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Back to School with Food Allergies - Permission to do this your own way!

Posted on August 07 2018

As the days of summer quickly come to an end and the excitement about preschool starting again builds at our house, I’m taking some time to reflect on my own state of mind this time last year and I’m pleased to report, I’ve come a long way, baby!

This time last year, we were newly off the heels of my son’s first experience with anaphylaxis.  To be honest, I was probably suffering from a mild case of PTSD and was feigning enthusiasm about the first day of school for my son’s sake, but secretly shaking in my boots (or more likely, my flip-flops).  I had checked the boxes as far as the list of things to do to get Nick ready went:

  • We role-played not only about teaching him to keep himself safe with his multiple food allergies, but also to set him up for success being away from home for the first time and interacting with other kids.
  • We read stories about what to expect. When I couldn’t find the exact message I was looking for, I even wrote a book called Bentley Goes to School about a lovable dog named Bentley who is nervous about being away from his parents for the first time, but has great success making friends and managing his multiple, life-threatening food allergies at school.
  • We’d purchased a first-day-of-school outfit, made a first-day-of-school sign, gotten a haircut…At least one of us was picture-ready!
  • Nick’s backpack and matching lunchbox were ready to go. AllergyAlert 4x6 LabelAnd, I had a plan as far as what allergy-safe snacks I’d send.  I’d even supplied Nick’s teacher with enough safe “free and clear” hand soap for the entire class for a semester and a jumbo pack of gluten-free playdough. Nick was branded from head-to-toe with an AllergyAlertplacemat plus luggage tags, labels and safe-food stickers.
  • At just three-years old, he was close to being able to recite his list of five allergens. He knew to question his teachers about art supplies and to stay clear of food other kids brought for snack time. I felt confident he would say, “No thank you” to any food that was offered to him (outside of the lunchbox he knew his father or I had packed).

Our 504 Plan was in place.  The teachers were ready.  My son was ready.  I WAS NOT READY! 

There was no part of me that could picture leaving Nick (who is allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, wheat and dairy) in the care of strangers when I’d barely even let family members watch him for the past three years since his diagnoses.  It wasn’t that I didn’t trust his teachers.  I’d interviewed multiple schools and felt certain we were in the best possible spot.  It was just that I had never relinquished this much control and my hyper-sensitive, every-“I”-dotted, every-“T”-crossed, every-crumb-conquered self didn’t quite know how to let go.

So, I did what any insane mother would do… I refused to leave the school parking lot and worked from my car for two weeks, of course! I am not kidding when I say I took the term “mobile office” to a whole new level.  Although that’s probably a misnomer since I was about as far from mobile as one can get.  I was parked and not going anywhere for the two and a half hours Nick was in preschool two days a week.  Eventually, I ventured out to Starbucks (five minutes away) and then even returned to working from my home office, but I gave myself permission to make the transition on my own schedule. 

I’m writing this blog today because I’m guessing there may be a few of you in the same spot as you prepare to send your little ones to daycare, preschool or kindergarten this year.  My message to you, is please give yourself permission to do this your own way.  For most of you, that won’t include working from your car (I was fortunate to be in a unique position to have that kind of flexibility), but maybe it means giving yourself a little bit of quite time each morning before the chaos of getting your family out the door kicks in.  Or, maybe it includes rewarding yourself with a coffee, cocktail or massage once you’ve made it through the day, week or first quarter.  Maybe it means finding other allergy moms (or dads) to hang-out with until everyone feels more comfortable.  Maybe it means volunteering in the front office to be nearby. Maybe it means having lunch with your child until you feel confident in the ability of the lunchroom staff to keep him or her safe. Maybe it's an extra workout session to combat the increased stress levels back-to-school season can create.  

This year, I will not be working from my car (although, I have to say don’t knock it until you try it – without any distractions, it’s amazing what you can accomplish in there! #FASilverLinings).  This year, I’m checking items off the list with a smile and a happy heart.  Of course, there will be some butterflies when that first day arrives, but I feel confident those will be outweighed by a genuine enthusiasm at watching my son grow and thrive.

Everyone’s experiences and journey with food allergies are unique and you’ll need to find the right solution for you and your family, but I pray you’ll find your groove and this time next year you’ll also be able to say, “I’ve come a long way, baby!”

#getallergyalert #foodallergy #foodallergies #FASilverLinings #BentleyGoesToSchool

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