Tuesday, February 28, 2012

My Daughter's Food Allergy Motto: Keep Calm and Carry On

Yesterday my daughter with food allergies had her 12th birthday. Wow, time flies. It's been 8 years of living with a severe nut allergy diagnosis for her and she's had some ups and downs. Every year on my kids' birthdays, I reflect on what has happened so far in their young lives and for a child with food allergies, a lot of the time you are just happy to have made it through so many things unscathed.

For example, elementary school has presented many challenges, mainly because of all the food. Next year, we move on to middle school, a place with few if any food-filled class parties, but with much more expectation of responsibility onto the kids and other, myriad new challenges. And not just for their own allergies--for everything. Middle school is going to be a whole new ballgame and of course I have concerns like any parent. Food allergies present just one piece of the puzzle.

My daughter has learned to take care of her allergies to a large extent over these 8 years and she's also struggled with things, just like any kid dealing with food allergies. She's had to skip friends' birthday cake, miss out on class treats and feel concerned about things that others aren't. She's on the lookout for allergy pitfalls when I wish she didn't have to be.

But here's the thing: she's OK. She's actually more than OK. I know that parents dealing with nut allergies in the early stages worry about pretty much everything that their child will confront. I know I did--it's pretty normal to wonder about how they will navigate through regular life situations when they've got a life-threatening medical condition.

You may have seen the "Keep Calm and Carry On" merchandise that is currently popular today. It has been subjected to all kinds of permutations such as the birthday party napkin shown in the photo above ("Keep Calm and Birthday On." My daughter picked out this theme).

"Keep Calm and Carry On" was a slogan promoted to the British public in WWII, who were of course facing many horrors but were known for their stiff upper lip in a crisis. I think it's caught on today because it's just good advice.

It's not always easy to "keep calm and carry on" when dealing with young kids who have food allergies. You witness the reactions or listen to their disappointment about feeling "different." But when you, the parent, adopt the "keep calm and carry on" approach and instill it in the kids as best as you can, it does seem to help. Here's a common scenario you might face: you're watching your child in tears because they can't have a piece of birthday cake. Hopefully you are prepared with another treat, you whip it out and calm down your child. "Here's your treat, now let's go and have fun," you say. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. Keep trying--eventually they will calm down and you can carry on.

And that's pretty much the way it goes with food allergies. For those of you who are new to nut and/or other food allergies, it may seem like you have a long way to go to get to where we are now. Stay calm, expect challenges and don't beat yourself up about everything not being perfect. You will get there. If we can, you can.


Jennifer Smith said...

Hi, I actually started following you on Facebook several months ago. I am a 36yo soon-to-be mom. And, I have had a severe peanut/tree-nut allergy all of my life!

When I was in elementary school, no one had heard of an allergy like mine. I remember when the "Weekly Reader" magazine did an article on nut allergies, and my mom clipped it out to show me that there were other kids that faced the same thing. Every year, she would go and meet the cafeteria ladies with me before school began. She would put her hands on my shoulders and say to them, "This is my daughter. She can have absolutely nothing that has nuts, peanut butter, or that has been in contact with either of those. Would you please watch out for her?" I remember some days in the cafeteria being so disappointed to get yesterdays leftovers, because the new tray had something I couldn't eat on it. This happened more than once, even on good lunch days (like pizza!).

You talked about facing 12 years with your daughter and beginning middle school with challenges. But, I know she can do it! In high school and beyond, I began to take more responsibility for my own allergy--quietly checking foods, and finding out ingredients from hostesses. I had to warn roommates about food prep in our common kitchen, and to learn what to do in an emergency. (I took Benadryl one time on my way to the emergency room in college, and the front desk personnel almost wouldn't admit me because they believed I was drunk! Thankfully a doctor came by and let a friend explain...). And, (though I am sure you are years from this yet), I had to learn boyfriends what they could NOT eat before they kissed me! Whew...that was a fun date conversation starter.

Now, I have a wonderful husband, and we are pregnant...and there are even more concerns. I have to be extra-extra-diligent about where we eat and what I consume, because even the smallest reaction could be harmful (or even cause a miscarriage). But, I have always known that these days would come. Doctors and my mom have done a great job preparing me for each and every precaution.

Overall, I just wanted to encourage you. As someone three times your daughter's age, even though there are days that can be especially challenging (I have so many stories!), with your love and encouragement, she can do it!

Jenny said...

Thanks, Jennifer. That is fabulous to hear and I really appreciate hearing your story. I'm very proud of where we are today, even though we have a long way to go to get where you are. Stories like yours are very encouraging. Many people will enjoying reading what you have to say, so again, thanks! Best, Jenny

hsw said...

Thank you for this comment!

Anonymous said...

I am a high school student with tree nut allergies and have found having a food allergy has gotten more difficult as i have grown older. The amount of food actually increases in the classroom. Students are constantly eating(we are hungry teenagers!)in class. My school has signs on the doors saying that food is not allowed but they are ignored. When students take out food in class to eat, teachers tell them they are not allowed to eat. The students make some rude comment and continue to eat their food that they have hidden. I have also found that the parties increase. Everyday there is a request given from a student to have a party and many parties are held. Also I have found it more difficult to advocate my food allergies. When people eat nuts next to me in school i dont say anything because I am embaressed. I just want to fit in and eat what everyone else is eating and sit next to everyone. It is very hard having food allergies in my school. Many students are not sympathetic or understanding. On a positive side I am more aware of what I eat and check the labels myself. I wish your daughter luck and hope she does not have to go through a painful experience of high school.

Jenny said...

Thanks for your perspective--I appreciate it. I'm sorry you've had a hard time. I had heard that more food is around via snacks and with kids eating in the classroom in high school. I'm also concerned about science lab with the peanut brittle experiements, etc. We will have to learn to adapt with the situations we are given and you have given me some more things to think about and look out for, so thanks! I am hopeful that food won't be used in the same "reward" kind of way that it is in elementary school. Again, thank you for your comments and best to you! --Jenny

Anonymous said...

where did you get the napkins?

Jenny said...

I got them at SuperTarget, but that was several months ago! :) Try a party store like Birthday Express or Party City and good luck!