In Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl, Sandra Beasley writes honestly (and often humorously) about navigating her life with multiple severe allergies. For Beasley, even a kiss on the cheek from a well-meaning relative who just ate a piece of her birthday cake could bring on anaphylactic shock, so the title of the book, while based on a family joke, is not far off the mark.
This book made me grateful that Sarah’s allergy to gluten has not been severe so far, and that Josh’s allergy to everything (he has a disorder where his blood cells sometimes believe he is allergic to pretty much anything you can think of) is controllable. I also found it oddly comforting that other families ask detailed questions at restaurants and have to find ways around common foods and products.
One point that really hit home for me was Beasley’s observation that rituals and traditions mark milestones in our lives and affirm our membership in groups. Often people ask me why I bother with trying to figure out a gluten-free option for Sarah. Sometimes I don’t – if the whole family can eat rice instead of bread, we have rice. But we have it together. I don’t think it’s fair or kind to ask Sarah to miss out on big things in life like a birthday cake or holiday traditions. I want to make her feel special and like a part of our family.
As a side note for those who asked, I did make a gluten-free red velvet cake for Sarah’s birthday (and Jesus’s – I took it to Josh’s family Christmas celebration) just using my regular red velvet recipe but subbing in a gluten free flour mix and xanthan gum (note: real red velvet cake involves a step where you make a volcano with baking powder and vinegar. If you skip that step you do not have red velvet cake). It was not as tall as usual, but it tasted great. I decorated it to look like a present.
But anyway back to the book. I think if you have anyone in your family or close friend group that has food allergies, you would appreciate Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl. And if you don’t, you would probably still find it interesting and perhaps it would help you to be more mindful of people who do have these issues. I thought it was a well-done memoir, with a mix of coming-of-age and foodie angles, and would recommend it.
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