Several years ago, I had the distinct pleasure of connecting with author, Stephanie Sorkin. Not only is this sweet lady a rock star at writing and creating awareness through her children’s books, she whole-heartedly gives back to the community. She is one of my favorite leaders in the food allergy community and I’m so thankful for her talent of educating others about food allergies.
If you aren’t familiar with Stephanie’s work, take a few minutes to learn more about her here and be sure to check out her books on Amazon.
It is my honor to introduce you to our guest author for today, Stephanie Sorkin. Stephanie lives in New York with her husband and three children. She is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Stephanie is the author of numerous children’s books, and is extremely proud of the fact that most of the proceeds of her books are donated to organizations that help children around the world. Check out Stephanie’s Twitter posts to find healthy recipes and exciting news about her books!
Thank you, Stephanie!
Ever since I can remember, I dreamt of being a writer. Nothing made me happier than putting words on paper to tell a story. Little did I know that life would hand me greater challenges than simply finding words that rhyme.
It was my daughter’s first birthday in March of 2008 and all was going as planned. Friends and family were there to celebrate. Elmo walked in right on time, to a room filled with balloons and laughter. My daughter looked cuter than ever with tiny pigtails and hot pink bows. It wasn’t until my smiling birthday girl took her first bite of cake that things quickly changed. Within minutes, her face and body were covered in hives and her eyes were swelling. I instinctively gave her Benadryl and the symptoms slowly subsided. I’m ashamed to admit that I didn’t think to call 911. Looking back, I definitely should have. I’m just as ashamed to say that it didn’t even cross my mind that this was an allergic reaction. After all, I had two other children, ages 2 and 5 with no allergies (P.S. their allergies came later.) A doctor’s visit confirmed an allergy to eggs and a warning that eggs rarely travel alone. Upon further testing and lots of trial and error, my daughter was diagnosed with allergies to a number of other foods, including nuts, sesame, flaxseed, mustard and canola oil. It took a couple of years before we settled into what would become our new normal. I was frozen in fear at the thought of introducing new foods. What if she was allergic to those too? After countless sleepless nights and terrible anxiety, we got into a groove and exhaled.
Soon, my daughter would start nursery school and the anxiety returned. How would I explain to people that the equivalent of one grain of sand of her respective allergens could send my child to the ER? She loved to go on the monkey bars, color and play dress up. She was the same, but different. Their child’s food was my daughter’s poison. Once again, with a number of precautions in place and careful planning, along with wonderful support from the school staff, we made it work.
People often ask me how I remain so upbeat and positive. Let’s just say Meryl Streep’s got nothing on me. I’d lose count if I tried to calculate how many times I “acted” like everything was OK. I live by the mantra “Never let ‘em see you sweat”. No matter how bad my anxiety was at times, I made and continue to make every effort to never transfer this feeling to my daughter. A child deserves to be a child and to live life as such. And yes- she 100% knows the severity of her situation, knows to always ask questions and knows to never leave home without her Zyrtec and 2 Epi-pens. She is now 9 years old, young enough to trust adults yet old enough to understand why I always designate a specific adult in charge of her food if I’m not there to supervise. Since this is always worked out in advance, it leaves her feeling confident that she can eat what is given to her.
I’ve learned so much in my journey as the mother of an allergic child. First and foremost, I have learned that people will continuously say insensitive things. From the co-worker who asks, “What CAN your child eat?” or “Is she allergic to AIR?” to the family member who urges you to “just let her try a little to see what happens.” Honestly, if I wasn’t in this situation, I cannot say how informed I’d be about food allergies and their severity. I’d likely be more empathetic, but I just accept people’s ignorance as a lack of education. I refuse to get angry. I instead try to enlighten them whenever possible.
I’ve learned to find the silver lining, no matter what it may be. Rather than focus on what your child cannot eat, find out what they CAN have and go with it. Make mealtime at home something that your family looks forward to. If you don’t know how to cook, it’s time to learn. If you can read, you can follow a basic recipe. After years of experimenting, I can proudly say that I can host a BBQ with all safe foods without anyone knowing the difference (hot dogs don’t really NEED mustard, do they?).
Lead by example that life is full of simple pleasures that don’t involve food. A bike ride, a manicure, laying on a hammock with a great book, planting flowers. The list goes on and on.
Be grateful for all of the things that you have and even some things that you don’t have. Think about it.
Take life day by day. When I let my mind wander, I can’t help but think of my daughter as a teenager, in social situations without me. Uh-Oh…here comes that anxiety again! I intentionally live in the present because who knows what the future may hold. Even if it’s something wonderful, like a treatment or a cure – now is now and I must make this day as productive as possible.
Help inspire others. There are a number of online support groups where you can lend your voice or your ear (or both). Food Allergy Parents have lots to discuss and sharing your expertise can prove invaluable. Discussing recipes, product finds and advice can be therapeutic. I recently came across a story in a FACEBOOK support group where a teenage girl was allergic to 95% of foods, relied on a feeding tube yet still managed to become a competitive US Figure Skater and is about to release her first album!
Relish in the good. That time when the teacher planned the writers workshop celebration around your child, so that all food served were safe. The class mom who insisted that her son bring a safe birthday treat so that no one is left out. The day that your friend planned a special trip to NYC and made sure the plan included a restaurant that offered safe food for your child.
The most monumental part of my journey started when my daughter was about 3 years old. It began with a simple bedtime story that I made up as I went along, about a squirrel named Nutley who was allergic to nuts. He told his friends and oddly enough, some of them had allergies too! Nutley formed a community of sorts and instead of being ashamed that he may have been different, he and his friends celebrated their differences. I soon realized that my whimsical story had a beginning, middle and end. At my daughter’s request, I recited it over and over again, until the entire family knew it by heart. After sharing the story with my mom, a few friends and their children, I was encouraged to share it with a larger audience, which ultimately led me to publish it. Realizing that I had a unique opportunity on my hands, I decided to make Nutley a fundraiser and donate 100% of the books proceeds to F.A.R.E, an organization dedicated to Food Allergy Research and Education www.foodallergy.org
I was elated to have a tool to simultaneously spread food allergy awareness and raise money for much needed research. While “Nutley, the Nut-Free Squirrel” put me on the map as a published author, more books followed, including “Frenemy Jane, the Sometimes Friend” with the topic of Bully Prevention which resonates with Food Allergy Parents and Non-Food Allergy Parents alike.
I spend a lot of my time visiting schools to discuss the inspiration behind my books and the power of creativity. I teach children to celebrate their differences, no matter what they may be. I always leave my school visits with a full heart, amazed by the bravery of the children who share their stories and truly moved by those that find the hidden meanings in the messages that I share.
I’ve learned with certainty that one person can indeed make a difference. I’ve discovered that dreams come in all shapes and sizes. I plan to continue to encourage children to follow their dreams because as my journey proves…challenges can often be stepping stones.