It’s been a big month for The Food Allergy Mom- a month for facing fears. And I don’t pretend to do so perfectly. Far from it. I’ll be the first to admit that I often “face” my fears with a decided lack of grace and composure. I’m a work in progress shall we say.
For the last 11 years, I’ve been there for every step of my son’s food allergy journey. I overhauled what my family eats and how we cook. I learned and then showed my family how to read labels. I learned and then taught my family about the signs of anaphylaxis and how to administer epinephrine. I advocated for my son and then showed him how to advocate for himself. I encouraged him not to let his food allergies define him. I coached him to live life fully and safely.
Turns out he was both watching and listening…closely. So much so that now that he is older, his role in his own food allergy safety becomes greater. And mine becomes lesser.
After all, I have hoped and prayed every single day since his diagnosis that he would eventually become more confident, self-sufficient, and empowered to successfully begin maneuvering his own journey.
It’s something to be celebrated, right?
Right. Definitely. Absolutely!
Except that honestly, that’s not how it felt when my boy struck out on his own for church camp last week. It felt like worry and sleeplessness…the kind that can eat you up from the inside out if you let it.
Weird. I thought I would feel celebration at his growing independence, but that was most definitely not what I was feeling.
The little man I used to have total control over because he was almost always in my care is now growing up and becoming a responsible young man that is striking out on his own…to places I can’t always be or situations I can’t control.
Don’t get me wrong. He goes to school, dinner with friends, school dances, football games, boy scouts, and much more without me. We hardly live in a bubble…something I’ve worked hard to avoid since the beginning for his own sake. But I’ve always had some element of control. I felt confident in the parents he was with. I knew his very capable school nurse was at the ready. Boy scouts has been great about working with kids with food allergies. See…I’ve always kind of had my foot in the door while still letting him lay the ground work to be more independent.
Then came a three day middle school and high school church camp. A camp that combines with at least two other churches in our city and all the youth mesh together for meals and activities and they spend the night at a host home that the kids bring snacks to. Volunteers would be transporting the youth from activity to activity and one day would include a lunch out at a yet to be determined location.
Uh, yeah. That is waaaaaaaaaayyyyyy outside of The Food Allergy Mom’s comfort zone.
Seriously. I had so many questions my head ached with the sheer number of them. And then there was that little matter of my blood pressure when I thought about all the different people and places he would be with and how many allergy minefields he could potentially pass through each day.
It all came down to two choices.
- I could keep him home. But was it realistic? I can’t keep him under my control forever. There will come a time when he will be at college and living on his own. What then? If I don’t let him safely try out his wings a little at a time, I’m setting him up for failure (and major health risks) when he flies the coop.
- I could put on my big girl pants and give him some room to own and be responsible for his food allergies and let him decide the kind of role they will play in his life (after a whole lot of pre-planning and emergency protocol of course).
I didn’t just love my choices. But I knew what I had to do…and that I had to do it for my son and not for me.
I burned up the phone lines calling to verify what meals were going to be served and when for the duration of the weekend. I made fast friends with the host home mom and arranged to bring some safe snacks (she was an angel by the way). I volunteered for two driving shifts so I might catch a glimpse of him at least some point during the weekend. I made sure he knew at least three places with safe meal options for him for his “meal out.” We talked about the importance of having a few buddies who knew about his allergies and epipen as well as how to use it if an emergency arose. We drilled, we drilled, and we drilled.
And then we drilled some more. No joke.
Then on Friday, I dropped my son off at a three day church camp with a sleeping bag, clothes, and a bag full of safe snacks. I walked him in, reminded the personnel of his life-threatening food allergies, and then I went home.
I. went. home. Alone.
It was the longest weekend ever. For the next couple of days I didn’t sleep that well, wasn’t focused, and jumped every time the phone rang. I won’t sugar coat it. It was awful.
I’ve never been so happy to see Sunday. My heart actually sighed with relief when I ruffled his hair and saw that smile that lights up a room.
But you know what? He made good, safe choices in the face of peer pressure and strangers and HE did it. He did something for himself…something I would never be able to give him- experience.
The sheer thought of going through an event like this again (and I’m sure as he gets older there will be many more), is enough to make me crazy.
But you know what? I’d do it again in a heartbeat…because it’s what moms do. We love our kids, show them the way, and then, if we do our jobs right they LEAD the way.