Elementary School: Food Allergies and Identity
Back to school is always tough: new classrooms, new teachers, different classmates, new rules and expectations, and rehashing all of the usual precautions and emergency plans that come with severe food allergies. It’s easy for food allergies and identity to become intertwined, especially in elementary school.
Last night my son couldn’t take any more. He was angry and tearful about having food allergies and how they make him different from everyone else. In 3rd grade you really just want to be part of the pack. Riding a different bus, sitting at a different lunch table and asking your friends to be hypervigilant about washing their hands are not welcome on an 8-year-old’s daily agenda.
Find a Silver Lining
So we talked for quite awhile about how allergies stink, but also about how they’ve become small blessings in our lives: We eat healthier than most, both kids are very aware of what’s in their food and how it affects their health, my son’s behavior and focus have completely, positively changed from pre-diagnosis, he’s learned to spread awareness wherever he is and he had already made two speeches to the Mayor & City Council at the age of 7. These are all things to be proud of, and they are all shaped by his allergies.
We talked about how everyone is different, but that some people never really learn to embrace who they are, what they stand for, and what makes them unique… for their whole lives! Yet, this little guy is beginning to own some of that already in 3rd grade. We talked about inner strength and about not following the crowd. And finally, we talked about his support system and his own creative outlets – the things he absolutely loves in life.
Life Lessons to Shape Identity
In the end, he was a pretty happy guy. In discussing all of this, he realizes that one very big component of who he is is someone who NEVER gives up. He’s advocated his way through some rough patches, is poised to test for black belt in martial arts in only a few months, and he’s overcome the paralyzing fear of speaking in public and now claims that “it’s no big deal.”
I have never, ever been prouder of this boy. He is feeling out his life and his identity, and nothing is holding him back. Allergies are no match for this kid.
We are 9 days away from our first FARE walk for Food Allergies and I cannot wait to see his face when he is surrounded by other kids and families who also deal with severe food allergies. Too often he feels like the only one. I suspect it will be a very empowering moment for him – and an overwhelming one for us as a family.