“Mama, at my birthday, can we just have food that I can eat?”
That’s something I hear every year – it’s what happens when your kids have multiple food allergies. Kids look at them oddly – kids in the cafeteria carefully scoot away – kids at birthday parties ostracize those who can’t eat the pizza and cake…. At least, that’s what some kids do. But then again, the responses of some kids make you want to run up and swing them into the air (in a fun way, not in an “enter another orbit” sort of way). These other kids lean in, ask what your kid is eating, wonder what it tastes like. Some of them light up when you ask if they want to try it out. Some sit staunchly by their friends, laughing bravely as the other children melt away.
Enter homeschooling – not somewhere I ever imagined that I would visit, yet here I am. Why homeschool? Hmmm… loaded question. Many reasons, one of which was, yes, food allergies. It seemed that everything rewarding at school involved food that my children could not eat – graphing with chocolate and gummie bears, decorating cookies at Christmas, candy in the valentines in February, snack bags at the zoo, pizza and popsicle parties when class goals were achieved… the list goes on from there. Sour grapes? Yum, yes please! Oh, you mean, was I mad? No, not really. We had terrific teachers who really bent over backwards to help us. But at what cost? The teachers were overworked and understaffed – mistakes that were no one’s fault happened. My child learned that she was different, that the fun things were usually something she could not have. She learned caution when she should have been running around giggling. She learned that she was a different sort of animal – one who did not fit the puzzle.
So, we took her out. Has it helped? Well, last year I asked her if she’d like to apply to a charter school with one of her best friends. “WHAT?” she yelled, “No way! I LOVE homeschooling!” And I must admit, it has made life so much simpler. No more scrambling to find food that she can eat that won’t make her look strange. No more ruined zoo trips from the wrong snack on the bus. And friends…. that is so funny to me now. I spent an entire summer worried that I would socially stunt my child. My child who now has 2-4 playdates every week, adores drama, attends co-op, giggles on the phone with her buddies. Her friends are interested in her – they understand her allergies and love to try and find things for her to eat. Now she has the freedom to pick friends who love her for who she is, instead of dealing with the kids who happen to be in her class. Cool.
Our allergies combined with homeschool teaches us something every day. Why are eggs good for us? Why are they bad for someone who has different allergies (we have a cousin who is basically allergic to everything we can eat)? What is protein? What is calcium? What kinds of food have calcium? What things are best raw? What happens when you add too much baking soda? Our lives have had to slow down, since their food needs to be cooked from scratch. They see where their food comes from – we garden, visit farms, learn about beef cattle.
On one memorable occasion, we even learned about deer. We drove waaaay out in the country to purchase some venison. Never having done this, I was a teeny bit nervous. I mean, we had read Little House on the Prairie, but this was a bit too much like a reality show, homeschool style. I drove up and left the girls in the car, explaining that I wasn’t sure what it would look like inside this… barn-type slaughter house. Understand, I was a vegetarian for many years. This was a huge step for me, and I wanted to shelter the girls a bit. I went inside and got the meat (neatly packaged in plastic and processed to look like something at the grocery store – whew!). As I got into the car, my oldest daughter asked “Mom, why exactly did you want us to stay here?” “Oh, I was worried there would be dead animals around.” “Like those?” she asked, pointing. Oh ding dang darn. I had parked them beside another barn. The door was open, showing about 12 deer hanging upside down, in various stages of ... gross. With my tunnel vision and nervousness, I hadn’t even noticed. I moaned weakly and drove away. But we ate that deer. And I must admit, it was very very good.
Food allergies and homeschool, who would have guessed? Instead of a high paying job in the science field, I hike up my pj’s and read stories about famous scientists to a very avid audience. Instead of dropping by a fast food joint on the way home from after school programs, we pack a picnic lunch and spend the morning at a museum. Instead of time to myself, I have found myself. Gluten, sugar and dairy are, for us, bad. But life, life is good, so good.