Tuesday, April 22, 2014


Elsie has allergies. Six. She can't eat dairy products, eggs, soya, peanuts, kiwi or mustard. She also seems to be allergic to cats judging from her puffy eyes and swollen lips after a recent visit to a cat-infested home.

She has always known there are certain things she can't eat, and since she has been able to talk she has been amazingly good at telling people what she can and can't eat.

Taking her into a specialist shop last week, my mum asked the owner for help finding the rice-based desserts. The owner looked at Elsie, whom she recognised, and said 'go on, you know what you can eat' and Elsie led them both straight there.

If she sees something new the first question is always the same. 'Can I eat that?' It's not permission she's asking for, it's an ingredient list.

At Easter I was grateful we were in Poland. Grateful for the relative lack of chocolate bombardment, the chocolate eggs and bunnies and lambs that crowd in on you, the cadbury's creme eggs. Still, well-meaning Aunts thrust chocolate bars and even a chocolate rabbit into the girls' hands and Elsie's hopeful questioning eyes had to be met with a head shake.

We made her vegan cake so that she had something to eat when the piles of cheesecake and egg-filled szarlotka were placed in front of her. We agreed with all the relatives that she was very well-behaved and took on her challenges with a degree of maturity that was beyond her years. I ignored the slight ache in my heart and told myself she has never known any different and therefore needs no additional sympathy or indeed pity. I ignored the voice that said I should have found time to buy her vegan chocolate.

First day back at nursery she was excited about all they had done. When I brought her backpack into the kitchen so I could empty her lunchbox, she took it from me excitedly and rummaged around for a brightly painted paper bag, with a couple of dyed plastic eggs around the handle.

'How beautiful!' I exclaimed 'did you paint these?' Elsie nodded proudly and then opened the bag and showed me the contents. 'We found these eggs in the classroom. You and Daddy can eat them because I can't.' There was no sign of sadness or pity in her enthusiasm to share her hoard. And yet I had to blink back the tears.

As soon as the girls were in bed I went out and bought organic dark chocolate. The kind with no milk, no soya and just sweet goodness. I melted it and cut out Easter shapes. Eggs bunnies and lambs. Tomorrow in her lunchbox Elsie will have a special treat. Just for her.

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