My allergy boy is 5. He started grade one this year.
Starting grade one meant sorting through some details that weren’t an issue in kindergarten. Like eating lunch in the lunch room, navigating pizza days and making sure he’s safe on field trips.
It’s gone fairly well. The school administration has been very willing to work with me. Still, there have been a few bumps along the way. I charge ahead, trying to hit the right balance, trying to keep him safe, while managing my own anxiety, trying to make sure he feels included and making his life as normal as I can.
I spend a lot of time thinking about allergies; new recipes and ways to include him in things others take for granted. I try, try, try SO hard to work with the school in a productive and positive way; to present suggestions and solutions instead of simply voicing complaints. I read policies and take action rather than leave it all in someone else’s hand.
For example, I was feeling anxious about the lunch room. My son is allergic to dairy in all forms, eggs, tree nuts and bananas. He is, literally, surrounded by his allergens at lunch time. There are hundreds of kids in the lunchroom and four lunch supervisors. How would the lunch supervisors know what my boy is allergic to? How would they even remember that he is one of the allergy kids? Would they remember what to do if there was an emergency? How could we post his anaphylaxis plan during lunch (the gym is the lunch room)?
I came up with an allergy place mat. I emailed it to my local Staples, had it printed on ledger size paper (11 x 17) in colour, attached a copy of his Emergency Anaphylaxis Plan to the back of it, and had it laminated. It cost me less than $10.
The administration liked the idea so much they had me email them a copy so that they could make one for all the allergy kids.
See? Positive, right? Productive, right? That’s how I roll … or at least, that is my goal. (Sometimes my emotions and anxieties get in the way.)
Despite my efforts and the best intentions of the school, sometimes I feel like we fail my poor allergy boy. Like how a couple of weeks ago, every kid in the class – except my boy and another girl that’s allergic to dairy – got hot chocolate. My boy told me “Everyone had hot chocolate today.” On the inside I momentarily panic, I can feel the anxiety building inside me. “What did you have?” I ask calmly. “I had water” he tells me. And that, right there, is my heart breaking. “When we get home, can I have hot chocolate?” he asks me. “Yes, of course.” I say. Yes, yes, a thousand times, yes.
A week later, I find out 5 minutes before it’s about to happen that the kids are going for a walk to some local shops as they learn about Diwali. They’re going to sample some samosas and treats. (Again: anxiety and fear creep up in me.) I try to be cool, “so, um … what about the allergy kids?” Never mind, they decide not to get the treats after all. And the allergy mum ruins the fun again.
I make phone calls, I send emails. I feel like I am begging … pleading: please, if I just knew ahead of time I could find something safe for him; a way for him to be included in the celebrations involving food – without cancelling everything.
At times this all weighs heavily on me. I get frustrated and discouraged. I just want to cry and stomp my feet and pull him out of school. But ultimately, who would suffer? My poor allergy boy.
Chin up. I tell myself. It’s all worth it. Of course it is. I do it all willingly. I would do all of it and more. What wouldn’t any parent do for the safety and happiness of their kids?
I hope that he never knows, though. The anxiety every time he tells me his doesn’t feel well or his ears are itchy (which, oddly enough, is fairly regularly). The frustration I feel when I run into roadblocks. The time spent reading, knowing allergy policies like the back of my hand; trying new recipes, testing new ingredients, searching the internet for safe recipes; talking to teachers and administration, working through the issues, smoothing over the bumps, making place mats. I hope he never knows how hard it is sometimes.
In a weird kind of way, his allergies have taught us many lessons and introduced us to different things. They are what led us to discover things like vegan orange cake (the BEST cake ever!), dairy-free ice cream cake, coconut milk (yummy, creamy coconut milk) and kettle corn.
Those pain-in-the-ass allergies are helping us teach our kids about acceptance, differences, compassion and responsibility.
The frustrating, anxiety-causing allergies are forcing me to work on my own fears of public speaking, my patience, my ability to work with people and making me tough it out when I just want to run away.
I hope, beyond hope, that my allergy boy grows up feeling normal, loved and included. That he embraces his allergies as a unique and special part of him. That he doesn’t think of his life in terms of things he missed. And I hope that he will one day know how important the lessons are that he helped us learn.
Click on the place mat image to download the word version and make your own. Feel free to share!