Friday, September 13, 2013

Adult in Training: Why Allergic Kids Need You

I recently had a review meeting for my daughter's 504 plan.  It was just an informal review with her team of fifth grade teachers to make sure we are all starting the year on the same page, and that no updates need to be made at this time.  I love that the principal of her building suggested it!  (My preference is always to meet with teachers before the year starts to review this, but that was not in the cards this year, for many reasons.)

It was, quite truthfully, a great meeting.  The team of teachers we have this year is receptive and open to communicating with me.  Most everyone had a friendly and positive attitude.

The exception was the school nurse.  I'm sure that she is a lovely lady, but she carries an air of hostility with her into these meetings.  I can't tell if she is feeling defensive or is she is combative for an unknown reason, but her attitude is not one of receptiveness.  Maybe my manner of advocacy makes her feel as if her authority or wisdom are under question.  (They are not.)

Something the nurse said at the end of the meeting really struck a chord in me.  I think it resonates so profoundly because we allergy mamas hear a similar message all the time from combative non-allergy parents that are reluctant to accommodate our children.  I can't capture it verbatim, but the gist was:

"I think that everyone here needs to understand that she (my daughter) has this.  You told me last year that we need to listen to her, and she really does know what she needs."

The implication for me was that we should all calm down and be less, less worried, and not so overprotective.  Why?  Because my fifth grader is capable of managing this allergy on her own.

That may not be the way it was intended, but that is what I heard.  Likely because of the number of times I've heard grumbles from other moms.  The ones that say "Doesn't she know not to eat those things?"  "Why do we have to give up our treats because of one child, she can just avoid it, right?"

What I want to tell the world is: Yes. My 10 year old does have a remarkable grasp on what she can and can not eat.  Her incredible grasp on this is what allows me to leave her in a hostile environment so often.  It allows me to drop her off for extracurricular activities with minimally trained staff.  It allows her to play at a friend's house.  I am actively helping her learn how to be aware, and how to advocate for herself.  I know she has wisdom beyond her years, and responsibility beyond measure.  It happens when you need to be constantly vigilant about your surroundings in order to stay safe, and alive.  If your child had to constantly scan his/her environment for threats the same maturity would develop.

The reason I need the adults in the room to be on the same page is this: she is an adult in training.  She is not an adult.  As a child, she is prone to lapses in judgement, doubts, and questions.  (Heavens!  As an adult I *still* have lapses in judgement.)  Her judgement is still being honed, it is imperfect and based on her child's perspective.

Because of this I need to know that the adults surrounding her have her back in case she does suffer from a moment of poor decision making, or makes an under-informed decision.  I need to know they can guide her when she has questions and uncertainties.  Most of all, I need to know that her safety net is in place and they can take the appropriate (educated) actions.

So, yes. I know that my child has this.  The same way you know that your child has a handle on her own life challenges, like crossing the street, not falling off the jungle gym, and doing her homework on time.  I still take care to make sure her environment is filled with safe adults, the same way you do.

When you send your child out into the world, you have brief moments of stress about whether they will got lost on their way to the bathroom on the first day of school, if they will have friends to play with at recess, or to sit with at lunch, if they will cross the street carefully on the way home.  What they would do if a stranger approached them.

I worry about my child eating something she thinks is safe, or touching residue of unsafe food on the table and reacting because her eczema is open... everywhere.  I worry about my child's life.  The same way you do.  But my fear involves food, present everyday in many ways.  She can't avoid it.  She is careful.

Just like crossing the street, she knows how to manage this.  But if it were that easy we would never see a news story about a child getting hit by a car, or any person for that matter.  Lapses in judgement happen, both on her end on the end of the adults in charge.  The more people that know how to provide for her safety the higher her chances of staying safe.

I know she has this.  As the adults in the room I have to know you have her back.

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