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Why the COVID-19 Pandemic Has a Silver Lining for My Son With Food Allergies

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“I almost forgot I had food allergies,” chirped my busy little companion as we constructed yet another train track in the weeks since school had been canceled.

“Do you spend a lot of time thinking about food allergies at school, buddy?” I asked him.

“Just thinking about keeping myself safe,” he replied nonchalantly. My heart simultaneously swelled with pride and burst into a million sad little pieces. You see, my son will turn 6 next month and for nearly three years, he has played a significant role in protecting himself from the dangers that come from being deathly allergic to five of the top eight food allergens.

“But, I totally forgot about them lately!” he continued.

And there it was — the golden nugget, the silver lining of our self-quarantined, socially-distanced domain, the truth that had been hiding just under the surface of my subconscious for a few weeks. I too had allowed myself to relax to the point of nearly forgetting the constant vigilance we practice when venturing outside the safe bubble of our home. While the rest of the world was finally gaining some insight as to what it is like to live with life-threatening food allergies, we were getting a glimpse of what it is like to live without them.

To be honest, it was relatively easy for us to adjust to the “new normal.”

  • There was no learning curve for us when it came to washing hands or wiping surfaces to ensure they are free of minuscule amounts of potentially damaging pathogens. We never leave the house without disinfecting wipes.
  • Mountains of dishes stacked up in the sink are nothing new to us. We always make everything from scratch.
  • We are not longing for a visit to our favorite restaurant because my son has only eaten one meal out in his entire life.
  • Even social distancing feels oddly familiar as we kept a safe distance from friends and family during the toddler years when we couldn’t be sure our curious little guy wouldn’t take food from a well-meaning relative, share a microphone with a friend who’d recently eaten peanut butter or grab a jar of Play-Doh during a playdate.
  • At school lunch, my son has never sat right next to his friends. We have always had a buffer zone to mitigate accidental ingestion from spills (and from youngsters who are still learning to chew with their mouths closed).
  • I have recently seen it stated that if you want to start attending get-togethers, you should bring your own food, glassware, plates and utensils. You guessed it; we already do that too.
  • Putting on brave faces to mask a constant low-level of anxiety is the status quo for my husband and me. Every day we are forced to evaluate the risks and rewards of simply participating in normal life. Every day we choose to live, but to live with a calculated caution that keeps our son safe, included, stress-free and happy.

These days, as much as I long for contact with the outside world — for gatherings with friends, time spent with family, Little League sporting events and hugs — I am also appreciating this respite from our food allergy reality. When this pandemic is over, we will celebrate with the rest of the world and we will quickly rush to fill our active social calendar. We will charge out into society again armed with disinfecting wipes, epinephrine auto-injectors and the knowledge of how to keep our son safe. However, we will look back fondly on certain aspects of this forced timeout and appreciate the silver linings.

For more on parenting during quarantine, check out the following stories from our community:

Originally published: June 8, 2020
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