My Son's Food Allergy Taught Me a Lot About My Friends and FamilyAlejandra Graf
It has been funny for us to see how people react when they learn we eat a bit differently. When you have different issues, ideas, or even follow a different diet, it takes time for people to adjust.
I don’t get it. I really feel like life would be so boring if we were all the same. It is so true, though, that no matter how much you think you know someone, you will never know how they will react when something changes.
When my son Santiago was diagnosed with a dairy allergy, I began to truly know my friends and family. I’m not saying this in a bad way or from a place of anger, but I got to know them from a different angle. My parents for example, after many, many years of explaining that my son cannot eat dairy, still offer him a little bit of cheese or a glass of milk with his meals. Since Santiago does not show symptoms immediately and it shows up in different ways, it’s more complicated for my parents to understand the impact of his allergy. They also grew up with the idea that the more milk you drink, the more calcium you ingest, and the stronger your bones will be. So, adapting to this slight change in our diet was a challenge for them. But, I do ultimately know that I will always be their little girl, and they will be by my side whether they agree with or question my decisions.
A friend of mine had difficulty adjusting to Santiago’s allergy as well. She became incredibly protective of her own children, and tried to manipulate any situation in which her kids could question her choices. She would get nervous and mad every time they wanted to try something that my son was eating, because it was different than theirs. She wanted to control every meal, every single minute that our kids would spend together, and even called me ahead of time to make sure both kids would eat the same lunches.
Other friends have also made our situation uncomfortable by asking my family to bring our own meals when invited over for dinner. Another thought I was such a bad mother for limiting my kid’s culinary experiences that she took him out for ice cream, grilled cheese sandwiches, cakes, and all the dairy she could find in a day.
Obviously, I can always tell when Santiago has a change in diet. Since his reactions are not immediate, for a long time a lot of my friends thought I was kind of crazy. But it all turned out OK in the end. In fact, some of my friends started experiencing similar allergies with their younger kids. And who did they call for advice? Yes, me! So after a few years, they finally understood and I could help their family out.
The responses weren’t all negative. I also found super cooperative and compassionate friends. One was so nice that she called every time we were seeing each other to plan something special for my boy. I remember once we had a playdate planned. She called me two or three days before to let me know that she had a surprise planned for us. When we arrived to our little meeting, she had a picnic basket filled with dairy-free muffins, sandwiches, fruit, and veggies. It took her a long time to find and make the recipe. It was so sweet!
I do have to tell you that my patience and tolerance grew so much from the day Santiago was diagnosed to now. And I always let Santiago know that his allergy has only brought good things into our lives. We get to eat better, are healthier, and find the beauty and true intentions in every single person that thought we were different.
It has not been easy for us or the people around us, but we have learned a lot. I let my kids know that even if somebody or something is different, we have to respect that person, idea, or choice completely. We have to set the example on how we like to be treated. We have to apply the golden rule on treating people as we like to be treated. And if anybody feels challenged by our different ideas, they have to respect that as well. Not everybody will react in a good way to our diet and that is OK, too. Because after all we have learned, we know that deep down that reaction always has a good intention, and that in some people you just have to look deeper or longer to find it. But there will always be one.