Monday, September 10, 2007

Finding My Inner Mama Bear

Today starts week 4 of third grade. According to my son the human whirlwind, life has devolved into pure misery. The shiny new school supplies are all scuffed, torn, or lost. The thrill at seeing friends again has paled. His teacher, while he likes her, apparently uses an evil-genius tractor beam to glue their eyeballs to their papers. (Hooray for her!)

On the plus side, he’s practicing his math skills by calculating how many more days are left until summer vacation.

I’m counting the days, too. I know it seems crazy, but I actually like having him around. I’m one of those few parents who really doesn’t look forward to the school year. Now that he’s eight, he’s capable of entertaining himself for whole minutes at a time. Seriously. And he’s a lot of fun.

But I’m getting used to the routine, so I’m adjusting. Getting all the “beginning of the year” tasks out of the way helps, too. For instance, at the end of the first day of school, my friend Kim and I sat down with his teachers and did “the talk” – where we explained about out sons’ food allergies, how serious they are, how to use an EpiPen, how to keep the classroom environment safe, and so on.

It’s always intimidating to talk to teachers. There’s that nagging little worry that they might not take the allergies seriously, or that they might be one of those rare people who thinks people with food allergies are just control-freak weirdos who are trying to get attention. (Well, I might be, but that’s a different story.) But more importantly, even though I’ve been an adult for … oh… a couple of years now (but who’s counting?), I still have this ingrained fear that the teacher might send me to the principal’s office! Fortunately, his teachers were interested, concerned, and very receptive. And the only punishment they exacted on us was to ask us to come into the class and explain food allergies to the kids.

So the next morning, Kim and I stood in front of 25 third-graders and tried to make food allergies sound serious enough to pay attention to, but not so scary that they wouldn’t talk to our kids anymore. The amazing thing about kids is that they actually care. (Handing out erasers helped.) They paid attention, and they offered to tell us about all their relatives and friends who also have allergies. There’s even a third boy in the class who’s nut-allergic, too. (Three in one class?!)

The next week, I DID get sent to the principal. Actually, I asked for it. Signed up for it, in fact. Every year, I ask the principal if I can come speak to the teachers in her staff meeting to tell them about food allergies and demonstrate the EpiPen. So there I was, with my wonderful friend Kim riding shotgun once more, telling the teachers that statistically, one kid in every class could have severe food allergies, what to watch for, and how to respond.

The fun part is always demonstrating the EpiPen. I scan the room and look for the one or two teachers whose eyes get really wide and panicked-looking. Then I talk directly to them, gently, and walk them through it. I know if I can get them to calm down and accept that it’s just a tool, just a little needle, and a simple thing to do when the alternative could be watching a child die in front of them, then the rest of the teachers will get it, too. It seems to work.

Of course, the trick is doing all these talks and demonstrations every year without passing out myself. But the thing about having a kid with allergies is… you get over yourself. The mama bear in you knows that you can’t be a shrinking violet anymore, and you’ve got to protect that child of yours no matter how squeamish you are about speaking up. You find strength you never knew you had.

Grrr. Hear me roar. Or, come to the staff meeting and watch me demonstrate an EpiPen. Your choice.

The best part is, it’s done. Whew! I don’t have to get sent to the principal’s office again.

Until next year.

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