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The Allergy Blogs • Sam's Story

Summer Camp Nerves

Samantha Yaffe’s frank take on motherhood with allergies

So there I am at this parent information night for Camp X. I’m listening to my soon-to-be Hippo’s section heads run through a day in the life. Sports, cooking, arts and crafts, snack, swim, lunch … on the bus, off the bus …. Oh and a quick reminder that some of the campers have serious allergies, so “please make sure your children are washed up if they’ve eaten anything with nuts before camp.”

For a moment, I suspend the gut-wrenching fear for my child’s life – we’re now a few weeks away from sending him off on a non-air-conditioned bus every morning to a camp in Nowheresville to be returned on that same bus at the end of the day in one happy-go-lucky piece. And in that moment, I’m kinda loving this. Memories of my camp experiences are conjured up, leaving me worried about who he’s going to sit with on the bus, and fantasizing about the wild adventure my future archery champion of the world is about to embark on.

I recognize the couple seated next to me; they’re from my allergy education group. But it’s the woman behind me who gets the allergy ball rolling. “My daughter is allergic to egg,” she says, and goes on to ask how her little girl will be protected from her allergen throughout the day.

I was planning on reserving the allergy discussion to the four meetings I’ve set up with the director, head nurse, kitchen and entire staff during pre-camp, where I will be conducting EpiPen training and allergy tutorials out the ying-yang.

I’ve been in close communication with the camp since registering Lucas last fall, setting up protocols for the bus, around food, at the pool, etc. This just didn’t seem the forum, but allergic mom behind me put the wheels in motion and, wouldn’t you know, the evening spiraled into a bona fide allergy convention. Turns out a disproportionate number of the parents at this event have kids with severe food allergies, which got me excited. Then my friend pointed out that that’s who populates these meetings – parents with special concerns. “I’m only here because you dragged me out,” she reminded.

So we may have been speaking among the converted, but once this lady brought up the egg, we just couldn’t help ourselves. Questions, anxieties, anecdotes were flying like dust particles. I was trying to keep it general, but when that couple beside me, who were in their second year at the camp, told me that their daughter’s bus counselor breached policy by bringing Timbits and M&M’s (TIMBITS AND M&Ms!!) onto the bus last year, my bubble burst. All the fears I was suspending for this evening, all the anxiety I had worked so hard to replace with faith and even excitement, were back with a vengeance.

Now it’s two weeks to go, and all I can think about is leaving Lucas’ life in the hands of a bunch of horny, reckless, underpaid, over-entitled teenagers, who’s life experience amounts to “like, we’re going to have like the best summer ever.”

I think about myself at 17, more concerned with finding a hiding spot to smoke or spending countless hours debating whether lip-locking with Billy Shields for 30 seconds constituted cheating on my boyfriend. This is who is supposed to understand Lucas’ highly complicated group of allergies. This is who’s going to have to recognize the signs and symptoms of an anaphylactic emergency, if God forbid there is one, and act on it.

I’m really freaking out. I want Lucas to have this experience so badly I can taste it. Camp was such an important part of being a kid and growing up for me – a place and time to test my limits and discover my talents. It was where I had most of my adolescent firsts, where I connected with nature and where I forged some of the most important relationships of my childhood. I loved it, but of course I wasn’t riddled with life-threatening allergies (and thank God for that because back in the ’70s and ’80s peanut butter and camp were almost mutually exclusive).

Camp X’s administrators have been very reassuring that they will go to just about any length to ensure Lucas’ safety, and it’s as much as I can ever expect. But is it enough?

As one allergic mother who has got few years on me once explained, 50 per cent of this is vigilance and 50 per cent is holding your breath and praying for the best. That is allergic living!

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