By Heidi Bayer
You probably remember the moments when your stomach was in knots almost to the day. Mostly, they coincided with the following in your child’s development:
- First Day of Preschool and/or Kindergarten
- First Day of Middle School
- First Day of High School
But college drop off? College dorm life? College?
When our child was a high school sophomore, I was in the kitchen preparing dinner and I said rather casually, but grimacing - my face turned so she couldn’t see me - "I guess we have to start looking at colleges."
The reply was probably something like, “Yeah, sure, whatever…”
And so began a two-year process that just ended. My husband and I dropped our only child off at a college that is two hours away by train and/or car.
What did she have to learn in those two years besides being an excellent student?
- How to travel out of state by herself (bus, train, plane)
- How to be responsible for her own bank account
- Cook and do dishes
- Clean and do laundry
- Shop for herself
- Fill out medical forms
- Communicate with doctors
You notice I haven’t said anything about food allergies or asthma yet and I haven’t on purpose. Sending a child away to college is the same for everyone. It comes with anxiety that one hasn’t experienced since the child was born.
When our daughter was diagnosed with peanuts, tree nuts, dairy, egg and wheat allergies at six months, we wondered what we would feed her. Then, we discovered more foods that she was allergic to, then we discovered asthma.
We wondered if she would ever be able to:
- Go to school (she did, public school in NYC)
- Travel internationally (Spain)
- Travel alone (checked that box)
Thankfully - and due in no small part to Kids With Food Allergies (KFA) - she thrived. So, when faced with the prospect of living away at college, these are the questions we had to ask:
- Will she be up to the task for cooking and cleaning for 100% of her meals?
- Is there any reason to believe that she wouldn’t be OK in a shared kitchen?
- Will she be able to communicate her needs to her roommates?
- Will her roommates respect her needs?
- Will she take care of her asthma?
- Will she treat her environmental allergies?
Her concerns were much different:
- Will I like my professors?
- What if I hate it?
- What if I have a bad roommate?
- What if the beds are uncomfortable?
Her father and I moved her in like all the other parents. We stocked her refrigerator, and made sure she knew where to find the “recipe” book (authored by me). I cooked and prepped a few meals with her. By day two, she was ready for us to go.
As I write this, she has been in college for one week.
The anxiety that my husband and I had leading up to the event has been replaced by sadness and loneliness. But, as a friend of mine reminded me, it’s a happy sad: she graduated from high school and she’s in the college of her dreams.
She is close by, she is in touch with us, and she has an added layer of support through the college disability office (due to the amount and severity of her food allergies).
She is up to the task and is excited to get on with the next adventure in her life: college.
No matter how much we want to hold onto them, and protect them, as parents of allergic children it’s our job to educate, instruct, and empower them and ultimately to set them up for success.
Heidi Bayer is chairwoman of the board of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), the nation's oldest and largest asthma and allergy nonprofit organization. KFA is a division of AAFA. In addition to being a food allergy mom who is extremely active in the food allergy advocacy world, Heidi is also a seasoned business development executive and an expert in television production and entertainment marketing. In 2012 she became the Founder and CEO of Numodo, a company that represents creative companies who create digital campaigns, on-air promotions, and brand identities for television networks and brands worldwide. Her interests include blogging as Brooklyn Allergy Mom, healthy living, cooking, baking, photography, travel, and reading.