Siblings: The Unsung Heroes of Every Food Allergy Family
About a month ago, my twelve year-old daughter came to me and said that she'd finally decided on a topic for the "Passion Project" that she'd been assigned in her English class. This project is one of the highlights of the students' sixth grade year at our middle school and consists of a research paper and presentation. While many kids focus on their favorite sport or hobby, Avery decided to take hers in a different direction: she chose to devote her project to "How To Help Food Allergic People."
Fast forward several weeks... Avery ended up impressing her teacher so much with her presentation that her teacher talked the school staff into extending the submission deadline for Avery to participate in a school-wide showcase of students' work. From there, she ended up scoring one of just a handful of slots to present her project on the "mainstage" on this showcase night, the only sixth grader to receive this honor. To say that we were proud of her is a gross understatement, but our pride was multifaceted.
Were we proud that Avery had the guts to stand in front of a room full of people and not only educate, but advocate on behalf of food allergic people? Oh my goodness, yes. We were taken with the way in which Avery demonstrated that you're never too young to speak up for those who need a voice? Yes. But, what made us the most proud is that Avery demonstrated her unwavering love and support of her two brothers that night. And, this is just one of many, many times this has happened.
You see, Avery does not have food allergies. Neither does our youngest son Ty. Yet, our family doesn't visit ice cream parlors. We don't do doughnut runs on Saturday mornings. Chinese food is never on the menu for takeout. And, our personal family rule is that we don't have any baked goods in this house unless everyone in our family can eat them. What does that mean for Avery and Ty? Most of the time, they inevitably live like they have food allergies, too. They do this because making their brothers feel included and safe in their own house is worth the sacrifice. And, you know what? I have never ONCE heard either of them complain. Not once.
Now, do my husband and and I take advantage of those rare moments when we have either Avery or Ty by ourselves? We sure do. THAT'S when we hit TCBY and Dunkin Donuts. That's when we embrace spontaneity and fly by the seat of our pants. But, I have to believe that more important than any "treat" that my non-food allergic kids forgo on most days is what they've gained by taking on this special role. They've learned what it means to sacrifice for the sake of someone else's safety and well-being. They understand empathy to a degree far beyond their years. Oh, and while Avery knows exactly how to administer an epi-pen, Ty is happy to give anyone who will listen a lesson on cross-contamination by explaining what it means when something is "made in a plant that processes peanuts." Not many twelve and five year-olds can say that.
While the siblings of food allergy kids don't always live in the limelight, they are heroes in the greatest degree. Even though it may seem like what you do goes unnoticed, brothers and sisters of our food allergy kids, YOU are the perfect example of the best kind of love. Thank you for being the unsung heroes who consistently love your siblings so well. You mean everything to your families on this journey.