Less than 48 hours before Food Allergy Awareness Week kicked off, I raised food allergy awareness in my own home with my allergic son.
While my husband and I freely educate everyone about food allergies, we chose to hold back one detail with our allergic son. We basically told him everything about food allergies, except we kept the L.T. on the down-low, L.T. = Life-Threatening.
I know, I know, chastise me if you want. Our goal was to tell him prior to starting first grade, this upcoming fall. We knew it was appropriate to provide him with all the symptoms, the emergency protocol, the knowledge that an ambulance ride was necessary and a possible short or long hospital stay. But death, that seemed too frightening for my doe-eyed, sensitive boy. The discussion made even me worry. I think I would prefer to have the birds and the bees talk to telling him food allergies can be life threatening. Here’s why…
Every year we visit my home state of Ohio and visit my mother’s grave. My son was born exactly seven years, two weeks and two days after my mother’s death. I’ve always said that God gave me something to mourn and celebrate in the month of September.
Last year my son started to ask questions about why we go to the cemetery. When I explained that we go to remember and celebrate the life of my mom, your grandmother, he was fine with it. But then, about 50 yards away was a very large hole being dug for an upcoming burial. His questions mounted. I explained our funeral and burial process, not in a lot of detail, but just enough to give him an idea. Even though I told him that grandma was in heaven and her body in the ground, to a five-year-old that was overwhelming. Even when I said it I could hear the wheels in my son’s head turning, how can grandma be in heaven and her body in the ground – two places at once. It took almost two months before he stopped thinking and asking me questions about it.
Trust me, I can understand his worry. When I was a youngster the complete 3rd generation above me all died before I was nine. It seemed like every other week we were doing a tour of funeral homes, Masses and cemeteries. Anyhow, I knew he wasn’t ready for the L.T. news until he was a bit older.
But then…he started to do something that a food allergic kiddo is best not to do…bite his nails. Seeing his jagged nails was like nails on a chalkboard for me.
In our effort to curb his gnawing claw addiction, we tried all sorts of things. We took away bedtime stories, we took away bedtime cuddle, which quickly evolved to no stories and cuddle, and then lastly, dessert (which is only twice a week) was taken away. My husband and I talked about black pepper, Tabasco, etc. Nothing seemed to faze him and the kicker was that he admitted to biting his nails at school. School…where 20% of anaphylactic reactions take place.
Last Friday I did a spot check to find that his fingernails aren’t growing and looked just as jagged as the last time. My husband and I agreed that it was time for the talk.
We were eating dinner and my husband started:
“Your mother and I have gotten very upset that you are biting your nails and you’re probably wondering what’s the big deal. You know there’s the possibility of coming into contact with one of your allergens, have it on or underneath your nails and then put it in your mouth and have a reaction. I guess that isn’t enough for you to stop biting. But you know son…food allergies can be life threatening. That means you could die.”
I chimed in and shared with him his Anaphylaxis Plan and read a statement at the top of the Plan: “Anaphylaxis is a serious allergic reaction that is rapid in onset and may cause death.” My son said to me, “I didn’t know that.” I said, “We didn’t want to scare you; but, biting your nails is starting to scare and worry us. You can’t afford to be a nail biter.”
My son took it so well, better than I did mentally. As I look at the little boy, who isn’t so little anymore I guess, it’s hard to reconcile that this heavy burden has to be placed on a child. A child, who is just starting to live a wonderful life, has to hear about the possibility of death. It all seems so strange.
I felt a little bit of innocence leave him as our conversation ended. I’ve always said that my son is an old soul. He takes life so much in stride, more so than most adults. I don’t think that’s by chance. I truly believe that Someone knew that he would handle the burden well, just as Someone knew that I would be the mother and my husband the father that would so fiercely love and protect him while ensuring balance in his life.
My hope is that he will stop biting his nails. Time will only tell. In the meantime, my husband has offered him his Greek worry beads, and we continue to remind him what he can’t afford to be…a nail biter.