My nails will be painted. I will sit up tall in the white wooden chairs used only for special occasions, as I fiddle with the edges of the program. The room, lined with graduation photos and decorations, will vibrate with excitement and emotion. I will resemble the other parents today. Only, I don't know if I will feel the same as they do. They will be filled with well-deserved pride as they watch their hard-working high school seniors transition to their new lives. We will hear inspiring speeches, laugh and maybe even shed a tear or two. I won't be thinking about my son's future college or about how diligent he worked, this is almost secondary to me. I am not sure what feelings await me on graduation day.
It's been a long, yet perfect haul.
These last twelve years of preparing my food allergic son for college has been chocked-full of perseverance, frustration, joy and moments so touching I cry when I think about it. Our road has been so very different due to life-threatening food allergies, a confusing invisible disease which was compounded by asthma. The disease makes little sense to many people and quite frankly, me too, with no concise definitions, tests or cure. Within seconds, my son's throat could close up, choking him to death all caused by a small sesame seed or other allergens.
When I called my then local school district to talk kindergarten and food allergies, I was advised my son would be placed in a special education program!? He simply needed help to avoid allergens until he was old enough to self-manage and for the school to be able to respond to an anaphylactic emergency. As I hung up the phone, the grim reality sunk in; this disease is new and unfamiliar territory not only to me but to my community. The journey had begun and the goal was to make it the finish line intact, in one healthy piece and loving every bit of life.
Immediately, two objectives rose to the top: learn all we could about this fluid disease in which guidelines, science and protocol constantly change while teaching our son to self-advocate and manage by graduation day. We rolled up our sleeves and leaned into our new food allergic world.
Engulfed in sappy sentimentality, curled up on our couch, hubby and I thought about the last twelve years and what it took to get our son to this moment; independent and ready to live his own authentic life. The challenges we battled were keeping him included and safe while not burdening other parents or schools as we kept honest by sharing his medical needs. In a society that operates at an overwhelmingly fast speed, we found it tough conquering the balance between being an active community member without creating hardships for others. Our solution was to simply push forward by learning, communicating and offering as much support humanly possible.
An estimated 1,680 peanut-tree nut-dairy-egg and sesame seed free muffins were baked, plus 2,020 allergen savvy chocolate chips cookies were dispersed to hundreds of classmates, teachers and parents during various feasts, celebrations and sporting events, not to mention copious amounts of cake, dip and other allergen safe treats. Seventeen chaperoned field trips were attended by one of us (to help ease teacher work), twelve teacher appreciation week lunches included immense gratitude and cooking.
Oodles of birthday party cupcakes were created, dozens of uncomfortable conversations experienced as numberless hours were spent calling manufacturers to confirm food items were not at risk for cross contact. There were several learning moments of when I flat out blew it and was that crazy mom, in addition to times of bliss experiencing true friendship and kindness, hundreds of tears of frustration and gratitude for strangers, classmates and friends who went far beyond the extra mile. Sweating through events that were questionably "safe" and praying for no reactions as we did not want to be the reason for an ambulance to arrive were far too frequent.
All of these precious items and moments were time well spent.
This journey has come full circle now and the life lessons food allergies and asthma brought made us better people and has taught my son that life is not fair or perfect, but true friends, solutions, and real compassion are abundant when we all simply work together and are authentic.
My little boy who learned to walk using a small toy shopping cart is now ready to glide into his new world, equipped and ready for all that comes his way.
Image of my son Cyrus courtesy of Daily Blessings Photography.