Tuesday, February 26, 2013
Why The Topic of Allergies Can Unleash My Inner Mama Bear
My son has food allergies and I have an inner mama bear. Usually those things don't mix...today they did. Watch out. My mama bear has been unleashed. She's a little over-the-top and a little intense. Frankly, I usually try to keep her tucked away.
There was a version of this bear who showed her claws and fangs a bit too easily about ten years ago when I was in my twenties. Working in advertising things were always tense, stressful and fast paced...and this bear showed up often. In fact, this is the very bear who made me so high-strung and off kilter that I had difficulties becoming pregnant.
Eventually I did become pregnant and as a mother I softened and gained perspective (boy did I gain and soften...all over!). These days, I don't like conflict, I don't like drama. These days I make a conscious effort to keep negative energy away from myself and my family. The best way to do that is to keep my bear, even if she is now a mama bear, nestled away, hibernating and peaceful.
That is, until this afternoon. This afternoon I became aware of a video produced by a major producer of children's television programming that mocked the need for ingredient labels and allergy tables at a school fundraiser. And with that, my blood pressure rose, my muscles tensed and my mama bear was unleashed. Judging from the outcry of outrage on the company's facebook page, quite a few mama bears have been released today.
Sure we're speaking out for our "cubs", our children with food allergies, but we're also speaking out for ourselves...the mama bears of kids with food allergies.
Fortunately, my child with food allergies is actually pretty socially and emotionally ok with his food allergies. He doesn't know to miss cheese, or nuts or eggs because those food items are simply not an option. At this age, he seems to approach his food allergies with the appropriate level of seriousness and respect, yet not be frozen in fear over them. Knock on wood, other kids have been supportive and matter-of-fact about my son's food allergies. As we have all heard and read in various studies, allergies are on the rise with today's generation of kids. So my son doesn't know any differently....and his classmates and friends don't know any differently. Food allergies have always been a part of their world.
But not us adults, and not the adults who made this video. Food allergies are pretty new to us. Most of us never grew up with a friend or sibling with food allergies. Unfamiliarity leads to a misunderstanding and a missed tone about food allergies. So while our kids seem to get it just fine, there's a great deal of mental reconditioning and a real shift in mindset that needs to happen for us adults. This way all of us mama bears can work together to understand what the collective we is all about and keep all of our cubs...your cubs and my cubs....happy, healthy, supported, loved...and safe.
Now that my mama bear is awake, I'm going to harness her fury for something a bit more productive: to provide some insights from those of us who do have a child with food allergies to those of you who do not.
1. As the parent of a child with food allergies, it makes us crazy when people make any sort of assumption about food allergies other than this one assumption - a food allergy is a life-threatening condition that causes children to stop. breathing. immediately. Its very real...and its very scary.
2. As the parent of a child with food allergies we want you to know that this is not a lifestyle choice. While its admirable that some people chose to eat healthy and be aware of the ingredients in their food, we aren't standing in the grocery store aisle reading the label on everything that goes into our cart as a hobby. We're studying those ingredients to make sure there's not an obscure ingredient that could kill our children (did you know that caramel coloring is made out of dairy? are you familiar with the difference between sodium lactate and potassium lactate?)
3. As the parent of a child with food allergies there is not a playdate or school activity that our child will attend without us having a discussion with the hosting parent, event chaperon or teacher first. Every event my child has ever participated in...(ever!) from t-ball to school to summer camps....has always been preempted with a medical conversation first. We know we're perceived as high-maintenance parents. And we feel badly about that because the level of diligence we're forced to have about the subject of food allergies may not be consistent with the level of diligence our personalities would normally reflect.
4. As the parent of a child with food allergies we have laid awake at night, wondering if we'll be able to spot the signs of our child's throat closing. We've been told that anaphylaxis can happen in less than two minutes, so not only do we wonder if we'll be able to identify this emergency, we wonder if our child's teacher, babysitter, grandparent, recess monitor, friend or coach will know when our child can't breathe.
5. As a parent of a child with food allergies we have laid awake at night, wondering if our child will ever be able to attend a keg party in college or share a random kiss. And if he does, who will carry his epi-pen?
6. Speaking of which, as the parent of a child with food allergies we leave the house remembering the basics like phone, wallets, keys...and epi-pens. We know not to leave them in a car that is too hot or too cold and we always carry at least two, if not seven. Even with insurance, they are $25 a pop so we treat them with the utmost respect for the year that we have them before they expire. But that's all ok, because those little devices carrying a shot of adrenaline could save our child, or at least sustain them, until the ambulance arrives.
7. As the parent of a child with food allergies, we sit outside every birthday party or sports practice while other parents leave.
8. As the parent of a child with food allergies, we balance the emotional impact of being a helicopter parent against the medical threat of having our child go into anaphylaxis when we're not around. We feel guilty and scared of both.
9. As the parent of a child with food allergies, we have never relaxed, sat back and actually enjoyed or tasted a meal in a restaurant. Never. You see, we spend those meals playing and replaying the emergency plan in our head while quietly observing our child's breathing as he enjoys his meal.
10. As the parent of a child with food allergies, we regularly attend medical appointments in big time children's hospitals where we can't help but see other patients and deeply suffering families. And upon this realization, we are humbled and grateful and reminded of just how fortunate we are that we are the parents of a child with only food allergies. While our child has a life-threatening medical condition, it is manageable. And as long as we have help from you and others in managing it, our child is alive....and that's really something!
So yes, living with a constant threat to his life is quite a big weight for my nine-year-old son to carry on his small shoulders. And he carries that weight pretty well. But he will never carry that weight alone. As his mother I carry it, just as his father carries it. His sisters carry it and his grandparents carry it. His aunts, uncles, cousins and friends carry it. And just by reading this, you too have lightened his load. So thank you for reading. Thank you for taking a moment to try to understand the severity of food allergies. And thank you for not complaining if you have to provide a list of ingredients for the snacks you provide at the next school bake sale.