Last week I was in a meeting and someone brought up the topic of food allergies. A member of the group made a comment about steering clear of “those crazy food allergy parents.” I couldn’t allow for the comment to stand, so I replied…”excuse me, but by crazy food allergy parent are you referring to someone like me?!” The person issuing the comment clearly had no idea I was a parent of a child with food allergies. Almost immediately, the comment was withdrawn and the list of explanations and excuses began flowing in seconds.
Food allergy parents, I was informed, demand too much, are too outspoken, want too much for their children to be protected and included at the same time, and are never satisfied. I thought for a moment, yes, I suppose that is correct, I do expect a lot and I do want my daughter to be both included and protected. I had to respond publicly in the meeting, my response was brief: “Every single day I send my daughter to school, I say good-bye to her knowing that her life could be jeopardized because of what someone else chooses to eat. Every day I wave good-bye to her on the bus I think of the countless ways her airway could be compromised because of someone else’s snack or sandwich. If that’s not enough to make you crazy, I don’t know what is…so yes, I suppose on some level I am a crazy allergy parent. I’m crazy about keeping my daughter safe.”
At the time I was satisfied with my response. But in the days since, I have given the issue some thought and I realized there is more to the story, there is more to being a crazy food allergy parent.
When my daughter was a toddler I had control over her life. I dropped her off at preschool, stayed for playdates and birthday parties. I was able to oversee every bit of food that was offered to her, and I helped guide her choices in how she acted around others who were eating food that was unsafe for her. With each passing year I have less control. My daughter is independent, she does not want me hovering over her at birthday parties, she expects to go play at her friend’s house without me, and she rides the bus to and from school each day. While there is a part of me wanting me to control every facet of her life, I made a promise to myself when my daughter was first diagnosed: my daughter’s personality and charisma will define who she is as a person, not her food allergy.
As I slowly begin to lose control, I realize I am crazy…I’m very crazy!
I’m crazy thankful for my friends. Each and every one of them who invites my daughter to birthday parties, playdates, and sleep overs, always making sure they have food, snacks and birthday cake she can eat. I’m especially thankful for the new moms I’m meeting, they have not judged me or been annoyed with my fourteen email reminders about what my daughter can’t eat and that her epi-pens are located in the front part of her backpack, thank you! Their watchful eyes allow me to breathe a little easier when I back down the driveway.
I’m crazy grateful for the teachers, nurses, and especially our wonderful bus driver who are informed about my daughter’s allergy and keep her safe, without making her feel embarrassed. Their attentiveness keeps my mind at ease during the hours she is at school.
I’m crazy beholden to my daughter’s friends. They advocate for her, talk about her allergy, and pack safe food so they can sit next to her at lunch. Also, for the first time this year, my daughter has a friend in her class who also has allergies. The two of them have bonded, their friendship makes me crazy happy. They are a team, they look out for one another, and since neither of them can ever be assigned the job of wiping down the classroom tables, they have turned organizing the book bins into the most fabulous job of all time, coveted by first-graders throughout the school. Their compassion and understanding warms my heart.
I’m crazy indebted to my family who always keep my daughter safe. I’m indebted to them for listening, for weighing in, for letting me know when I’m out of line, and for letting me know when I should push harder. I know my daughter will always be safe with them.
Every single day I put the safety of my daughter in someone else’s hands. I realize that on some level that’s what all parents do, and I also realize that there are much worse things that families have to deal with than food allergies. My daughter’s health can be protected with the proper controls, but when the control is out of my hands it’s extremely scary, in fact, it makes me crazy! So please, the next time you feel inconvenienced about packing an alternate lunch for your child on the day of the class field trip, or your child gets assigned to an allergy free classroom, or god forbid, you have to bring in an allergy free snack, please stop and think about the possibilities…do you really want to endanger the health of a child to make your life easier? And please… before you complain and start a protest about not being able to serve Reese’s candy hearts on Valentine’s Day, remember…you’re dealing with a bunch of crazies; don’t bite off more than you can chew!
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