dairy but not soy, so I use coconut oil, or bacon fat & apple sauce to replace butter. I make meals from scratch, mixing flours like garbanzo and brown rice. I add vegetables as I can to everything. I’ve read rotating grain, proteins, is best for the body, and the advice from my Doc was about 4 days of verity. I reduce or replace sugar for honey, or maple syrup. I read about the GAPS diet to heal the gut. It’s to much for my family, but I get bone broth into almost every meal, cooking rice or noodles in it, or good fats, so many vitamins are fat solvable. I’m not a doc, and my girly is the right height for her age.
      Good luck! Amy

    • Wendy says:

      My son was allergic to diary until about age 3 and never developed the milk habit after that. At age 19, he is 6′ 6″ so I don’t think his missing milk stunted his growth. He has always (since about age 1) been a full head taller than his classmates.

      He still has the peanut allergy.

  6. Renee says:

    Well I just want to say. Thank you for that story, it sounds like you are a fly on the wall in my life as well. I spend twice as much as a mom with children without food allergies would on just a single outing. I always try to make sure I bring or I know where I can find safe treats for my two sons with food allergies, when my one son without wants something. Yes I do drive to 3 different take out places sometimes to make a full meal ! It is all worth it in the end if no one feels like something missing. The other way I try to look at things is even if they did not have food allergies what is the Likleyhood that they would all like the same thing at the same time any way! Again thank you for sharing, I know I am not alone

    • Sarah says:

      You are definitely not alone, Renee! These are some really loved children! Thank you for reading and for your comment.

  7. I see this starting to become an issue for us as well. It sounds like you have figured out how to make everyone happy, which can’t be an easy task. I hope I’m able to handle it this well when my kids get older. I love your blog. Thank you for the wonderful posts!

    • Sarah says:

      Hi Emily,
      It worked out this time! ;) There are times when I don’t do quite as well but luckily the kids get over things pretty quickly when they are so young! You will do great when this starts happening in your family. I’m sure of it!
      Thank you for reading my blog – it means so much to me to hear from you!
      Take care!

  8. Stacey says:

    The struggle of “fair” is a constant battle I face, within myself, regarding my NFA kid and FA kid. I love that your posts are so real and raw.

    On a different note, my 4 y.o. FPIES kiddo had his challenge to soy oil/lecithin and passed, which you know is HUGE! While we were there, I mentioned your blog. His allergist grew up playing tennis against you and attended med school with you (I think, maybe residencey–I can’t remember exactly what she said–it was a stressful day). What a small world!

    • Sarah says:

      My soy FPIES also tolerates soy lecithin/oil – totally changed our world!! He failed his soy challenge last summer which was a big bummer since now he is the only one with soy allergy :( One day…
      Oh, I know who your allergist is! I was just about to ask you who it was when her name popped into my head. Yes, we went to Allergy fellowship together after playing tennis together as kids. That is so funny! Tell her I said hello next time you see her!
      Thank you so much for reading and for sharing this fun small world connection,

  9. Liz says:

    I’m not the mommy but a very involved Gramma. I love reading your blog!

    • Sarah says:

      We couldn’t survive without a very involved gramma at my house! Thank you for all you do. And thank you for reading my blog!

  10. Mary says:

    Nice to meet you in person at the FAAN Conference last weekend. My second time going and I always learn something new. Found your blog recently and I really enjoy it. We deal with keeping things fair at our house as well. My food allergic daughter seems to overreact to things that are unfair even when food is not involved. Internally, I wonder if having things be unfair all the time regarding food trickles in to other aspects of her life. Thanks for writing your blog.

    P.S. I am a chai addict. My husband recently bought me a frother to make my own at home. My starbuck’s runs were becoming a two a day habit plus extras for the kids. I still just have to stop at starbuck’s on some days though. Trying to keep it to twice a week and vacations. Great tip to order extra hot.

    • Sarah says:

      Hello Mary! It was a good conference! I definitely recommend it to people who can make it next year! I too wonder what the effect of this unfair food burden will have on them long-term. Hopefully, they will just accept that it is unfair and then make the best out of it! It will be important for us to watch how this plays out as they get older.
      I had to cut my Starbucks runs down too… when I had to reload my card with more $ in a week, I realized I had a problem… I buy the Tazo chai and soy drink and make them at home too. Truth be told, that is what I am drinking right now;)
      Thank you so much for reading and for your comment. Great meeting you!!

