You don’t always see it coming. You don’t know when your child will come to you with their difficult feelings. The day is coming though, and when it does, chances are it will break your heart. It starts with a simple, innocent seemingly normal question. “Are you and dad allergic to peanuts?”
After explaining to him that we are not allergic to peanuts but choose not to eat them to help keep him safe, I decided to ask him a question. “How does having allergies make you feel?”
Only one word was spoken, and he hid his head in the couch cushions so I wouldn’t see the devastated look on his face. My reaction…choke back tears and try to ask another question to see if I can help him talk through what he is feeling. “Why?” A question that can go in any direction. A lip begins to quiver. Eyes get shiny with tears. A small voice starts to shake a bit and then the flood of emotions take over.
I let him feel it, and I feel it with him. I feel his pain, and it hurts. I hold him close, listen to his heart, and cry right along with him. You may be curious about what he had to say. Even though he is only four, I want to respect his privacy. Because of this, I’ve asked him for permission to share this story. With his consent, here were the cries of his heart…He doesn’t want people to eat nuts around him. He’s scared of what might happen if people bring food into our home or if he goes to someone else’s house. He’s worried someone might eat nuts and then try to make him eat them too. He doesn’t want to have to say “no” to them. He wants me to speak for him and tell everyone about his allergies.
This is not how life should be, but yet it is how life is for us and for millions of others. Here, a four-year-old understands serious dangers that he shouldn’t have to deal with in the first place. It doesn’t take long for them to learn that they are different and that sometimes different isn’t fun. Different is hard. Different means you don’t always get to have the food at the party that everyone else is eating (but let's be honest...sometimes you don't even get invited). You’re told being different makes you special, but you don’t feel very special.
So…where do we go from here? Forward…it’s really the only choice. We lead by example in advocating for our kids. We have the uncomfortable conversations with the restaurant manager, the other kids’ parents, and the family members who just don’t understand. We explain our child’s needs to people again and again, praying that we are understood and that our passion for our child’s safety and inclusion is contagious. We stay involved so they can be involved too.
We pray for a cure, keep our meds close, and do our best to keep allergies from limiting our life. We keep going because our love for them fuels us each and every day.
My hope for you is that the sad days are few and far between. My prayer is that your days are filled with joy and your differences, although difficult, are also what make you strong and compassionate in life. If today has been one of those days for you, know you are not alone. Know that not all days will be dark. Look for the blessings. Celebrate them. Tomorrow is a new day.
1 Peter 5:7 Give all your worries to him, because he cares about you.