Attitude of Gratitude: A Back-to-School Series Follow Up
I have heard too many stories that have touched my heart over the years to not follow up on my back-to-school series with this post. We've talked a lot about it here - this time of the year is HARD. It doesn't matter how long you've been at the food allergy thing, with every August comes a whole bag of "new" that we must jump into head first: new teachers, new procedures and policies, and a new group of parents we must work alongside. There's an enormous learning curve involved in the beginning of any any school year, and as much as we try to plan, keep calm and maintain a positive outlook, these first few weeks are not always smooth.
The catalyst that provoked me to put this post into words came from a conversation I had with a friend years ago. Her little girl has a serious tree nut allergy, and my heart broke as she recounted the experience she had at her child's preschool parent night. When the teacher broached the subject of allergies in the classroom, my friend heard an audible groan among the parents. If that wasn't enough to make her squirm in her seat, one mom followed up with an insensitive comment about how food allergies limited her picky's child's lunch options. As my friend so eloquently put it, one half of her wanted to reach across the table and strangle the woman while the other part of her just wanted to cry. Really, there are no good words at a moment like that. No way to explain to that woman - who simply doesn't understand - what it's like to walk a day in our shoes. No way to gracefully tell this lady that she should thank her lucky stars that the only thing she has to worry about when she sends her kid off to school is whether or not he'll eat the ham sandwich she packed that day. But, the only thing that would come out of my friend's mouth in that moment was "sorry," and you and I both know that she has absolutely nothing to be sorry about.
While this kind of ignorance can rear it's ugly head at any point, the beginning of the school year is prime time. What makes matters worse for so many of us at this time of year is that we are already in the midst of an emotional balancing act. We're not only navigating new territory as parents, but we are also trying to comfort our kids as they work through their emotions and desperately try to embrace their own version of "new." No matter what, this time of year is challenging.
So, what do we do with this? Sure, on the outside we hold our heads up high, continue to advocate for our kiddos and proceed with grace. But, what about what's happening on the inside? How do we manage the swarm of emotions that comes flooding through us as we anxiously settle into routines, forge new relationships, and every now and then, face some serious ick? For me, it all comes down to one word - gratitude. This applies to anything in life, but when we face difficulties, we really only have two options: we can dwell in the negative and let it wear us down, or we can squeeze every ounce of positive out of our situation and let that be our focus. How do we do that? We are grateful. We are thankful. We are appreciative. We take a hard look past the difficult people and situations with which we're faced, and we cling what's good.
Here's my question for you: What good have you experienced in your food allergy journey that has made it a little bit lighter? Who or what are you grateful for today? Is it a friend who simply listened as you vented? A teacher who reached out to give you an extra dose of confidence that he or she had your child's back? A classmate who showed your child the ultimate gesture of kindness by offering to sit with him at the "allergy free" table so that he wasn't alone? The promise of new research that may change your child's life one day? For me, it was all of the things I just mentioned, in addition to hearing some really positive comments about this blog from people who aren't dealing with food allergies personally (and that should be something that encourages us all). Yes, our hurt, sadness, fear, anxiety, or anger may make it nearly impossible to feel grateful at certain moments, and that's okay. Be we can't stay there.
If you're struggling in these tough first weeks of the school year, stumbling around in the dark to find the light switch, let me leave you with one last reason to feel grateful today... YOU ARE NOT ALONE. While our food allergy journeys may not be exactly the same, and each of our paths may differ as our stories play out, the truth is I get it. And, so do the 15 million people in this country who suffer from food allergies, along with those who love them. I just hope that you feel heard, understood and encouraged as you let that truth settle in you heart. I know that I sure do!
For more in this special back-to-school series, please refer to the Food Allergy Resources tab on the top of my website's home page and click "Allergy Safe at School."