Wednesday, February 1, 2012

"Did I Mention My Kid Has Food Allergies? I Did?"

I went to one of those "pyramid scheme" parties last week. You know what I'm talking about...the kind where you go to a friend's house and pay her friend (who just happens to sell XYZ Products) 4x more than you should for stuff you never wanted in the first place?

I felt pretty angry and resentful about attending this party. I've been to a ton of them in the past. Plus, I'm not working at the moment so money is pretty tight. But...I went and I bought something because that's what you do. Social obligation.

However, within minutes of crossing the threshold, I did something I hate, but that I seem to do every time: I uttered the words food allergy.

I don't know how it happens! I have an interesting life, I think. The sum total of my identity is not my oldest child's health issues. And yet...it seems my conversation always comes back around to it. This time, it started out innocuously: have to leave early, getting up early, college tour in the morning. Next thing I knew, my anxiety about dealing with food allergies and college came leaping out of my mouth.

The effect was immediate. Those who already knew about my "issue" edged away. Those who were in the immediate conversation group glazed over. That old saying about how people judge you within the first 30 seconds of meeting you?  With food allergies, it takes only a nanosecond before you're labeled that kind of mom.

O.k., so maybe some of this is a bit of an exaggeration, but it's easy to feel the socially-isolating effects of food allergy. Why does it happen to us and not the mom of the diabetic child? Food allergies have characteristics that you don't find with other illnesses:
  • They're invisible. There's no way to know whether a child truly has a food allergy unless you're unlucky enough to see a reaction unfold right in front of you. "Food Allergy Parent" and "Crazy, Controlling Hypochondriac Parent" look exactly the same from the outside.
  • They're scary. No one likes the idea of a child dropping dead at their house during a play date. Much easier just to avoid child and parent of child.
  • They're limiting for others. Kids with FA have to think about everything they eat and everywhere they go, and anyone who associates with them is pulled along. That's a real drag. 

I know all this, and I know better than to talk about it. Yet, it's a Catch-22. As the cook and cruise director in my family, the burden of my child's safety falls on my shoulders. There's a huge amount of stress associated with this and yet talking about that stress with others - the normal safety valve - is something that's verboden if I want to keep my friendships going.

I understand. It's scary and boring and ultimately it's not their problem. On the other hand, I just bought magic silver mops at your crazy party! Isn't that worth something in the currency of social obligation?

Just give me two minutes to get it out and then, I swear to God, I will self-regulate and we can go back to talking about Kim Kardashian.