But sometimes, just every once in a long while, food allergy moms hit a point where they are just worn to the core. They need to step away from packing lunches, planning five different meals each day, every day. And the dishes... I just don't even need to explain that one, do I? It's not that we are being selfish or giving up or even showing weakness. Not at all. I can guarantee you that a fight with a food allergy mom comes pretty close to a scene out of The Exorcism. Mama Bears protect with all of their might.
So how does a food allergy mom go on strike, uh, I mean vacation? All it takes is a little glimpse of what life would be like without having to constantly think, think, think...did I mention think? Something that is still safe for their child. Something just as simple as say, an overnight class trip with Dad? Really? Gosh! Think of it. Can I do this, can I really do this? Let him go and just pretend to take care of myself for once? Is that awful? Is it being a horrible mother that is neglectful? Will I be punished for eternity for taking just an instant for myself? The answer is no- you CAN do this and I recommend that you do.
The hardest part is the preparation. You know your child and you know that being at home is easiest- there are always safe foods or you can run to the store to get whatever you need. But what happens if you send him off and he eats more than what you have packed? What if he is stuck in the middle of nowhere and everybody else is eating and he has run out of food and starves to death? What if he gets so hungry that he desperately tries to eat something that he is not supposed to have? What if...what if something happens and you were not there to keep him safe?
This was my mind for weeks before the trip. Planning, double-planning, speaking with teachers, asking my son what to so if he starts to feel "not right" and trying to still stay composed so that your child does not get stressed out with you. This is key- STAY COMPOSED! Remember, this trip is about him and should remain that way. Make it easy and stress-free so that he leaves feeling excited, not afraid. Besides, Dad is going with him. He will be safe(r). But then I see Dad stressing and I actually relax a little because I understand that this is something that our whole family deals with, not just me or my son. Inside, I am slightly relieved that someone else is stressed about it as well.
Food allergy moms become masters of traveling with small, compact grocery stores. We think of (most) everything that will be needed and then we magically condense it as much as we can into a somewhat organized pile. For those of you who have not ventured away from home yet, this is a sneak peek at what you can expect-
Step 1- Meals. I literally create all of his meals, seal them and mark them to avoid any confusion. Plastic bags keep the meals fresh, contamination free and dry from the melting ice in the cooler during travel. The kitchen staff is instructed that ONLY Dad or my son will go to get his food to avoid any possibility of a slip-up.
Step 2- Activities. Camp means activities. Activities mean that you need to ask a lot of questions that people without food allergies don't think of. What will be involved? Who monitors it? Are foods involved? Will hands be washed prior to the foods? My son's trip was having smores over the campfire one night. Yum! But this still required asking if the wood that they burned was treated or contained any nuts (that would have sucked). Nuts in wood? Uh, yea!
Step 3- Label and seal. Everything, everything and everything is labeled and sealed. Safe egg-free marshmallows, safe chocolate bars, safe graham crackers and even his own smores stick (end wrapped in foil to avoid accidental dropping or touching). Every package also contains individual packets of hand wipes in case they are out and away from sinks and soap. Because tromping through the marsh and then using the same hands to put smores together...ugh! (vomiting in mouth just a bit).
Step 4 - Wave and relax- This is strangely what I did. I never thought that I would be able to send him off and not completely loose my mind but I did. Now I am not saying that I did not keep close tabs on them (thanks Dad for the texts!) but I did feel as if I could, well, just breathe. Do you remember that feeling? I had forgotten it but I knew that it meant that all would be ok. And if my mommy-voice is saying "It's ok" then I go with it.
And for three days, that's what I did- I just went with it. I did not go to the food store, I did not pack any lunches, I did not run the dishwasher or check with teachers to see if anyone was sending in food or snacks. I did not say no to my daughter when she wanted to go out to dinner. I did not read any labels and I did not worry about what I had touched or who may have handed me something. I did, however say no to my daughter who wanted to try shrimp because I did not have an EpiPen with us and that mommy voice kicked in and shook her head at me.
And the end result? Everybody was fine. I had bonding time with my daughter and my son came home safe with Dad- both exhausted and smelly. I had mounds of dishes and laundry but I was still relaxed and just going with it. Life was back to normal with one exception- I was glad to be back as the food allergy mom. For me, food allergies have become our way of life. This is our "normal" and although I had a few wonderful days, I enjoyed the homecoming even more. I am not saying that this mom doesn't need a break now and then but I will say that this mom will always be grateful for what she has.