One of the scariest days a mom can ever have

You may or may not know that my oldest son, who will be 11 in 2 weeks, has life threatening peanut and tree nut allergies.  He was diagnosed at 12 months old. It is part of what makes him the amazing person he is and it is a way of life for all of us. His food allergy DOES NOT define him and it DOES NOT dictate his life. It DOES require planning, vigilance, understanding, planning ahead, awareness of environments, trust, faith and preparedness in all areas and aspects of his life.  Guess what?  It sounds tough and it is, but it is also something we have accepted with grace.  We made it a part of our life not something we just work around.

Do we get scared? YES. Do we get frustrated? YES. Do we wish that more people understood the severity? YES.  There are many emotions involved and a lot we wish in regards to his food allergies, societies’ awareness of food allergies, and what the future will look like as he gets older and takes on more responsibility for his food allergies.

Over a period of 10 years, as you would imagine, we have navigated many circumstances at home, in school and in the community with his food allergies. We have researched, read, experienced, advocated, taught, laughed and cried…all around his food allergies.  In all those years, all those circumstances, all the knowledge, all the advocacy and all the emotions nothing prepared us for having his life threatened with the weapon of choice being his food allergy.

I can remember everything about the day this past spring. I remember what I was wearing and what he was wearing. I remember the exact details of every moment from the time I picked him up from school and saw in his misty blue eyes that something was wrong. I can feel, yes feel, the deafening silence walking to the car and waiting for him to unload once we were safe inside.  I can replay his words over and over again in my head. I can still feel the ungodly hurt that radiated through my body and broke my heart into pieces.  And most of all I will forever have etched in my soul the look on his face as he asked me “why would someone want to hurt me…why would they say they want me to die…why did they think it was funny to use my food allergy…why mom…why?” Those words were the first things he said to me and the conversation continued for weeks after. The betrayal, hurt, anxiety, fear, confusion, sadness, and inner turmoil continued until the end of school year.  When he walked out of school on the last day of school there was a visible change in his appearance and spirit…he could relax.

I had originally written about this experience right after it happened. I recounted the event in detail and intertwined were all of my mama bear emotions. I asked questions. I second guessed how I handled the situation for my son, with the school, with our family…the whole thing. I felt like I failed him somehow. I wanted the proverbial bubble to surround him and to stand guard against the world outside of it. Instead I ripped the pages from my journal and stowed them away. I decided that this was going to be a teachable moment for everyone involved. I decided we were going to continue to lift my son up in love, light, support and strength while handling this circumstance with grace, gratitude, forgiveness and education.

You are probably thinking I am crazy. I assure you I am of very sound mind and had prayed, meditated, cried, screamed into my pillow, and contemplated a million different ways to handle the situation. It all came back to the safety, security and emotional, mental and physical wellbeing of my son…period. The rest would be teachable moments, life lessons, expanding our food allergy awareness and advocacy work, and grace.

My son and I sat down and talked about things he felt he learned or understood better having gone through this experience.

  1. A bully does not fit any mold or stereotype. It can be anyone, any gender, a friend or a classmate.
  2. You will NEVER be ready or prepared to have your life threatened or for the emotions that surround that experience. But if you have someone to talk to, love you and support you then you WILL be okay.
  3. You are STRONGER than you think.
  4. You can provide people with information but that doesn’t mean they will use it, understand it or care. Still give them the information.
  5. You cannot hold people to the expectations that you have for yourself because not everyone will react the way you think they should or want them to.
  6. Being kind matters.
  7. Your mindset makes a difference in your ability to handle situations.
  8. It is okay to hold people accountable when they hurt you.
  9. Forgiveness is not about letting someone off the hook; it is about releasing the burden from ourselves.
  10. That you can make a positive difference from a negative situation.

His ‘positive difference” was that because of him his school, during food allergy awareness week, provided lessons on Food Allergies and Food Allergy Bullying. This is something they plan to continue and we plan to work towards getting the entire district involved.

Hindsight is 20/20 but nothing could have prevented what happened. No matter what I would have done, my son would have done, or the school would have done could have prevented this student from threatening my son’s life.  It was their choice and something they have to live with and decide how they handle themselves in the future.

The future is unknown.

What I can tell you is that my son is healing and our family is healing. Our lives have continued and will continue. We are proud of the way we handled ourselves and the situation. We will continue providing food allergy awareness and advocacy for children, families, schools and communities.

Taralee is an educator, advocate, philanthropist and a published author.

She has passionately contributed to the fields of special education and early childhood education since 1998, meeting her student’s and client’s needs in the home, school and community. She excels at recognizing each child’s unique gift and successfully ignites their love of learning through exploration, discovery and play. It is through this work that "Inspired Education" was born. As a philanthropist, Taralee served as the President and member of the Board of Trustees for the Southern Regional New Jersey Early Intervention Collaborative for 8 years.

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