Monday, November 18

Guest Post: From Roots to Wings - The Process of Letting Go With Your Food Allergic Child

I recently had the pleasure to hear Janet Atwater speak to a group of parents of children with food allergies. After I heard her speak I knew I wanted to pass along her experience and wisdom to other parents. Janet has a son with food allergies, and she is also Vice Chair of the FARE (Food Allergy Research & Education) Board of Directors. FARE is the national group who championed the School Access to Emergency Epinephrine Act which President Obama signed into law last week (as a side note - who knew that President Obama's daughter has a peanut allergy!?).

I find the following story inspirational, not only as a parent of a child with food allergies, but also as a parent who wants to see my children grow up to be healthy, happy, confident and well-rounded adults. Every parent has to deal with "letting go" at some point in their child's journey. We can only hope that we give our children the right tools and knowledge to navigate the world on their own. Janet's "roots to wings" story gives me encouragement and confidence that this is possible!

Here is Janet's guest post. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

There are two gifts we should give our children – one is roots and the other is wings.
Hodding Carter

By Janet Atwater
I’ll never forget my “deer in the headlights” feeling as our pediatrician told us that our 11 month old son, Bennett, had a severe life threatening food allergy and that we would have to be hyper vigilant in avoiding his allergens for the REST OF HIS LIFE.  At the time, I couldn’t imagine letting him out of my sight or even being able to send him to preschool.  Now, 15 years later, he is a strapping 6 foot tall young man, a sophomore in high school and we are discussing curfews and college options.

How did we get here? 

Bennett and his sister, Molly, the year he was diagnosed

In the early years, we provided oversight in every area of his life – playdates, parties, family gatherings, etc.  Whoever was with Bennett always had one, or more, EpiPens as well as Benadryl on hand.  Although he was fully aware of his food allergy, we assumed all responsibility for managing it and advocating for him. 

As we moved into PreK and Kindergarten, Bennett started wearing a Fanny Pack that held his EpiPen, Benadryl, and a laminated Action Plan.  By carrying his own medication, he was beginning to assume some responsibility, and having his medicine readily available for an adult to administer to him if needed added a level of comfort and control.

In elementary school, we began to teach Bennett how to be his own advocate.  At restaurants he would hand his laminated Chef’s Card to the waiter and explain his allergy.  When Trick or Treating, he would always ask if they had any “nut free” candy.  As he learned to read, we taught him to read ingredient labels.  And as he grew older, he educated his friends, and through them, their parents, on food allergies and how they could help keep him safe.

Bennett in elementary school
By the time Bennett got to Middle School, the fanny pack was no longer a “cool” accessory, so we moved to cargo pants with pockets deep enough to carry his medication.  He also no longer wanted to be relegated to the “peanut free table” in school.  So he found solutions (wiping the table and seating areas down, not sitting anywhere close to someone with nuts, etc.) to enable him to sit at the “regular” tables.

In High School we have faced new dilemmas.  He was cast as a lead in the musical and had to kiss a girl onstage.  This is an awkward experience for ANY high school student, but for someone with food allergies it is not just embarrassing, but potentially dangerous.  We walked him through how to have the “food allergy” conversation with the musical’s Director and his female co-star, and it all went very smoothly. 

This year he got another romantic lead in this year’s musical and had to kiss a different girl in this show.  However, he is now an “old pro” at both stage kissing and discussing with his costar what she needs to know about his food allergy, an experience which will also help him as he begins to date!

Soon Bennett will be starting the college application process.  I know that there will be new challenges to face  - not only in finding the right college for him academically and socially, but also in identifying the colleges that “get it” when it comes to accommodating food allergic students.  However, I am confident that Bennett will successfully navigate this next phase of his life because he has 15 years of experience developing the tools and skill sets that he needs.  We’ve given him roots, and now he’s  ready to take wing.

Bennett meeting His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, last year

Janet Atwater is a food allergy mom and has been a member of FAAN, now FARE, for more than 15 years.  She is currently the Vice Chair of the FARE Board of Directors.  Her business, Second Act Coaching and Consulting, works with individuals on gaining confidence and clarity on  "what's next" - personally and professionally.  She holds a B.A. from the College of William and Mary and an M.B.A. from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.  


Diane said...

This was very good Kathryn. You are following in Janet's footsteps and doing exactly the same for your little guy :)

Kathryn @ Mamacado said...

Thanks Diane! That's my goal - to do what's best for the little loves and our family!

Post a Comment

Content © Mamacado. All Rights Reserved | Design © 2013 Laura Jane Designs