Sunday, November 2, 2008

Independence and Food Allergies

(Originally posted at Rational Jenn)

I know I've mentioned before that Ryan has never been one of those "See ya, Mom!" types. Even as a baby, he strongly preferred Brendan and me; he screamed for hours on the few occasions that we left him with trusted friends as a toddler; he even balked at not being able to see me outside his chess classroom door every second. This is a child who still occasionally freaks out if he can't find me for a nanosecond on the playground and once accused me of attempted abandonment when I went to get the mail out of the mailbox. Last spring, he went through a thing where he'd have the babysitter call us 5 minutes after we'd pulled out of the driveway just so he could say "goodbye" one more time.

If I had to pick one thing about Ryan that I've worried about the most--apart from the peanut allergy--it would be this reluctance-to-leave-me thing. I really wondered for a long while if it was me, something I'd done, but when Morgan showed up with very much a "See ya, Mom!" attitude, I realized that it was just what it was. Still hard to deal with though.

There are advantages! He could always be relied on, even at a very young age, to stick close by me in parking lots. It was definitely easy from a food allergy angle--the kid rarely left my sight and so I could usually catch him picking up something mysterious off of the floor to give it a taste (I still have nightmares about that cookie in the grocery cart that he consumed before I could stop him). And he has never once begged me to put him in school.

But oh, it's been hard, too. Especially because I want him to be more independent, of course. And I was worried that he was lagging too far behind developmentally in this area--where he's lightyears ahead in others. Strange, isn't it?

Things have turned a corner in the last month or two, and he is finally outgrowing (is that the right word?) the mommy tether. Walks into chess class without a glance backwards. No more tears when we leave him with a sitter (unless he's just mad at us about leaving him with the sitter!). Begs to go play with his friends all the time. Runs around all over the neighborhood.

I'm so happy about this. I want this for him, to be free, to be outside--alone or with his friends--but free of adult oversight. Of course, I want to know where he is, and ideally to have him close enough that I'll hear them all in case someone gets seriously injured, but I don't need to be looking out at them every single minute. When a grownup isn't readily available, the kids must all figure out solutions to their own problems. They use their imaginations to have adventures. They collaborate, argue, explore, experience things that I will never quite know all about. He is really beginning to have his own life now. How exciting!

It's been coming for quite some time--it's been ages since I really knew everything he was thinking--although he is still very prone to enlighten me whether I've asked him to or not. :o) With Sean, it's different, of course--there is a very limited (but growing) list of things he needs or wants: food, diaper, burp, poked self in eye, etc. When he needs me, I may not guess what he needs on the first try, but I do eventually figure it out. But Morgan and Ryan--well, their Wants/Needs lists might as well be infinite at this point. I can use my best guess and reason it out with them, but sometimes I have no clue what's going on. No. Clue. And they are more than happy to tell me that I'm WRONG anyway.

I wrote all of the above to make it clear (hopefully) that I am so proud that Ryan is finally progressing in this area. And that I believe it is extremely beneficial and necessary and good and wonderful for children to be as independent as possible. It's good practice for being an adult.

But there is the peanut thing. At age 6.5, it's high time for Ryan to say to us, as he did this afternoon, "Mom, Dad, CanIgotoA'shouse? Ican? Okaybye!" and be dashing out the door. But he's still too young to be responsible for his allergy. His deadly only-have-minutes-to-do-the-injection allergy. So I'm trying to come up with a sensible, rational strategy to keep him safe while fostering his newfound sense of independence.

Fortunately, I'm very good friends with A's mom, and I intend to ask her tomorrow if she'd be willing to keep a spare Epi-pen at her house. (Thanks, K, for that idea!) She knows the drill, has been through the training, and at this point, her house is pretty much the only house he goes to. And it's right next door, so I like that.

If he were in school, we would have had a plan for the Epi-pen by now, I realize that. But now I'm wondering about him needing to carry it on his person. Our principle since the diagnosis has been: Never Leave Home Without It. Partly because you never know when you're going to run into a peanut (we do live in Georgia!), but mostly because we are trying to ingrain this habit into him, in the same way we've ingrained it into us. We've turned around the car and driven back home for an hour to get it when we've forgotten it. Not having the Epi is a showstopper.

Particularly in the last year or so, I've encouraged Ryan to take a more active role in remembering to bring the Epi-pens. As we're preparing to head out the door, I'll ask, "Is there anything else we need to bring?" Usually, he'll come up with the right answer--or Morgan will. When we take walks around our neighborhood, we've always brought the Epis--in keeping with our family rule. Lately, I'll have Ryan get the Epi-pens off the hook where we keep them and either carry them on the walk or put them in the stroller. And he has to put them back on the hook when we return home.

So now that he's out and about in the neighborhood, I think we need to reevaluate our rule. Obviously, I don't think it's necessary to carry it to go get the mail (although our yard was strewn with peanut shells one morning--that was a fluke, thankfully). He's terribly unlikely to just pick up random things off the ground and pop them in his mouth (like the time he ate fertilizer--which is not a problem according to Poison Control, in case you're wondering). So I think it will be okay to tell him that he doesn't need to bring it when he goes next door, if my neighbor agrees to have a backup in her house.

But I'm concerned we may be losing some of the progress toward establishing that lifelong habit of having it with him. At the same time, I don't want him tied to it while he's playing if he doesn't have to be. And he and his friends often run back and forth, in and out of our houses and yards. It would be difficult for him to keep it with him unless he was actually wearing it in a fanny pack or something. That might be necessary in a school setting (I don't know, maybe not), but seems to restrictive for playing close to his home.

I need ideas. Epi-pen needs to be near him. He's too young to A) remember it reliably and B) actually use it reliably. How?

If we go with the Neighbor Plan, we'd also need to make it a rule that their house is the ONLY house he can go into without the Epis from home. Because that one has the medicine he needs. So if he wants to go visit another friend (he has a few down the street he's begun hanging out with lately) then he'd need to come and get our Epis. I think that's something he could remember and deal with. And of course I'd talk to the moms, too. Everyone on our street knows about the allergy and is pretty supportive, thankfully.

The other thing I'm planning soon is an educational session with Ryan, Morgan, and some of their friends. Because I think it would be good to have his friends know what to look for--that if it ever appears that Ryan is having trouble breathing that they need to stop what they're doing and find a grownup immediately. I'm not sure that's something they all quite comprehend just yet. Not even Ryan--we need to teach him that his reaction could be more than just hives, which is the only reaction he's had that he can remember.

In short--if I can use that phrase at the end of such a long post--now that he's becoming more independent, he must accept a corresponding increase in responsibility. I'm absolutely on that plan, but sometimes it's difficult for me to figure out where the line between rational, cautious, and sensible and insanely overprotective and paranoid falls when it comes to this allergy.

The world is only getting bigger for him! So good for him! (So hard on Mommy!)

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