Sunday, July 22, 2018

Allergy Mom: 'Twas the night before a new school year...

Twas the night before a new school year. And I have it all under control. Almost. I have all the supplies, backpacks packed, emails written, newsletter in the works, hand wipes and outfits all ready to go. These are the things I can control. So, I embrace them. And I get in control.

What I can't control, though, is what terrifies me. It's what has me on edge. My anxiety rippling under the surface. With a new school year comes a new classroom, a new teacher, a new grade level -- all leaving the comfort and familiarity we had as we left Kindergarten with Elias.

You see, he has life threatening food allergies. Specifically to peanuts and tree nuts. And you see, I watched his classmates bring in peanut butter crackers and the like to snack to eat in his classroom often last year. Even though a letter went home from the school system requesting no items with nuts be sent in due to a student's allergy.

I know what happens in the cafeteria. I know there are nut residue proteins everywhere. I know that supplies are shared. I know I couldn't possibly protect every surface. I know nothing will do that. I know Elias is growing and learning he's different. I know he hates he can't choose his seat (or seatmates) at lunch or snack. I know he was excluded from 18 birthday parties last year and his 'special snacks' lost their luster. I set those rules for him, as the are the best things I have as tools to protect him.

I've learned more about the Wake County Public School System's policies -- or lack thereof -- than I care to have ever learned. I know their policies put kids like my son at risk. I know, one day, their inability to budge on such an important matter -- and follow recommendations set forth by expert organizations -- is going to be harmful to a child. It's only a matter of time. And that infuriates me. I spent this summer settling my heart after a battle against the school board last year. And now that school is tomorrow, it's all coming flooding back.

I'm thankful for our small school. That everyone knows my boy and his super protective and intuitive big brother will be right there. I'm thankful that we know his teacher. I'm thankful that we fought for his 504 plan and have a few additional measures in place to protect him.

But it's all so unknown all over again. I want him to be a kid. To not worry about life or death from things he may not even be able to see with his own eyes. I want him to choose his seat and his friends beside him. I want, I want, I want.

But these are the cards we've been dealt. And we will handle them with grace and strength. I'll keep pushing for change and praying for protection.

I know that his peanut oral immunotherapy played a big role in keeping him safe in Kindy. I suspect the eczema he developed on his face the last few months of school last year had something to do with a year's worth of peanut or nut residue building up on all the surfaces, manipulatives, keyboards, supplies. The skin is the last organ to 'forget' the allergy in oral immunotherapy.

I also know that one odd flick in his immune system one day -- be it fighting off the latest virus or environmental allergens -- could complicate his peanut dose that day, or the next. I know that I'd pick up on things during the day that others will not. I know that his peanut numbers are continuing to come down (thank you, God) but he's still considered highly allergic. I also, sadly, know that his tree nut numbers have climbed up. Which was unexpected and is a new fear, just as I was finding pretty solid protection against the damn peanut.

All these things I know. That are flying around in my mom brain, as my baby sleeps peacefully in his bed. Tomorrow he's a first grader and tomorrow I have to let go all over again.

I hope for understanding of other parents. To read the letter stating a classmate has a life-threatening allergy and to take it seriously. For empathy. To realize that I send my child to school daily worried for his life.

I hope for good friends. Understanding friends. Those that watch over him and ask their parents to peace out on the peanut butter and mixed nuts for their friend, Elias.

I hope for an administration that is willing to change. That is willing to see the need for change. That is willing to hear me out and not roll their eyes when I leave their office.

I hope for teachers with a watchful eye. Close ears. And my phone number on speed dial on their phones.

I hope I sleep tonight. I hope I can send him off with a big smile and keep the tears in. It's terrifying. And with faith, I hope a few weeks from now we'll be in a new normal, feeling safe and establishing a great new routine with those who are caring for Elias this year. But right now, I'm just flat out nervous. And right now, it angers me that this is the way it is for me and other parents like me every year. And I intend to do all I can to make it better for us all. Mostly for our children. And their lives.
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