Friday, February 28, 2014

Graduation Day

I didn't start really crying until about halfway home. I still haven't fully processed what I'm about to write here.

When my son started middle school and still had his milk allergy, my husband and I really lost hope. We had seen the statistics and knew the vast majority of kids who are going to outgrow their allergy have done so by jr. high school. The more years that went by, the smaller the chance.

And yet...we just returned from the last of five food challenges done this year: milk. And he passed. He passed. HE PASSED!!!

The challenge was very quick. Four doses, a total of 1/4 cup of ice cream, spread out over about an hour and a half. No symptoms. Nothing.

The doctor told him that he really has no restrictions from this point forward. We can ramp up slowly or just have him start eating everything and anything. We stopped in at Chipotle on the way home and he ordered lunch with sour cream. I started my knee-jerk reaction at the counter because I saw cheese in the guacamole...and then I remembered it no longer mattered. It didn't matter that I touched the sour cream in my own lunch and then dipped my hands into the chip bag. All old thinking.

We actually sat at lunch and talked about the different kinds of milk and cheese, something I never could have envisioned 19 years ago that I would have to do with my nearly-grown son. I told him that cow's milk and goat's milk cheeses taste different. That the sour cream he was not very impressed with was totally different than the cream cheese on bagels.

We talked about how he could have a bakery cake now for his birthday. How we could go out to dinner anywhere. How he could go on a cruise and eat from the buffet.

I told him how many pennies I had thrown into wishing wells over the years.

I honestly don't know what to do with myself now. I've promised him I will stop asking him if he's o.k. and stop watching him. I'm sure it will take a long time to adjust to our new normal.

Nineteen years ago, almost to the day, my husband and I brought him home from the hospital, our first-born son. We had struggled (as I'm sure all parents do) to get him into his tiny car seat and all the flowers into the car. We struggled to get everyone and everything in the house. And then we both stopped.

"What do we do with him now?" my husband asked. I had no idea. Did we leave him in the car seat? Put him in his crib? Take his coat off, or leave him sleeping? We realized in that moment how totally clueless we were about parenting.

Today feels the same. Exactly the same. Every meal, every family activity has been impacted by this milk allergy. And now...I don't know what comes next.

But i know it's going to be wonderful.

Thank you, every one of you. Thank you to his doctors, both at his regular practice and through Children's in Chicago. Thank you to all the teachers and parents who helped. Thank you to my bosses who gave me the flexibility to deal with the clinic days and doctors appointments.

No, we don't know if it was the FAHF-2. No, we really don't even care. Yes, there's still peanut (and maybe hazelnut and lentil). Tomorrow I will start dissecting things and wondering whether we should have been doing these challenges sooner. We'll debate the maturing immune system vs. the impact of the pills.

Today I'm going to go watch him sleep, just like I did when he was the tiniest of babies, and be so very grateful that he is my child and that everything is o.k.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Food Allergy Festivus

I was not aware the holiday season stretched into February. But it must be so. For, you see, my family has decided to celebrate Festivus this week.

For those who are not Seinfeld fans, Festivus is the celebration involving the airing of grievances. And boy, is my family in the holiday spirit!

As we've all gotten older, my large family has developed lots of cracks and splinters in the social veneer. Most of us have strong, polarized political beliefs and it spills over into our interactions, even with the best of intentions to keep religion, politics and hot-button social issues out of conversation. However, each year in February, my mother celebrates her birthday. The one thing she always wants? All of us to gather and pretend to get along.

This year, it started with an email from my brother: "Why don't we all go out to Incredibly Cheese-Intensive Family-Style Italian Restaurant for mom's birthday so no one has to cook?" 

I couldn't even bring myself to reply. Nineteen years we've been at this and he's still not aware that my kid cannot eat anything in an Italian restaurant?

My husband sent the next volley: "Why don't we all go in on a computer for her?" 

You know where this is going, as it's obvious to anyone who deals with food allergies that a conversation about a gift will inevitably lead back to  you guessed it!  the unfair restrictions of food allergies on everyone around them.

"How's your new car working out?" Food allergies. "What'd you think of that Superbowl game?" Food allergies. "We're thinking about getting another dog." Food allergies. All conversational roads eventually lead to one place.

I've puzzled over why that is. These conversation never result in my family actually retaining any knowledge about food allergies. The people who don't support us continue to not support us no matter what we say, and these conversations seem to actually cause them to do a worse job with unsafe dishes and cross-contamination. So what's the deal?

It finally struck me that food allergies have actually become a proxy for the other topics we avoid. Unbelievable as it may be, my child's medical condition has been polarized to the point that my siblings use it now as a passive-aggressive way of letting me know they disagree with everything else I stand for.

By bringing that unsafe dish, unannounced, to Thanksgiving dinner, they're taking back control and letting me know that they don't believe us and will never believe us. It's inconvenient to their world view. It is actually easier for them to convince themselves that my child is faking it than it is to have to consider that they have used a child for nineteen years as a pawn in their mind games.

When it happened last Thanksgiving, that unsafe (cheeseburger) stuffing went right between the other two stuffings. I could have ruined the holiday and thrown it (and them) out of the house, but we don't fight that way. So, instead, I spent the next two hours hovering in the kitchen, trying to prevent people from passing utensils back and forth between the dishes. They knew it. I knew it. Passive-aggressive mission accomplished.

And here we go again  the same, tired conversation about what to bring and what not to bring, which will result in these people bringing something completely unsafe "by accident."

We are all polarized on certain topics. We all feel that emotional limbic system rush of rage around certain issues that should not obviously generate such a strong feeling. But food allergies?

You betcha.

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