I’ve spent the last five years being overly diligent about what kind of food goes in my son’s mouth. I’ve stocked his classroom with snacks. I bring homemade cupcakes and pizzas to birthday parties. I ask what’s in just about everything at a restaurant. Every bag I own is packed with specific snacks. It’s not because I’m an anal, overprotective, helicopter mom. It’s because my son has food intolerances. Or had.
After five years, he’s finally starting to grow out of his sensitivities. While I thought it would be liberating and exciting, it’s actually downright scary to watch him put something as innocent as an M&M in his mouth. You’d think I’d be relieved that I don’t have to be über-prepared for absolutely every kid-related event anymore, but after five years it’s become so ingrained in me that I don’t know how to let go of control. Who am I if I’m not the mom that has to run to the grocery store at 7 AM to buy ingredients for “safe” homemade Rice Krispie treats with Twizzler hearts after a crack-of-dawn call from school?
Since the day my son started daycare, I’ve had to be “that” parent. The one that had to pull the teachers aside on meet-the-parents night and make sure they understood — really, really, really understood — that my son could not participate in class snacks. He could only have what was in his bag and that was it — no exceptions.
As he got older, it got a little harder. Every holiday involved a celebration, and every celebration involved food. I spent more time than I’d care to admit trying to figure out what types of food would be served at those celebrations and what kind of treat another kid would be bringing in for their birthday and on what day. My freezer was stocked with homemade cupcakes and cookie dough I could pull out at a moment’s notice. I learned to keep extra packaged snacks in the car for the days I’d forget. My son learned at an early age to ask if he was allowed to have something the other kids were eating.
No parent wants their kid to feel different or left out, so I did my best to make sure he was getting the same things everyone else was, just without the ingredients that made him sick. I’m a complete tried-and-true introvert, yet I found myself stepping out of my comfort zone over and over again, contacting parents I hardly knew to find out what they were serving at a birthday party or a play date. Though I tried not to be helicopter-ish in other ways, I was never more than an arm’s reach away when it came to food.
Slowly, without realizing it, I’d inadvertently — and unavoidably — carved out a new identity for myself. Not only was my son the “food allergy kid,” I was now that “food allergy mom.”
Luckily, some young kids grow out of food sensitivities and intolerances. It took longer than predicted, but my son is finally starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Only instead of it being wildly freeing and liberating, it’s been just plain strange. You would think not having to be so prepared all the time would be a relief, but five years of planning ahead and being super diligent has ingrained this role in me and it’s hard to let go. Suddenly I don’t have to ask a million questions at school drop-off. I don’t need to stock the school pantry with special snacks. I don’t need to make eight separate Christmas dishes.
I was prepared for my son to have trouble adjusting to dropping “the rules” we’d been so deliberate about teaching him. I mean, imagine telling an almost-5-year-old that suddenly he can have whatever he wants, when in every other aspect you’ve taught him he always has to follow the rules. But I certainly wasn’t prepared to have my own adjustment. Fellow preschool moms don’t have to know who I am anymore to check in with me about snacks. I don’t need to pre-sort goodie bags or surreptitiously swap out candies for stickers. I don’t have to pack a cooler to take to neighborhood barbecues or pull restaurant waiters aside before ordering.
As moms we sometimes unknowingly become wrapped up in our kids’ identities. Sometimes that means being “soccer mom” or “dance mom.” For me, it’s been “food allergy mom.” I’ve spent so much time making sure that he was taken care of and not left out that I didn’t realize that it had become part of who I was as a mom. Now I can just be … normal mom. And it’s weird.