When it comes to many things in life, I find myself* frequently debating in my head when to make a big deal of something and when to let it go. In a weird way, managing food allergies in a child is easy in this way because most times it's not a choice - you can't let go, not even once.
What that in mind I'm finding myself in an odd position where I do have to let some things go for the first time that I haven't before, and it sucks. While I've recognized that, the hard part is finding that line.
For the first time, mini is eating lunch in her school cafeteria. It's not what I'd have picked and it makes her mother hyperventilate sometimes. But circumstances have played out such that here we are. And despite meeting upon meeting starting in May and all of our requests and all the information we provided the chaos we feared is here.
On the plus side: a nut and seed free cafeteria, so concerns about cross contamination are limited to eggs, which is very helpful. Also in the plus column, epipens everwhere, 1-2 teachers always present, and the entire staff at the school trained on food allergic reactions and epipen use. Also on the plus column (and no small point as our experience shows that this, more than anything is what ultimately leads to a good result) is a school and kitchen staff whose intentions are good and who do not dismiss our concerns as neurotic, take food allergies seriously, and genuinely wish to do everything they can to minimize a reaction.
I frequently pause to remind myself this, as this cannot be taken for granted. Loyal readers will think back to when the local public school (who serves pb&j sandwiches and sesame bagels in the cafeteria) wanted mini to eat there with no teacher to supervise, no adult trained to use an epipen, and no full time nurse in the school, not to mention a principal who called us "crazy" and wanted to focus on other kids with "real medical issues". So compared to that, we are a million miles ahead.
In the minus column, while intentions are good, execution, planning, and communication has fallen short. Questions have been ignored or dismissed. There is still no procedure for how we know what mini will be eating. I have found myself too often emailing at 11pm the night before, extremely frustrated, trying to find out the ingredients for lunch the next day or what mini can eat.
She is frustrated when she asks me in the morning what's for lunch and I don't know. I am frustrated when we find out at 11am that day, and have to drop everything to email her teachers so she knows the food is safe. They are frustrated because they don't want to deal with the last minute email. Mini is anxious if we're at work and can't do it, and then she's told by someone else that we agreed but without having heard from her teachers that her parents said it was fine she's not sure whether or not to eat it (pause to both commend this 7 year old for her maturity and responsibility, and lament the fact that she needs to be this mature at such a young age). The disorganization worries me and shakes my trust to a degree. Will they know to re-check labels if vendors of "safe" change? Will they let me know so that I can? How is the person giving her her food sure that it's the "safe" pasta and how will mistakes or confusion be avoided? These are things I can't let go, so sadly I've had to become more than a bit of a pest, which I hate. I'm sure other "allergy moms" can relate. When it comes to food allergies, there's really no room for error.
I continue to voice our concerns and things are slowly improving now that everyone has a few weeks' experience under their belts. But each day brings new decisions. What do I do when I find out that day the whole class is getting pizza and come to find out it has eggs? Do I let her sit there with plain bread? Or drop everything at work to get a cab and bring her safe pizza? (which is what her father ultimately did after I cleared it with the school) Some would say that those are the things that I need to let go. But then I think about my little girl, watching all her friends eat her favorite food, smelling it, and eating a sad sandwich -- all of which could have easily been avoided with some planning which would have resulted in a solution that didn't exclude her. That one, I decided, I couldn't let go.
There are some things I let go. I didn't love the fact that there's an "allergy" seat at the table, which affects her socially, but if the school felt they needed that to properly keep an eye on her then that's that and I haven't even brought it up. They're not going to do everything the same way I would, and she's old enough to handle feeling a little different sometimes I guess.
What else can't I let go? Unsolicited feedback about how I'm handling it. You may not agree with having my daughter present during some planning conversations, but aside from the fact that it's my choice and obligation as a parent to do what I think is right, she's going to need to do this for herself one day. So that one I couldn't let go. That, and I take criticism of my parenting personally. That one's black and white, peeps, blame it on the Aquarius in me. Which brings me to my next point:
Though this keeps me up at night, eventually there will come a time where I can't know or control every single thing that goes into mini's mouth. After all, I won't be there in college, reading over cafeteria ingredients. I won't be there when she's out with her friends, judgement impaired from a couple of drinks as the menu comes by. I won't be there when she has her first kiss, wondering whether or not she was brave enough to ask the other person what they ate that day. So yes, I need to know that she is prepared and will know what to do when those times come.
I know every parent struggles with this. As our kids get older, we have to learn to let go, little by little. But trust me on this one: it's so, so much harder to let go when it comes to this food allergy stuff. I'll get there eventually. And the rest of you? Have a little patience.
*Had to write this one in the first person, peeps. Sorry 'bout that.