Thursday, May 10, 2012
Thought for Mother's Day: Food Allergy Parenting is Like "Finding Nemo"
"Finding Nemo" was the first film I ever took my daughter to. She was two years old and at that time we had no idea she had a life-threatening food allergy--she hadn't had a reaction yet (though she was repelled by peanut butter for some reason????). In fact, before the movie I took her to Noodles and Co. for macaroni and cheese--a place we no longer visit because of the nut allergy warnings on the door. She claims to still remember going there--maybe because it was one of the last times.
But getting back to Nemo, little did I know that the story of Nemo, his dad and Dory would become a parallel to my own parenting journey.
Most of you are familiar with the movie's plot: Nemo loses his mom in a terrible way, causing his already uptight dad to spend most of his time trying to keep him safe from harm. When Nemo is trapped by ocean divers looking for exotic fish, his father begins a quest to find him and bring him home.
The film is one of my favorites: it's funny, poignant and has exciting animation. The message is also touching to any parent: you have to let kids go at some point, even when there is danger -- and danger is always going to be there. In other words, sometimes parenting is really painful.
Here's the kicker: Nemo's dad is right when he tells Nemo not to go too far into the ocean. His overprotective dad fears, in this case, are 100% warranted and accurate. While we laugh at Nemo's dad and his "silly" worries, we also have to admit: the guy was right to have fear. But it's how you channel it that makes all the difference. At the end of the film, Nemo is a lot wiser and a little more cautious and his dad is a little less worried. They reach a happy medium.
What does all of this have to do with food allergies? I think a lot of us feel like Nemo's dad. We know the dangers are out there but other's aren't always seeing it. Still, we want our kids to live life as best as they can. So we have to find that balance of what works for us, our kids and our family situation. That's what I try to do and that's what many of you are trying to do, especially as you first enter the role of "food allergy parent."
And there is the Dory factor. Her famous line "Just keep swimming" makes her invaluable to Nemo's dad who relies on her to keep him going through the tough times. Dory's chipper attitude is helped by the fact that she has no long-term memory! So she doesn't even recall that danger is there and just does things. Now, as parents of kids with a serious medical condition we don't have the luxury of throwing caution to the wind whenever we want, but a little forgetfulness in terms of "what if? what if? what if?" can help us achieve more of a healthy balance as long as we know we've done everything we can in terms of taking precautions and preparing our kids.
When I talk to moms and dads who are new to dealing with nut allergies, sometimes I feel like an annoying "Dory" in the sense that I want people to "just keep swimming." But believe me, I've been on the other side. I didn't start out feeling confident about my daughter's allergies--it kicked the breath out of me and at times it still does. I do understand what you guys are going through and while I do try to keep positive, that's not to say I don't think food allergies are a huge challenge that is often distressing. A lot of the time I'm more "Nemo's dad" than Dory if that's any consolation for those of you who think that parenting a child with medical challenges comes naturally to a lucky few. It doesn't--you have to work at it and it takes time to adjust, something I talk about in my e-book.
It's not always easy. But, annoying though it can sometimes sound (especially if you are in the thick of dealing with all of the life adjustments) let's all do our best to "just keep swimming." Our kids will thank us someday.
I want to wish all of you a beautiful, safe and Happy Mother's Day!