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The Allergy Blogs • Sam's Story

Grade 1 and Letting Go

Samantha Yaffe’s frank take on motherhood with allergies

Is there anything more gut churning than thinking about your anaphylactic child sandwiched among 200 kids eating 200 snacks that may contain who-knows-what in a sprawling playground supervised by three adults? Well, hello recess. And there’s no getting around it, twice-a-day, every day, now that Lucas has started Grade One.

Ah, Grade One. The inauguration of my eldest as an all-day student and the final transition from child to kid. This is a time to forge life-long friendships, to read, multiply, lose a first tooth, discover wall ball and find out that the F-word isn’t “fiddle”. (OK, Lucas already learned that at camp this summer, but I’m sure his expanding vocabulary is about to detonate in many new directions).

For most parents Grade One is a rite of passage as grand as a first step. But for me, it’s more on par with Lucas’ first concussion.

Until now I’ve have found ways to placate most of my allergy fears and work around most allergic challenges. For the last two years of kindergarten, I stood guard every morning at the door to Lucas’ classroom ensuring that the snack of the day was in fact peanut-free and nut-free, in keeping with my copious communiques to parents and meetings with school staff. One time I went so far as to follow one of the mothers back to her house after dropoff, to check the ingredients she was using to make her special “nut-free” birthday cupcakes for little Daniel. I know, I’m crazy. But it did turn out that until my impromptu visit, the mom in question wasn’t planning to use a new jar of jam or the unused side of the butter, or to double clean her baking utensils. After that, I got the school to institute a “no baked goods from home” policy.

But now Lucas has entered big kid turf, where everyone brings their own snacks and eats them at leisure during recess, leaving Mommy Dearest with no choice but to back off. And I can’t pretend this comes easy.

In a life with anaphylaxis, so it goes that each new liberation makes way for new challenges. I am more liberated because Lucas is now a relatively responsible, highly communicative little boy with an acute and positive awareness of his allergies. I no longer have to deduce his signs and symptoms. If something is wrong, I can rely on him to tell me or his teachers how he feels. He is strong, gung-ho about school and ready to spend the day away from home. The exception is the lunch hour, which I’m just not ready to relinquish, despite my son’s pleas to stay and eat with his friends. “Mom, you don’t have to worry about me, I love Grade One and it’s cool to stay for lunch,” has been his mantra since day two.

Cool for whom? Well, I suppose it’s cool that he feels so confident, but there are two lunch supervisors in a makeshift lunchroom that squishes more than 70 kids onto the floor to forage their over-stuffed food packs in 20 minutes. They spend the rest of the hour in the schoolyard with the remains of their mostly unidentified lunches stuffed into their pockets.

In Grade One, Lucas is no longer relegated to one classroom for 2½ hours every morning, but instead moves around the school throughout the day, making it imperative that he wear his EpiPen from morning till late afternoon with backups placed in other locations, including one strapped onto the recess monitor’s safety apron. Until now, my son only had the auto-injector belted on for a few hours every morning.

This is new territory we’ve entered. He now has several teachers and recess, which is monitored by a rotation of staff. It is more important this year than ever that every teacher in the school to be as trained as well as his own. (You won’t be surprised to learn that I led a training session in June).

Although Lucas understands the importance of not sharing snacks, and the school (with my urging) has been great about pushing that point with all the kids, it’s still a crapshoot out there in the mean streets of the playground. Peer pressure can be a powerful lure and let’s face it, teachers have plenty to contend with beyond looking for snack-sharing hooligans, allergy bullies or peanut-wielding rebels. Much of this would be far too subtle for them to notice any way.

So in effect, Grade One means that, for the first time, I am entrusting my little guy to take care of himself, to speak up for himself and eat only the food that I pack for him. That’s a big leap of faith for any parent, dealing with allergies or not.

I know when I walk away from the school in the morning, I share that nervous smile with the other moms – the one that mixes anxiety, pride and freedom into one common facial expression. But there’s an extra thump in my heart that makes letting go all the more profound for me.

Now if I can only stop spying on recess (kidding!).

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