What I’ve Learned from My Daughter with Food Allergies

Soccer team picture

May 13-19 is Food Allergy Awareness Week. Chances are that if you have children, then you know someone with a food allergy.

Researchers estimate that up to 15 million Americans have food allergies, including 6 million children under age 18. That’s 1 in 13 children, or roughly two in every classroom.

Here, contributing writer Danielle Murphy shares a glimpse into the life of her daughter with food allergies:

I have three kids and they’re each smart, loving and wonderfully unique. But there’s just something about my middle daughter.

She just turned 10. And most days I feel like she’s the one teaching me. About life. About faith. About resilience. About not stressing the little things.

Where does she get such wisdom? I know that growing up with a food allergy to peanuts and tree nuts has shaped her in ways I can’t fully understand.

Summer Plans

Summer is almost here and my son—my oldest–is making plans to go to sleepover camp with his friends for the third summer in a row. “Best week of my life,” is how he describes it.

My daughter leaves the room when he starts talking about it.

We’ve gone over the risks of going to a camp that serves peanut products and being in the care of teenage counselors who are not trained with EpiPens. It’s just not worth the risk. She agrees, but it doesn’t make it any easier.

As she gets older, the conversations get harder. This year most of her friends are going to that same camp. “All” the kids are talking about it at school and drawing maps of the campsite in the classroom.

I’m pretty sure she just buries her head in a book until the kids are ready to move on to a new topic.

Books are her safe place. She finished the entire Harry Potter series before second grade and hasn’t stopped reading since.

Vacation

We just got back from a vacation to the Universal Studios Wizarding World of Harry Potter, a mecca trip of sorts.

She was in heaven going to the wand shop (she chose Dumbledore’s because “it’s the most powerful”) and trying Butter Beer (which I called about and researched ahead of time to make sure did not contain any nut products).

She was fearless. She went on the biggest rollercoasters–over and over. Upside down. Again and again. I held the backpacks.

The What-if Scenarios

Meanwhile, for the whole vacation, my mind raced.

What if they serve nuts on the plane? (We always book the first flight of the morning because that’s when the plane is the cleanest.)  If she had a reaction in the air, would two EpiPens be enough to stop a reaction and get her safely to the ground?

Will we be able to find places that she can eat? Will the servers at the restaurants be kind and accommodating, or instead tell her that there’s nothing for her to eat in the entire restaurant and to leave?

This happened on one family vacation and it was traumatizing for all of us, especially my daughter. Rallying around her, my two other kids still talk about “the mean waiter.”

My husband and I probably used other descriptors. Somehow, my daughter was able to laugh it off, through a few tears. She was 8. Resilience.

Back to Reality

Now we’re safely back from vacation, but not done traveling. My daughter just started “select” soccer.

She seems to be most comfortable with herself when she’s on the soccer field or on the basketball court, where she can run and be her fearless, never-give-up self.

I think she’s found something that she enjoys, is good at, and, though it may seem like a silly criterion, isn’t always centered around food.

She’s part of a team, instead of the one left out. She’s loving her body for what it can do and not worried about how it is different.

Her Biggest Cheerleader

Of course, I will continue to worry. That’s a mom’s job, right?

Will exercise trigger a reaction (which it can)? Will coaches look out for her as she gets older and we’re not always there?

But, beyond the worry, I will also be the one cheering the loudest with tears in my eyes when she scores a goal.

Not because I care if she wins the game, but because I know the game is not the only battle she’s fighting.

About 40 percent of children with food allergies have experienced a severe allergic reaction such as anaphylaxis, which is life-threatening.

At MarbleSpark, we champion all kids, including kids with food allergies. For more information on activities for Food Allergy Awareness week, search #TurnItTeal.

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