Samantha Yaffe’s frank take on motherhood with allergies
Last year, out of nowhere, Lucas started to complain about wearing his EpiPen to school. Until that point he’d been pretty cooperative about it, choosing instead to grumble about bedtime, mealtime, Wii time, his little brother, the fact that our living room is not a basketball court and everything in between.
“This too shall pass,” I was hoping, though just beneath the surface I was fretting, suspecting that my second biggest fear as an allergic parent was starting to unfold in front of my eyes. Until now, I was always so proud, and comforted, by how well Lucas handled his identity as an allergic kid, how seldom it was that he’d take issue with all the special vigilance involved in his care.
I suggested different ways to wear his EpiPen belt, and even bought him a new type of carrier for a little bribery action. Quickly, his complaints escalated to full-blown crying jags before school, refusals to get dressed in the morning and ultimately a refusal to wear his EpiPen altogether.
“Why do I have to wear it?” he’d cry, whine, yell. “I’m the only one. I hate it. I hate having allergies…”
“Lucas you know you have to wear it. You’re not the only one. It’s there for an emergency. Just like your seatbelt. It’s a safety issue. It’s the school’s policy,” I’d say in various combinations, trying to keep my calm and remain consistent like a good mother.
My heart was breaking all over the place: I wished he didn’t have to wear it either. I wished more than anything that we didn’t have to worry about life-threatening peanut, tree nut and egg allergies. I wished I could make it all go away, but I couldn’t – and can’t. I had to stay strong and unwavering for him, for me, for all of us. My approach, however, was anything but working.
This is when I ended up at Beverley’s house. Beverley is Beverley Cathcart-Ross, a well-known educator and counselor, and the woman I now call my parenting coach. It is with her sage advice and keen understanding of the inner mechanics of my little boy, whom she has still never met, that Lucas and I were able to get past our first “why me?” moment in our allergic journey.
What’s more amazing is that it happened in a flash – the result of one very potent line Beverley gave me to say: “If I had a magic wand, I’d make it all go away.” It’s true, it’s sympathetic, it’s non-negotiable, it has the added value of some fantastical imagery. And it did the trick. He not only wears his EpiPen again without complaint, he’s the first to remember it when, on the rarest occasion, others forget.
He knows why he has to wear his auto-injector.
He’s been told from the beginning. What he needed
to know is that his feelings about it are being heard.
What Beverley pointed out was that my previous and repeated response was nothing but “waa waa waa” to Lucas (remember the adult voices in The Peanuts cartoon?). He knows why he has to wear his auto-injector. He’s been told from the beginning of time. What he needed to know is that his feelings about it are OK and being heard. He knows that now, thanks to that perfect little line, which by the way, works wonders in many moments of adversity with both my boys. That and: “I love you too much to fight with you.”
Another thing Beverley reinforced is that I’m raising my children to be adults. As such, it’s important to think about, and even commit to paper, my long-range goals for them. Some of mine, which are common to most parents are: independence, self-reliance, responsibility, conflict resolution and self-respect.
According to Beverley, once you’ve figured out what life skills you want you kids to possess by the time they’re, say, 18, you must continuously ask yourself whether your actions, decisions, whatever, are working toward or against them.
Now here’s the extra tricky part. While all of my 7 ½-year-old’s friends are enjoying many “age-appropriate,” independence-inducing rites of passage, Lucas – on account of his allergies – is still being accompanied by his nanny on certain play dates; we’re still sticking around at birthday parties; and at this stage I can’t even imagine sending him to overnight camp.
We have added safety concerns that require us to be more on top of Lucas than we’d otherwise have been, yet somehow my kid is suppose to grow up well-adjusted, independent, self-reliant, confident – and with a heightened sense of responsibility since he will be expected to manage his allergies for the rest of his life.
I remember a couple years back a mom from Lucas’s class asked me to join her crusade to get the school to make the kids wear helmets for outdoor sports activities. “I figured you’re as neurotic as me, so you’d probably be all over this,” she said.
But I wasn’t and am not. “I’m only really nuts about nuts,” I told her. I realized in that moment that there are a lot of things other parents concern themselves with that don’t even occur to me because I spend so much time clearing the nuts from the path. Helmets?
I let my 6-year-old ride his bike around the corner without my supervision. I even let him walk home from his friend’s house by himself (granted the boy lives eight houses up the street and I could see him the whole way, but still. I know 12-year-olds who aren’t allowed on their front lawn alone).
So it seems that even before I met Beverley, who has since inspired me to find many new ways to empower my children in an effort to foster all the life skills I want for them, I was already (almost subconsciously) making up for the over-protectiveness inherent in our allergic lives.
I was already showing signs of faith in Lucas that I now understand are key to his sense of independence, confidence and the rest of the stuff I want for him. Now if only I could get my hands on that magic wand.
Beverley Cathcart-Ross is the founder of Parenting Network, www.parentingnetwork.ca . She is a certified parent educator, private counselor and mother of four grown kids. She has helped thousands of families enjoy more harmony in their home and closer relationships with their children.