Food Allergy Kids See the World in a Entirely Different Way
As a food allergy mom, my role is multifaceted. From the day of my oldest son’s diagnosis, the most important job I’ve had is keeping him (and his brother, who soon followed in his allergic footsteps) safe. But, over the years, this has evolved as I’ve tried to help my more “grown up” boys navigate a world full of food in the most normal way possible.
Even now, though, I’m often caught off guard by what is going on in their little hearts.
This week my youngest food allergic son’s class got to vote on a class reward for good behavior. The choices included a mixture of food-related treats and other fun and silly ideas like wearing pajamas to school or getting to speak in an accent for the entire day. Once the vote was tallied, a popsicle party won. After talking through our options (as always, my plan was to buy him whatever safe popsicle his little heart desired so that he could safely take part), he admitted that he voted for all the non-food options. Yes, my introverted boy, who has always worn real clothes on pajama day because he feels that wearing pj's would draw too much attention to himself, voted to speak in an accent all day over getting a popsicle.
When I delved deeper, I understood. Food changes everything for him. Without food, he operates on an even playing field and is out of harm’s way. But, the minute food enters the equation, he’s the “kid with food allergies” and a full-fledged strategy must be employed to ensure that he can safely participate. To the world around him, food means fun and connection and enjoyment; but, to him, it is never worth the trouble.
Food allergy kids see the world in an entirely different way.
I know that our food allergic kids must learn to navigate this. And, I have never asked for anything more than a commitment to my kids’ safety and an opportunity to ensure that they are included in the same activities as their classmates and friends. I am abundantly grateful for the incredible people in our life who help me make sure that these things happen every day. But, no cool alternative snack... or assurance that the adults in his life know how to operate in an emergency... or discussion on how “everyone has something” that makes them feel different... can totally erase the feelings embedded deep in my boy's heart. This is the child who has twice had a shot of epinephrine stuck in his leg because he couldn't breathe.
This forever changed him and the way that he sees a world with food.
So, why am I sharing all of this? Because awareness is powerful, and it's empowering. None of us know what we don't know, especially when it comes to the little people in our lives who may not always be able to articulate what feels hard to them. We may not be able to change their circumstances, but we can better understand.
If you love a food allergy family, I hope you'll tuck my words in your heart. And, I commit to do the very same in return for those of you who are on paths that are not mine. When we understand that all children see the world based on their unique set of life experiences, and their parents are simply trying to love and protect them while using this same criteria, it changes the game. Yes, it takes effort and humility and heart to come to the other side of a person whose shoes are not your own, but we simply become better every time we take that step.
And, aren't we even better yet when we do that together?