Samantha Yaffe’s frank take on motherhood with allergies
So, it’s Grade 2, not Grade 1, not kindergarten – just a not-so remarkable year in Lucas’ continuing grade-school education and our family’s life-long allergic journey, which regardless of the grade seldom goes without drama and extra-special attention.
Last year, when Lucas was entering Grade 1 , there was more hype than The Who’s first “final” concert tour. Figuring out how to deal with recess for the first time, having Lucas move among several classrooms instead of just one for the first time, staying a full day for the first time and later even for lunch, these were all conversation pieces for the copious meetings I was afforded with the entire school workforce. New systems had to be devised, anaphylaxis action plans revised, staff members advised. Everyone was on high alert and eager to meet our special needs.
While Lucas wasn’t the first peanut- and nut-allergic student to graduate to Grade 1 or to enter this school back in kindergarten, it seemed I was the first and only parent to command such vigilance and attention to detail. This included: the placement of every EpiPen so that Lucas would always have two within reach, the protocol for supply teachers, the plan for field trips, the personalized letter to parents, the training of each employee and the widely distributed allergy action plan, customized to the T.
So what’s extraordinary about this school year is actually the lack of drama and extra-special attention – there’s a kind of been-there-done-that attitude that even I find myself experiencing (did I just say that out loud?).
Maybe this relative calm is a milestone in its own right. The truth is there’s nothing much new this year, except a bunch of new classmates and a new teacher. I still got to have my requisite pre-school meeting with the principal and key staff to train on Lucas’ allergy management. But this year there was no hysteria, less fear of the unknown and more familiarity with all the players and processes.
And even more amazing, it seems, the attention has been diverted to the new allergic entrants – allergic families who are commanding a piece of my special-status pie. And I couldn’t be happier. Well, not happy that these young families are saddled with the burden I know too well, but definitely relieved, comforted and thrilled to have the company.
I know of at least two anaphylactic newbies in the school and at least one of their parents – who I’m already in close contact with – is an advocate like me, maybe even more neurotic (did I just say that out loud?).
In addition to all the painful emotions I’ve experienced as an allergic parent and one-woman allergy committee, was the stark feeling of being relentlessly alone in my plight. But now for the first time since Lucas began school, I have the promise of partners – post-Sabrina’s Law parents who understand their rights and are looking to do whatever it takes to create a safe environment for their anaphylactic kids.
I consider myself among the first of this generation of allergic parents, parents who aren’t afraid to speak up and out. Before Sabrina’s Law , back when public schools in Ontario were not legally required to train their staff on auto-injector use and to work closely with allergic parents to create customized allergy management programs for their anaphylactic kids – parents were equally concerned and anxious about their children’s life-threatening allergies. But they were simply not inclined to demand special consideration from the school or the parent body. I’m told from my elders that they felt they had to tread lightly, that everyone thought they were over-protective, exaggerating, even obnoxious.
Parents of food allergic kids had no respect or claim to the special needs category, at least no more than the next parent who tried to pass a no-sugar-in-the-lunch-bag policy for fear of hyperactivity and childhood obesity. Lumped in the same category as new age mothers and fathers, pre-Sabrina’s Law parents felt they had little recourse but to suck it up and pray for the best.
When Lucas entered JK three years ago, Sabrina’s Law had just been enacted and there was no question that I would capitalize on my rights to work with the school to come up with a fully integrated allergy management plan for him, while ensuring the staff was properly trained.
But over these past few trailblazing years, I have stood alone at my small community school. Again, not because there were no other allergic kids, but because there were no other allergic parents stepping up for the cause. I envied members of my allergy education group who would talk about the solidarity among the allergic parents at their schools. I loved and yearned for the positive energy and change they were able to affect as a unified front. Little things like handing out Chapman’s  popsicles at the end of the year on what they designated Allergy Appreciation Day – an opportunity to thank everyone for their efforts to keep their allergic kids safe. Somehow, doing something like that on my own didn’t have the same appeal. And frankly, with all the policies and procedures I’ve helped create, all the work it takes to keep my school nut-aware year after year, all the solo efforts .… I’m exhausted.
So, I’m sorry to say it, but bring on the new allergic kids and their advocating parents. Bring on my team. It’s about time.