Growing Into — But Not Out of — Severe Allergies

Throughout Natalie’s elementary school years, I always watched over what she ate. I accompanied her to birthday parties, class trips, and playdates, coming with snacks and other foods that were safe for her to eat. At her school, I feel confident and comfortable with the staff’s ability to handle her potentially life-threatening (severe) allergy. Her teachers and friends know about it, and Natalie knows where to sit at lunch and remembers to wipe down the table.

But now that Natalie’s 11 and becoming more independent, I know that my ability to watch and protect her will decrease. As if the tween years didn’t bring enough challenges, throw in a severe food allergy and it seems like a recipe for disaster!

I can no longer linger in the back at birthday parties, playdates (or “hanging out” as it’s now called), sporting events, and school functions. I do research before any of Natalie’s activities: Does she have her epinephrine auto-injector bag, safe snack, and wipes? Are her friends and their parents aware?

Sometimes I’ll get a last-minute call about the ice cream place that the coach wants to take them to after a game. We’ve discussed procedures for local eateries: Natalie knows to ask for vanilla ice cream with a clean scooper and, if she wants sprinkles, she’ll get the new ones from the container.

The way I see it, tweens need some freedom, but they also need to know that they have a safe, secure home. One of the few bonuses to Natalie’s severe nut allergy is the fact that I believe it helped my husband, Paul, and me to create a firm foundation with Natalie and her two younger brothers — and we know that this will carry over to their tween years and beyond.

We both spend time with Natalie, asking about her day. Sometimes she’ll tell us about how she had to ask a classmate to wash their hands after eating peanut butter. Or she’ll inform me that she told her teacher that someone was eating a peanut butter candy, just to make her aware. I remain calm when she relays these stories to me, because I always want her to feel comfortable and confident (even if I’m feeling nervous inside!). If I can offer more advice, I do. There are so many times that I feel powerless over what might happen to her, but I try not to compensate by being overly protective. I’ve come to the realization that although I can advocate for Natalie, there will come a time in the near future when she will be her own best advocate.

Disclaimer: The experiences, opinions, and suggestions recounted in this article are not intended as medical advice. They are unique to the family depicted and do not necessarily represent the “typical” experience of families with a child who has severe allergies. Families should talk to their healthcare professionals regarding the treatment of severe allergies.