There isn’t a rule book on growing up with food allergies. There aren’t specific milestones you reach in order to move on in your food allergy journey. A lot of food allergy kids have the comfort of a parent or guardian who knows their allergies inside and out, better than they do. They’re there to vet every dish placed in front of you, and once they give their all knowing nod of safety, you confidently dig in.
For me, this person was my mom. I wouldn’t eat anything unless it came directly from my mom or she asked the questions to make sure it was safe. Growing up, she was my food allergy security blanket, and my very own bodyguard. Nothing got through to me without being approved by her.
Unfortunately, this is often the type of protection needed when dealing with anaphylactic reactions from a young age, but it makes it almost impossible when you’re then expected to handle things on your own.
I never went to sleep away camp, so college was really the first time I’d be by myself for a long period of time without anyone else checking on my food. It was tough, and through some ups and downs I was able to learn to manage my ever changing list of allergies on my own.
My parents went with me to meet with the heads of dining services at my school, but a spoken conversation about protocol only means so much. It was a tricky adjustment learning to trust myself and my instincts instead of relying on the “mom method” that previously worked for eighteen years of my life. It built my confidence to know I could handle things myself, but there were days it was still tough and I would text my mom a food label just to “double check.”
Now I’m a college graduate, but I still sometimes revert to old habits and my mom will be the final vote of confidence before a meal. Old habits die hard, and if my family is out to dinner at a new restaurant, I’m happy to have her jump in with a question or sneak a quick glance at my plate before eating. They say there’s safety in numbers, and having another person advocating for my safety definitely helps me feel more confident in my meal.