I was totally blown away by the response to my most recent post, Rants of a Food Allergy Mom. So many of you responded with thoughts like “You took the words right out of my mouth” and “I couldn’t have said it better myself”. As food allergy moms and dads, we all feel like ranting at one point or another. It’s a long, weary road with shots of adrenaline running through our bodies almost daily. A cough sends our stomachs to knots, and hives make us shake and our hands sweat. Put the cough and hives together, and our whole bodies tremble as we reach for the Epi-pen and Benadryl.
But, I’ll tell ya, this isn’t the whole story. Actually, yes it is for some of us. For most of us, food allergies and perhaps asthma is the worst of it. My husband routinely reminds me that our son is so healthy otherwise, even though he is skinny as a rail. He tells me, “We’re not dealing with cancer or something like that”. And he’s right. Then the guilt of my Pity Party for One weighs me down, and I am absolutely forced to look at our little guy and be so incredibly thankful. Our son is nearly 4 years old, and has not once needed to be on antibiotics. Not once. He doesn’t have a physical disability that keeps him from running and playing. He doesn’t need a wheelchair to get around or even a pair of glasses to see the latest episode of Martha Speaks (one of his faves!). He’s not blind or deaf and doesn’t have a rare disease. He’s alive. He’s healthy. As I watched him play yesterday as the warm breeze blanketed our patio, it hit me that he’s an almost 4 year old boy-and that’s it. I refuse to let food allergies define who he is as a young boy to the point that it hinders our ability to parent the real, whole child. There’s so much more to that little boy than food allergies and I can’t wait to watch him change as he grows up.
You see, we’ve got this. We don’t have to let food allergies change everything. I’ll be the first to say that after the initial diagnosis, it DOES change everything. That diagnosis feels like a death sentence and until you figure it out, it is the most annoying, difficult thing. Don’t let this be the end of your story. Don’t let food allergies define your child. The next time you lay eyes on your child, think about what they really are “into” these days. I bet it’s not whether Clorox wipes are better than baby wipes to clean away allergens, or Epi-pen versus Auvi-Q. My little guy is living and breathing seeds, planting, and digging these days. He has been obsessed-no, make that OBSESSED-with picking up maple tree seeds. You know, the “whirly-gig” seeds that flutter to the ground after you throw them in the air? Those were my favorite, too, as a kid, and he picks up every one that he sees. He digs the seeds out, puts them in a pile, and “plants” them in the mulch at the base of our Rose of Sharon bushes. Now, what is your kid loving? What can’t he live without? What must she do every day to keep her happy? Parent THAT child, not the food allergic child. When you are at home and you know you’re safe from allergens, let loose and pretend those allergies aren’t there. Get out in the dirt and plant some seeds, or crawl on the living room floor and help build that train track for the umpteenth time. It’s worth it.
I think what I’m getting at here, is that we all go through a grieving process. I think I’ve gone through this grieving process at least two times. I’m pretty sure it starts all over again with each new diagnosed allergy. But, we’ve got this and we CAN do this. To every grieving process, no matter how many times you’ve gone through it, is the fifth and final stage-acceptance. Once you get to this point, you can start to parent your whole child again, not your “child with life-threatening food allergies”. To be honest, I think I limbo frequently between the fourth stage-depression-and the acceptance stage. We’re only 3 years into our journey, so I’ve not yet graduated the grieving process. Our latest new allergy was just diagnosed this past November, followed by a successful soy challenge, but then set back again by the failed baked egg challenge. The ebb and flow of these emotions are still pretty raw and sore. One step forward, two steps back. Will it ever end? It doesn’t matter. Would your child’s personality be any different if they didn’t have food allergies? Nope. They’d still pick up seeds to plant and they’d still love Thomas the Tank Engine. You’ll get to that stage 5 of acceptance sooner or later, and until then do your best to see past the food allergies that scream to define your child. Don’t let it. Play with, love, and parent that little ballerina, baseball player, gardener, or gymnast that brings harmony to the worried life you live.
It’s your turn. What’s something positive that has come out of your very own food allergy journey?