  11. Amy says:

    My sweet girl is gf & df and I work my butt off to have her included in all life has to offer. I try to replicate the food at parties, and have a prep talk about how to handle surprise food we can’t have, and options. But I have stopped trying to go for fair, and agree it is not fair. I now tell her life is not fair, and I’m sorry but thats just the way it is. Mine is old enough to understand, this is my blessing. We work together to find a solution that will work of us. I hope in going with this approach I’m giving her the tools she’ll need the rest of her life.
    The 3 of us have had sudden gluten allergies, not so normal from the research I’ve done, ours are from environmental causes, not heredity. Doing the best you can is a good lesson, and an exercise in creativity. Cheers to us.

    • Sarah says:

      Hello Amy,
      I think that you have a great approach! There are times that you just can’t make things fair so you have to settle with acceptance. How important to be able to accept that things are different for you and be able to move forward!
      Thank you for reading and I enjoy hearing from you!

  12. Rita H. says:

    This is my first time on this site and reading this as I laughed and cried, I had to tell you I love it!
    I have gone through this and sometimes try so hard to make it fair for one FA child or for my other, NFA, child that I realize I can only give them a perfect world inside the comforts of our home. It’s a struggle, with tears, laughter, anger, smiles, you name it.
    Thank you. It is always a relief to hear or share with someone who really “gets” it.

    • Sarah says:

      I am so happy that you found this site and enjoyed what you read here! It has been such a pleasure sharing these stories with everyone. It can be such a trying and emotional experience to raise children with food allergy (and non-food allergic siblings) and it is great to find a place where your problems and struggles are the same as everyone else’s. Thank you SO much for reading and for your comment. Have a wonderful night!

  13. Diana says:

    We did the same thing on vacation last week. My girls wanted to get a smoothie from Jamba Juice, which my son can’t have because of peanut cross- contamination concerns……So while I stood in line getting those, my husband took our son to the Lego store to buy a toy.

  14. Noho Mom says:

    I love your blog. I think what people don’t appreciate is how exhausting it is to prepare for any kind of outing with a food allergy kid, let alone travel. We too just returned from Florida, where we celebrated Passover with a Grandma who prepared the whole meal wheat, dairy, soy, egg, nut, peanut – free weeks in advance. It’s always important for me that at holidays everyone eats what my son can eat, so that he feels like he can gorge like everyone else. Also ordering and baking safe treats to have with us at parties, outings, etc. helps a lot. It’s hard because you never know where contamination can come from. On the flight out, he got a massive hive on his neck from the cord on his headphones. Who knew I would have to wipe down the headphones?

    • Sarah says:

      Noho Mom,
      There is just so much to do to prepare for a meal, let alone a vacation! And just when we think we’ve got it all covered… the headphones. Cross contamination is really one of the most difficult issues to deal with – the lurking threat. Thank you for so much for your kind comment. I am so happy that you found my blog and have enjoyed reading it. Have a wonderful night.

  15. Marisa Nachman says:

    Definitely a challenge.

  16. Priscilla says:

    First of all, I really loved your blog.
    I live in Brazil, and next month me and my family are going to spend our vacations at Walt Disney World, in Orlando – FL. My kids (with 2 and 3 years old) have food allergy to dairy and soy proteins, also with restrictions to lactose, soybeans oil and soy lecithin.
    I’m searching for products, such as rice milk, cookies, baby food and industrialized food, that are safe for my children. I would be very thankful if you could indicate to me a few brands, or products, that I can trust on them as dairy and soy free.
    Priscilla Tavares

    • Sarah says:

      Thank you for reading! I love when I hear of people reading in countries outside of the US! It shows the power of the internet :) Please feel free to share the blog with food allergy groups in Brazil. In terms of your question, we use Rice Dream products mostly but please check ingredients for you because although my son is allergic to soy, we do not avoid lecithin. For cookies, we chose Enjoy Life – these are top 8 allergen free. Another brand is HomeFree. Whole Foods Market carries these products. I will also post your question on my Facebook page so please follow that so you can see the answers!
      Thank you and have a great trip!

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