It’s the first day of preschool. Over in the corner I see a pretty girl with dark brown hair wearing a blue Alice in Wonderland dress. I decide she will be my new best friend. I am four.
It’s funny how you make decisions when you’re a child. I picked my best friend based on my fondness for Alice in Wonderland. That friend and her family have been a part of my extended family ever since that first day of school. They learned and knew my allergies inside out. Along with a few other families, they were people I felt I could trust with my allergies growing up. These were people who knew how to use the Epi, understood what foods I couldn’t eat and what cross contamination meant. These people “got it.” They were “comprehenders.” They understood and helped me. These people are the ones who made me feel like I was just a normal kid. I could trust them with my allergies and knew they would listen to me and help if I had any questions. I didn’t have to worry that they didn’t understand or would feed me something I couldn’t eat. They knew, they understood, and they made me feel comfortable in a way that few knew how to. With them, it never felt like my allergies were a burden for anyone and as an Allergic Reactor it is easy to feel like a burden!
Having friends and people like that for your child is HUGE!!! It is one of the most important things my parents did for me because those people never made me feel singled out. I was singled out in school, at camp, and in just about any other group activity or program, but when I was at my neighbors, or at my friend’s, I never felt singled out. I fit in and my allergies were not seen as part of who I was as a person.
My favorite cereal was also introduced to me by my best friend’s mom. I can still picture that moment. It was a warm spring day. We were outside playing on the swing-set in her backyard after preschool. Her mom came out and called us on to the porch. In her hand was a box of Apple Cinnamon Cheerios with a picture of the cheerios on the box. To me, all those tiny pieces of apple cinnamon stuck on the cheerios looked like nuts. My friend’s mom told me they were safe for me and I remember being amazed. I understood enough about my allergies at that age to know I wanted to assert myself and double check the ingredients with her. I remember looking at the box while she read them to me. There were no nuts and we had a successful allergy-free snack! My friend’s mom never once made me feel bad for wanting to check. She recognized an opportunity for me to learn it was better to be safe and feel comfortable about asserting myself. It is a significant memory I will never forget!
I want to reiterate the importance of finding friends you can trust with allergies. Now, in my twenties, I trust myself when it comes to my allergies, but I can also trust my true friends. I recognize the importance of finding people for children to trust. People who truly “get it” are hard to find but important to recognize because those are the people who can make a child with allergies feel like a regular kid! Make sure you find friends who get it, not just for your child, but also for yourself!