The first time I was the “new kid,” I was in third grade. It was a year of many firsts for me. My first time at public school, my first time at a new school since preschool, and my first time commuting a distance to get to school. I was also the only student in the entire school system with food allergies, yet again. Of course I stuck out. Not only did I have allergies, but I also did school choice, meaning that my dad drove me a half an hour to school every morning, then my mom came to pick me up in the afternoon. This was not common in the district. Everyone I knew lived in town. I don’t remember meeting any other school choice students.
It was also the first school I went to that served food in the cafeteria. Most students bought food. I was one of few students who actually brought their lunch to school from home. This meant when we arrived at the cafeteria for lunch, I was the first one to find a seat and sit down. I remember when I first moved and didn’t know anyone yet, lunch was always the worst part of my day. I remember sitting there just hoping someone would come sit with me. Being the new kid with food allergies was a tough spot to be!
On field trips and other school trips, I had to be careful of all the peanut butter sandwiches. My parents tried to volunteer to be chaperones as often as possible. At that time it was really important that I was my own greatest advocate though, since my parents weren’t with me all day and no one else had allergies. I always carried my epinephrine everywhere and wore my Medic Alert bracelet. It was a non-negotiable and I didn’t bother to fight it because as much as it bothered me, I also knew it kept me safe.
I already knew as a third grader that forming special friendships was crucial to my happiness. Since I was the “new kid,” I had to try to break out of my shy shell and connect with students in my class to form these friendships. My parents helped set up play dates and talk to parents of kids I enjoyed in my class. It took a few years, but by fifth grade I had formed a close bond with a great group of friends who were always there for me. To this day, this same group of girls from elementary school are still my closest friends, even after so many years apart. These girls were always watching out for me and were there for me when it came to my allergies. They never made me feel left out, singled out, or uncool because I always carried medicine and ate different food. They accepted me for who I was and saw me as more than an allergic reactor. I was lucky to find such great friends. I think finding lasting friendships are so important to have, especially for this reason. Helping your children to find friends who will be there for them and help them is a great way for you and your allergic reactor to feel more confident with food allergies!