The Angst of Parenting a Child with Severe Food Allergies

I just sat in the car and had a good cry.

I was in the parking lot of my 11-year-old daughter’s school on her first day of middle school, but I wasn’t having the ‘oh my child is growing up’ type of cry.

Instead, I was unexpectedly engulfed in fear about her life threatening allergies to peanuts and shellfish. In the excitement of her first day, she had forgotten her EpiPen at home. It wasn’t a big deal, really, as I planned to go to the school anyway to drop off information about her allergies and an extra EpiPen. It served as a huge wake-up call for me though. Middle school marks the beginning of a huge transition for my daughter in terms of being responsible for her EpiPen and vigilant in her scrutiny of the food she eats in the face of much less supervision from teachers. One slip up, like forgetting an EpiPen, could spell disaster.

Our family has always tried to be as calm and positive as possible in the face of her allergies. She has grown up with all sorts of rules about what she can and can’t eat. My husband and I didn’t want her to grow up in fear, though, so we downplayed what could happen if she ate peanuts or shellfish. When she was really little, we told her she’d have to go to the hospital and get a needle. It wasn’t until recently that I explained to her that she could die.

Sitting in tears in my car, I was filled with doubt. What if I’ve protected her too much? What if we haven’t prepared her well enough to keep herself safe? What if she doesn’t understand the importance of speaking up about food when necessary? Should I just think positive thoughts and trust her? I felt like I was letting her drive off in our car without having earned her license first.

My thoughts went to Caroline Lorette, the 14 year-old girl from our community who died this summer from an anaphylactic reaction to dairy. When she died, we tried to protect our daughter once again by not discussing it with her.

Caroline’s parents, Janet and David, have started the Sweet Caroline Foundation to educate the public about severe allergies. They are also working with Anaphylaxis Canada and the Anglophone South School District to educate students and teachers about anaphylaxis and to ensure that all teachers know when and how to use an EpiPen. They have also organized a Sweet Caroline Walk/Run on Oct. 11.

When my daughter came home from school on the second day wearing a purple ribbon in Caroline’s memory, I knew I had to let go of my fear a little bit and not shield her so much.

To the Lorette family, my heart is broken for you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for working to find some good from your terrible loss. I never met your sweet Caroline, but our family will never forget her. Your efforts will make our community a safer place for my daughter and others who have allergies. Caroline’s story will give me the courage to have the difficult conversations I need to have with my daughter.

I told her I was planning to participate in the Sweet Caroline Run.

“I want to go too,” she said without hesitation.

“But don’t you think it will make you scared and sad?”

“Probably. But I want to do it anyway,” she said. “It’s important.”

And once again, my eyes filled with tears. But not from fear this time.  From pride.

Li’l Girl Talk

“Like I do with butter?” asked The Oldest, age 11, when I told her that alcoholics crave alcohol all day.

 

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