Today, my daughter concluded her current extracurricular activity. She worked behind the scenes to keep a performance running smoothly. The reward was a small, supervised party followed by an unofficial trip to the local snack shop. I heard about the unofficial part when making arrangements to carpool and the other mother asked if my child was going to the second party. You see, the younger kids usually don't. But Penguin isn't a younger child anymore. She crossed the barrier into 'big kid'. In fact, soon her friends will include a series of licensed drivers. Yikes.
I weighed the question carefully. The main question being why hadn't my daughter been the one to ask if she could go? Did she want to? Did I want her to?
"I'll have to get back to you," I told the other mom.
Honestly, it would have been easier not to worry about it. How would she get there? How long would she stay? As an unofficially supervised outing, what sort of adult influence would be present? I could just pick her up at the proscribed time and bring her home.
Ironically, most of my concerns vanished as soon as I asked Penguin if she wanted to go and she answered no, with a shrug. "I mean, I do want to. But I can't and that's okay." She left the words between us with a smile and turned back to her drawing.
"What do you mean, you can't?" I asked carefully. In my head were a number of scenarios, the 'mean girls' attitude that is common among her peers being forefront. Up until now, this group of kids has been friendly and embracing; clamoring for her attention.
She frowned at me. "Food? They're going there for ice cream, and it's just easier if I don't go. I can't eat anything."
She said it flippantly. Off handed. Accepting. Like she'd come to the brick wall in a maze and instead of feeling around to see if it were an illusion, she turned around and continued on her way. But it felt like someone had just knocked the wind out of my sails. Food allergies. The brick wall we've been telling her doesn't exist for the past 5 years. Yes, you have to avoid certain food. But we'll find a way. We'll make arrangements. We'll make it work.
"Yes, you can!" I told her. I pushed logistics and carpooling aside. I told her she didn't have to eat, that just going could be fun. I told her that she could ask for just a fruit bowl. That they might sell juice (Overpriced and under-filling, but it's something). I found myself selling an outing most parents were probably on the fence about. Suddenly this outing, this little social sidestep became important to me. And the way her face lit up with a slow, dawning smile of hope makes me think it was important to her, too.
I've realized over the past year or so that food allergies have really created a barrier for us, as well as a handy excuse. There are a multitude of reasons we don't go to a movie theater, the primary ones being both physical and financial. But it's that airborne corn allergy that I cite. Even though I can't afford to spend nearly $10 a ticket on a 90 minute escape from reality (that may or may not be worth watching on a big screen), it feels horrible to state it out loud. And the two facts are both perfectly valid and completely honest. If I were given 2 free tickets to the movies, I'd send my child with a friend or relative because physically, it's not safe for me to go (just as it's not safe for me to eat in a restaurant; although I occasionally brave the atmosphere) If they were to purge the theater of popcorn and air it out thoroughly, I'd still not go because of the cost. And there are so many other things on my plate right now that a trip to the movies isn't even something I'm missing.
But, my children may see that as a barrier. Food allergies = I can't.
I can't eat out. I can't go to a theater. I can't participate in birthday parties. I can't be normal.
Like every other food allergy parent out there, my definitions of 'normal' changed the moment that food allergies came on the scene. At first, it was for my kids. When I was diagnosed, the lines of normal and martyr and sacrifice and safety got murky. But we're redrawing them. Normal isn't eating out nightly. It doesn't have to be something we hide or are ashamed of. Food allergies aren't something to be ashamed of. They simply are a part if who we are.