You are doing the hardest job you'll ever do, but the rewards are priceless.
There are certain phrases that crawl under my skin. They tend to be those cliche-like statements about how important, life-altering, or all-encompassing parenting is. The most difficult decisions of your life, most challenging and exhausting experience, etc. Parenting is hard, I get that, but I don't remember complaining, asking for validation, or wanting a pat on the back. I have never been much for nostalgia and the past few years of navigating severe food allergies with my younger son have certainly made me a little more cynical, a little harder, and lot more direct.
There is a pattern that has presented in the extreme moments. As I inject my son with epinephrine a similar release of chemical occurs in my body. I then methodically navigate the complexities of dialing 911, supporting my older son throughout the chaos, explaining the history to paramedics, EMTs, and ER staff, and continuing to monitor what may or may not be recurring in the body of the toddler whose immune system has decided to overreact to an allergen. It is not until we are discharged from the hospital (or often the next day) that the real response is unleashed. The emotion of sadness and general fearfulness over what has transpired appears, and there are inevitably more questions than answers in conjunction with the sense there is an overwhelming loss of control.
Don't worry, he'll grow out of it.
It is my experience that people have a need to say something, anything, when confronted with a difficult situation. Often a simple 'I'm sorry' or 'Is there anything you need?' is more than enough to show compassion or support. Stories of how this or that person outgrew allergies, or comments about those parents who are trying to stop peanuts from being served at every baseball park and school cafeteria have me biting my tongue in order to refrain from lashing out at the comparison to our situation. I am simply trying to figure out how to keep my two year-old son safe in our own home. I am trying to understand how he can attend preschool like his big brother (who he completely looks up to), and whether there will ever be a time where we can just pick up and go to a restaurant at the last minute because I do not feel like cooking dinner one night.
It surprises me just how quick parents are to stereotype and establish groups against one another. Co-sleepers, attachment, breastfeeding, formula feeding, stay-at-home, working...you know where I am going. There are categories for every type of parent and we are inserted into various classifications based on our earliest of parenting choices (let's not forget the delivery groupings of natural/c-section/VBAC). Much of this whole labeling system feels as though I should be wearing my Brownie sash (I never made it to Girl Scout status), where my completion of various projects is reflected in the patches neatly ironed across the fabric worn horizontally across my chest. Easily identifiable to all other parents, my sash at this point would include a colorful array of information about my parenting decisions that neglect to include any real details about the circumstances each identification was predicated by. At no point in this labeling process does anyone stop to consider how they may not have the whole story. What ever happened to not judging a book by it's cover?
Raising a food-allergic child is one particular "parenting group" I have been initiated into without ever making a choice as to whether I wanted to join. This has been a difficult label to accept. It might be surprising to know that my goal is not to change every school policy or mandate new food choices for every other child. I do, however, strive to create safe a environment for my son. As an educator with a background in special education I do believe in inclusion and looking for ways to involve all children in as many typical childhood experiences as possible. That means no matter our children's differences I will consider how best to accommodate and involve everyone. Does that sound so crazy?
It won't always be this bad.
Everyone has good and bad days. I am not looking for a medal or an award for the craziness in our lives right now. I simply want my son to be healthy and safe, and I don't want to be compared against other allergy parents (one important lesson I have learned the past two years is that no two food-allergic children are alike). I have found wonderful support in meeting other families navigating the same waters, but our challenges will inevitably be different to some degree. My hope is that all of our experiences can unite us and provide a supportive network. At the end of the day we should be able to move beyond the cliches and stereotypes and just be parents.
We have been managing our son's food allergies for the past two years with the help of our pediatrician and allergist. If you are interested in learning more about food allergies I encourage you to visit Food Allergy Research & Education as well as The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology. Both organization provide wonderful resources and offer information on awareness, educational materials, and updates on research.
ABOUT CHRISSY K
I am mom to three boys (one with several life-threatening food allergies) who will never own too many picture books or create Pinterest-worthy snacks. Simply Chrissy K is a place to find helpful tips on parenting that stem from my work with families as an educational consultant and parenting coach.
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Based on a work at http://www.strongtots.com