Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Understanding Peanut Allergies: This is Our Life

Today I am mentally and emotionally drained.  I have these days from time to time and the causes usually vary.  Today, though, I feel this way because of a familiar struggle:  our son's peanut allergy.  To those who are fortunate enough to not have to worry about this, you may not understand how taxing this is on a parent.  We all worry about our kids, it's human nature, but the anxiety, stress, and worry a parent of a child with a life-threatening food allergy experiences is at a whole other level.

I can attest to this, because I am a mother of four.  To my knowledge, three of my children do not suffer from life-threatening food allergies.  I worry about them, yes, but life is just so much easier when you aren't navigating what feels like a mine-field.  Play date, birthday party, school, church, restaurant, sporting events....the list goes on.  No problem.  Off you go, have a great time!  These events with our oldest son, not so much.  Do we have the Epipen?  The Benadryl?  The wipes?  Safe food?  What will be served?  Have we checked the menu?  Should we let him go?  What if...  This is just a small sample of what goes through my mind on a daily basis.  It's tiring.  It makes me feel sad, angry, anxious, stressed.  We do our best to internalize these feelings and not outwardly show our struggles with these situations.  Our son realizes the dangers of peanuts and his exposure to them, but we do our best to live a normal life while taking the necessary precautions to make it "safe" for him.  

We struggle.  It is hard for those who do not live this life to understand how complex it is.  For the most part we have encountered people willing to do what's best for our son; to keep him safe and minimize his exposure.  But don't be fooled.  We experience resistance, anger, and questioning.  I'm sure we are viewed as overcautious, overbearing, high-maintenance, and difficult at times.  We advocate, we fight, we educate some more.  I am always willing to answer questions, be the classroom mom, and look over whatever is in question to help try to make it easier on others.

It's not as simple as making sure that he avoids peanuts.  That's the easy part.  It's the foods and products that they're hidden in that's difficult.  It's reading labels, researching restaurants and calling them, sifting through Halloween candy, finding safe treats for holidays, having a stash of homemade cupcakes in the freezer for birthday parties.  It's assessing the situation when traveling, attending social events, school, and extracurricular activities.  All of these things have become habit for us.  We can't afford to be lenient and "let it slide" just this once.  Once is all it takes.

My son is so much more than his peanut allergy.  He is kind, creative, smart, athletic, caring, and passionate about all things sports.  He is a wonderful big brother and a loving son.  He loves to write sweet notes to me and is quick to thank us when we do something special for him.  Unfortunately, he just has to be super careful to avoid peanuts and other nuts.  While it greatly impacts our lives and causes a lot of stress and anxiety, I know that God only gives us what we can handle.  Most days I feel like part of me "handling" this is by being vocal and trying to help people understand the severity of life-threatening food allergies.

They are an inconvenience, no doubt about it, but isn't keeping a child safe worth the inconvenience?  Please keep this in mind when precautions are put into place in schools, on airplanes, and other public places.  Do not take offense to them.  No one is trying to deprive you or your child out of spite.  These precautions are put into place to try (important word being try, we know nothing is fool-proof) to keep a child from having an anaphylactic reaction.  Epi-pens are not guaranteed to work.  People die from severe food allergies.  Those stories are not made up.  Please find it in your heart to be kind and empathetic to the children and their families that live with this daily.  We would love to be able to eat whatever we want and go wherever we want without worry.

The reality?  People won't die from not eating a peanut butter sandwich or snacking on peanuts on a plane, but my son could.  It's really that simple.  It's the little things that make the greatest difference.  When you encounter a situation where precautions are put into place, please take the time to consider how you would feel if the shoe were on the other foot.  From all of us with family members who have food allergies, we thank you!


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