"...[Food] allergies can be a mere footnote to life -- not the title of the story."
That's what Sandra Beasley wrote in her message to me when she signed my copy of her memoir, Don't Kill the Birthday Girl: Tales from an Allergic Life. We'd only just met last Saturday night, but she must have recognized something familiar in my eyes: the angst expression of a mother who's child suffers from food allergies.
|Me and Sandra Beasley at Mother Fool's cool Coffeehouse.|
Mention birthday party, pot luck, or small-town diner, and my heart skips a beat, in a panic sort of way. Parties, tables of mixed dishes, and a one-griddle restaurant mean one-on-one time with the hostess or the cook. On occasion, I've been known to interrogate a waiter or two, shooting off question after question about menu items and ingredients. I'm still learning the art of being a proactive mother with an air of collaboration. I can learn a lot from Sandra Beasley's calm, "let's work together on this" kind of attitude. I already have.
Don't Kill the Birthday Girl mixes memoir with science and the history of food allergies. I saw myself in passages where she describes her mother ("My mother, the lab scientist. . . . My mother, the detective."), and I so appreciated seeing life with food allergies from the perspective of the person dealing with them directly. When I heard that Sandra would be in Madison, Wisconsin to read at Mother Fool's Coffeehouse, I knew I'd go. It didn't matter the distance, the babysitter fees, nor that nasty rain storm.
My husband and mother-in-law came along, and we met up with (fellow blog author) Victoria. Before Sandra took to reading, she sat down with us, and we shared experiences. Sandra said that she's beginning to meet with camps to help them find ways to meet the needs for kids with food allergies in a way that moves beyond just playing it safe and focuses more on those kids feeling completely a part of...well, everything. I love that. I want my son to go to camp, and he doesn't want me to tag along.
Later, on stage, Sandra read from her memoir and even gave us a sneak peek into her poetry. I was reminded that 1) I will be reading her book again and again, and 2) writing about life experiences helps us see them in a new light, understand them better, and move through the discomfort that sometimes surrounds those experiences.
Here's an excerpt from the introduction in her book:
Don't kill the birthday girl. Leftover omelet clings to the edge of a breakfast plate. Butter greases the stir-fry. Walnuts go commando in an otherwise tame brownie. There's a reason they're call allergy "attacks"; you never know where a food can be lurking.
But those with food allergies aren't victims. We're people who - for better or for worse - experience the world in a slightly different way. This is not a story of how we die. These are the stories of how we live.
I love this book, so much that I'm giving away a signed copy (not my copy, mind you. I barely let my husband hold my copy long enough to read it...). Just drop your name in the comments below and I'll choose a winner on Monday, December 12th. So easy. This book is one you'll want to have on your shelf -- if you're a writer, a person with food allergies, that person's parent or partner, or if you're a cook.
And, we're all cooks, right?