At the beginning of the school year, Julia's Teacher explained to her fifth grade class how they would be celebrating birthday's. Each student would have the opportunity to share about themselves for one week. They could bring in treats to share and be lead helper for the entire week of their birthday. They would each fill out a sheet of "My Favorite things" along with pictures of themselves and their families. One of the questions are,"What's your favorite ice cream flavor?" Since Julia is allergic to milk, how could she have a favorite ice cream flavor? Her first question was, "Mom, what am I going to say? I can't eat ice cream! It's kind of embarrassing because whenever I tell people, they say that I'm weird. I hate it. I don't want to tell everyone about my allergy!"
I felt horrible that she was ashamed of who she was. After all, as much as I didn't want everyone to label her as "the girl with the food allergies", she does have them and they are a part of who she is. I told her that maybe she could say lemon sorbet, that that really was her favorite flavor of ice cream. Didn't that qualify?? It made sense in my head. Her response to that was, "Mom, that's not ice cream and everyone will say so! I'll look dumb!"
She was angry as she is most of the time about her food allergies. She often does the whole pity party thing. I used to join in and wallow in her sorrows with her, until I realized that I was only enabling that whole unhappy with my life attitude. I now snap her out of it and give her a dose of what I call my reality check. I told her, "Julia, if you don't want to put lemon sorbet then don't, if you don't want to share about your food allergies then don't, but know this, it's who you are. You are beautiful, you are creative, you are kind, incredibly smart and you DO have food allergies. You should NEVER be ashamed of who you are. It's what makes you YOU! If you want to say, I left this blank because I am allergic to milk and I can't eat ice cream. Then that's a great way to teach your friends about the seriousness of food allergies."
She looked at me and paused for a moment, didn't say a thing for a while. I was worried that I may have pushed too hard or said the wrong thing. She looked up at me and said,"Mom, you're right! I could say...Yeah I have food allergies.. just like Zooey Deschanel!" I thought that was so sweet. Her need to feel like someone else really made that moment okay with her. That ability to relate to someone just like her was all she wanted. I was so proud of her to feel empowered and brave about who she was. I understand the need to feel like your peers at that age but when you have food allergies that can feel impossible at times. I just hope that as the years go by, she gains confidence and feels less unhappy about who she is. It's my dream for her to be proud, happy and NEVER ashamed of who she is. Well, next week she gets to share, lets hope she's confidant and strong!