“You Can Be or Do Anything”
One of the biggest challenges we face as parents of food allergy children is to be aware of the child’s need to develop a continuous and integrated sense of themselves. How can we as parents hold the space for our children to care for themselves to stay physically safe AND help them return to the wonderfully mysterious, energizing and enlivening qualities of a stream of unimpeded awareness. Innocence.
My food allergy survivor daughter Lily, 13, and her twin teach us what “being” looks and feels like everyday.
One evening, I overheard Lily comforting a friend on the phone. She said, “You must always remember that you can be or do anything.” I couldn’t see her face as she said these words, but I was certain she was smiling as she spoke. I was transfixed by the beauty and courage of those words. I knew, and she knew that she couldn’t “do anything.” She couldn’t eat nuts and continue to live in her body, right?
When she hung up from her friend, I told her that I overheard her, and I wondered what she meant by those words. She said that she was speaking from a bigger place. That somehow she just knew that if we could just go on “being” that we all have the potential to be happy, free from our “problem of the day.”
“How do you know that?” I asked.
“Because I do it everyday with my allergy. I find my own way,” she said.
We as parents can find great relief and knowing if we encourage our children to find their own way. To find their own way out of the interpretation of their allergy into the wide-open space of innocent being. To not be “caught” by an interpretation of certainty around their allergy.
There is a wonderful word in Buddhism “shunyata” or emptiness. The mother is often represented as the symbol of shunyata because in a way they make everything possible. This “mother emptiness” is a web of one thing dependent on another. We can use this image to encourage our children that despite the allergy of the body, the “being” of the spirit allows them to be released from feeling different – that they are connected and always will be connected to everything in the Universe. We can encourage them to look to this day for all that is possible and creative and joyful and fun – to self-express.
While a food allergy is clearly not what we all would have bargained for in the beginning, perhaps we can begin to see it as the fertile ground from which to grow and blossom.
Early trauma, like anaphylaxis, can force children and parents into a reactive mode where the “caretaker self” can actually remove a child from her own experience. They become not who they are becoming but rather become vulnerable to seeing themselves living in a body not of their choosing.
This is astonishing and hard to let in as parents because we are the very people who gave them their bodies. Being and becoming can feel interrupted to these children and families. A life threatening physical reaction throws a bit of a wrench into both the reality and perception of innocence – or as I have heard it called “the uninterrupted flow of authentic self.”
If you are a parent like me, you remember the day the world, the flow, stopped. And for most of us, we remember how it started it again, leaving us feeling like things will never be the same. And so it is.
Father and Co-Founder