Thursday, September 25, 2008

Kids "Owning" Their Food Allergies

Recently, my daughter and I had a discusion that made me realize how much she is growing up -- and how that will affect how she feels about her nut allergy. As she gets older, she wants less input from me on how to manage her activities (well, she is officially a "tween") and that spilled over into a discussion about the FAAN walk coming up in Chicago this weekend.

We've never been to this walk. Usually, it falls on my wedding anniversary, and we've had plans that interfered with us participating. This year, though, the weekend worked for us. A few weeks ago, I asked my daughter if she'd like to attend.

I was surprised by the vehemence of her response, which was a resounding NO. When I asked her why not, all the kids there would have food allergies and she'd feel supported, she had an interesting take on it.

She told me that joining an event revolving around food allergies would only emphasize to her that she's "different." She told me that she just wants to be thought of as a normal kid, not as a kid having a food allergy.

She also told me that I don't understand what it's like to have to worry about food at a friend's house, or when we go out to eat. She said she knows about the "secret" candy stash I keep on a high kitchen shelf and that she feels bad she can't have something that I can. (Busted.)

Basically, she told me that she appreciates my support but that she has to handle the food allergy thing as she feels best.

It was an eye-opener to me and I wonder if some of you have heard similar things from older kids with food allergies. My daughter is right: this is her condition and I need to respect her feelings about it. I don't blame her for wanting to feel like a "normal" kid. Even though I've assured her that she is a "normal" kid, anything little thing that makes a kid feel different is a very big deal to them. All of us can remember back to grade school and middle school, when "fitting in" was about the highest calling you could have.

It tugged at my heart, to be sure, when I thought about how right she was. She needs to "own" her own allergy. And the last thing I want to do is force her to participate in something that doesn't feel right to her, even if it is a very good cause. She's young enough not to grasp the ways a walk like this can help her and kids like her, and just old enough to be sensitive about it. Maybe someday her views will change as her understanding grows.

Now, she knows about this blog and she said it's OK with her. (She thinks it makes her "famous.") Still, I will be respectful of her here, too.

So, this year I will donate to the FAAN Walk for a Cure, but I won't walk with my daughter. Maybe we'll be there next year, maybe not. Either way, it will be her choice and I'll be where I always try to be: on her side.


Elaine at Matters of the Heart) said...

Wow, what an eye opening post for me. My guy is still young, however I love to hear these kinds of stories, it helps me see what I might have in store.

I heard another story today. The child is growning up, I think he is well into his teens. He has made the choice to eat may contain trace, or made near items. Mom said, "it's his allergy and that is how he chooses to monitor it." So far he knows what is safe for him.

Big lessons for me in both of these stories.

Thank you for sharing.

spewdfree said...

wow! I wonder if that is how my son is going to be when he is older. He is only 20 months old now and allergic to soy,peanuts,eggs,wheat and dairy. I started a website, where I have recipes that are free of soy,peanuts,eggs,wheat and dairy. Also,we are participating in the walk for food allergies, if you are looking for a place to donate.

Jenny said...

Wow, Elaine--the teen boy who eats the food that "may contain nuts" scares me, since it's been proven that even foods "made in a facility with" often contain traces of the food. That's one I would dispute as a mom--that's a safety issue. But, teens think they're invincible!

No one alluded to this in a comment, but I just realized that I don't want to leave the impression that my daughter is spoiled or "ruling the roost." She's actually a very sweet kid, always lending a helping hand to others, nice to her sister and a good student. (And I'm not just saying that cause I'm biased.) :)

I guess the food allergy walk just isn't her thing!

Elaine at Matters of the Heart) said...

I am with you on that one Jenny. I could not believe my ears when she was telling me this. I did not quite know what to say, since we are in our first year with it. I guess he even eats regular M&M's.

RCRambling said...

This actually is something I kind-of knew about, but is neat to see. I have a great work acquaintance, who is now in her 30s, with the nut allergy. Her parents made her own her allergy. They encouraged her to try new things, but to be aware of everything.

She carried her epi, and continues to do so as an adult. She doesn't make a big deal about her allergy, just made us aware to tell her of ingredients when we did potlucks.

I actually arranged to have her talk to one of my neighbors, who has a young son with the same nut allergy. I just love her outlook on her allergy, and thought she could offer a lot to this mom in my neighborhood.

Your daughter is very mature, and I didn't think she sounded spoiled at all. She is just at that age where she is truly owning her allergy.

Anonymous said...

I'm impressed with these stories of independent kids. Even the kid who decides to risk exposure to traces. Ideally, he'd start off with a formal peanut challenge supervised a team of doctors. But as long as he keeps his epi-pen and cell phone handy, he's going to be fine.

We all want to protect our kids. But we let them ride in cars even though there's a greater risk of getting killed in a car accident than from anaphylaxis.

Not everybody with peanut allergies reacts to trace amounts. And the only way to know for sure is to challenge it. Which is too scary for most parents, but not for invincible teenagers.

Imagine how much easier managing an allergy would be if you knew that trace amounts were below your reaction threshold. Worth the risk? For some, it clearly is.