“What does it taste like? Describe every delicious detail,” I request with enthusiasm and a smile. The rich looking, delicate chocolate mousse cake would make anyone’s mouth water but mine can’t. My mouth knows as well as I do that cake is not ever going to be a possibility, and as disappointing as that is there is only one way I can ever begin to understand what it may taste like. My friends are incredible at being my taste tellers. They know this job they have is very important because they have seen what I miss and know how much I wish I could be like them. They will use as many adjectives as they can muster up to help me imagine what they are lucky enough to actually taste. Over time, their tasting vocabularies have become considerably better!
I unfailingly ask this of my friends when they are eating delectable, allergy-unfriendly food. I can look at it, I can smell the sweet or spicy aromas from a distance, but I can’t touch or taste it. Imagine not having those senses available to you. For some, it may sound more painful to hear about something that is off limits, but for me, it is my way of sharing the experience. I am a food enthusiast! Missing out on trying so many different types of food, especially with all of the traveling I have done, can feel incredibly unsatisfying and disappointing. Being able to find ways to live vicariously through my friends though is the best there is.
I have always been an Allergic Reactor. I am used to the inability to eat any number of foods. I know what it is like to walk into a store and scour shelves looking for allergy-friendly foods. Spending hours overwhelmed by the choices, yet unable to find any that are options for me. I can read and understand ingredients in numerous languages. I know how it feels to travel for the first time to a new country with limited language understanding and an empty stomach. This is just part of the deal as an Allergic Reactor and especially as a traveler.
When I was growing up, my parents would make sure I always had my own special treats so that I could be at the birthday party or class celebration and still feel like I was celebrating. I grew up knowing that I had my cupcake just for me and that was the only food I touched or ate. As a child, I never questioned it. This doesn’t mean that I wasn’t disappointed or didn’t find it frustrating. It doesn’t mean that I wasn’t jealous of everyone else or didn’t wish I could just fit in and eat what everyone else was eating. This just meant I understood what I needed to do to be safe and I knew nothing else would be. At that time too, there were no other kids like me. No one else wore a “Medic Alert” bracelet. No one else carried medicine into a party with them, sitting on top of a birthday present with my cupcake. I grew up feeling like I always stood out. At the time, I found this both a positive and a negative. As a teacher now, I know kids are always looking for attention and I definitely always had attention. I was also shy though and having the attention on me often made me feel even more like a turtle trying to hide inside its shell. I know as a child it is not typically the way that you want attention. You may want attention for being the class comedian or for being the student who knows all of the answers to the questions during a lesson. Most kids though don’t want to stick out because they have food allergies.
I am sure as a parent it is intensely difficult to know that your child will at times feel different and left out. As someone that has been through it all and still goes through it, I know I am a stronger, more independent, responsible, unique individual because of this. I never fell for peer pressure growing up. As I get older, I continue to appreciate more and more that I am my own person. I don’t always follow the crowd. I make my own decisions for me and what is best and I don’t feel pressure to always conform. If my allergies were a large contribution to that, then I can only be thankful. I am happy with who I am and I know my allergies had some shaping in that process. I can imagine it is difficult to not feel heartbroken for your child, but I challenge you to try to find as many positives as possible and share those with your children. They are easily influenced by you, so if they know you are upset for them, they will also feel upset. If instead you focus on how responsible, brave, kind, and special they are, you will raise a strong Allergic Reactor who is ready to take on the world! They can do it and so can you!!!