F*ck Chuck: Lamenting My Child's Food Allergies

by Kristin Leavy Miller
Originally Published: 
children with food allergies
nano / iStock

Fuck Chuck. Yeah, I said it.

Seriously, screw you Mr. Charles “Every Kid Loves Me” Cheese.

OK, wait. Let me stop to add a parent disclaimer:

This view does not represent the majority vote or intend to alter the attendance or reputation of any Mr. Cheese supporter.

Hard-working parents deserve the opportunity to take their children to a facility where their kids can go wild and exhaust themselves, after which the parents can skip the cleanup and go straight home for a nice, quiet evening. Please, carry on and enjoy!

With that said, Mr. Cheese, I wish you could see the double bird I’m currently flipping.

For a food allergic family, facilities like Chuck E. Cheese’s, which don’t offer many (if any) allergy-safe food options and lack organized activities, often magnify allergy risks. The free-flowing environment with stationary games and equipment encourages repeated food-covered hand touching without proper hand hygiene—a major concern for a child with food allergies.

But for non–food allergic families, this concern is irrelevant outside of the associated sensory overload and the occasional seasonal cold a child may pick up from a video game. And to be honest, a party at Chuck E. Cheese’s is almost like a rite of passage as you enter the years of school-age birthdays. Yet, rarely is the experience a life-threatening one for a non–food allergic family like it is for my allergic child. For people like us, it’s an anxiety-filled nightmare.

While my child comes home from school boasting a huge smile, filled with excitement over an invitation, a lump slowly creeps up in my throat as I realize I may have to tell my kid he may not get to go where a “kid can be a kid” because he may just end up being a kid in the ER instead.

We parents can remember childhood visits to ShowBiz Pizza Place (um, did I just date myself?) where we had the time of our lives. Our parents appreciated it because we got to burn off energy and potentially settle for an early bedtime at the end of the day. They enjoyed a quiet house, while we were exhausted from all the fun, pizza, and cake after a solid two hours of celebration. They’d sneak in a glass of wine and a movie and had a pleasant evening that we now refer to as the Netflix and Chill night. Yep, you all know the routine.

Oh, how I wish this to be the way our night would end now! But those chances are slim. It’s more likely that our next stop is the ER for a round of steroid treatments if we just happen to come in contact with an allergen.

Don’t get me wrong, I get why parties are held there. Really, I do! It’s actually quite genius, and to be honest, I’m slightly envious. I don’t at all blame the parent who opts for paying for 90 minutes of utter chaos to please their kid—it’s affordable, it’s readily available, and outside of money and an hour or two of your time, you don’t forfeit a single thing. You don’t even have to bother cleaning up after the kids for a change.

Trust me, I really, really want my kid to have the same experience as everyone else, to not have to worry about food causing them harm, and to avoid social exclusion and not have the fear of being singled out because of a medical exception.

My family had just recently gotten to a point in our little food allergic world where we had successfully mastered the art of safely attending a birthday party. We take our own safe pizza and cake and look forward to indulging in a semi-controlled environment with a designated eating space where the food always comes after all the fun and games, minimizing allergen exposure.

Yet in a place like Chuck E. Cheese’s, we’re like born-again food allergy virgins who are totally vulnerable. The environment in a place like this isn’t in any way controlled, and that frightens me.

I don’t know, maybe I’m just grumpy and emotional because I was up until 3 a.m. researching online to see if there is potential for my child to safely attend. Or maybe I’m frustrated because I just want my kid to experience normal childhood activities that don’t result in hives, a closed throat, or an ER visit.

My family has embraced food allergies as we’ve realized that this is something we have to live with to stay healthy—and alive. We don’t expect anyone to look out for us, and we’ve accepted that we have to teach our food allergic child to advocate for himself when there is a potential threat. But it truly stings when there is something that seems like it should be so fun and innocent, yet realistically it’s completely out of our control, like this.

I suppose I should thank Mr. Cheese for bringing me back down to earth. These types of events are reminders to never get too comfortable and to always have our food allergic guard up. It’s taught me how to be honest with my child, and it’s teaching my son at an early age how, sometimes, life just isn’t fair, and we have to deal with that.

But dammit, Chuck, damn you. Today I don’t want to take an optimistic angle to get over my feelings like I normally do. Today is just one of those days where, Chuck, you simply suck. And like I sometimes have to tell my son, “You just have to deal with that.”

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