The night started out as a great one for our growing family. One where we found ourselves on vacation with our two daughters in Florida visiting our parents. My mother had made homemade clam chowder for dinner, a treat coming from Wyoming. We all loved the dinner, Maggie, our second daughter who was about 2 years old at the time, especially loved it. Shortly thereafter our lives (and her life especially) changed. She began to develop hives all over her body, her mouth and her face. She began crying and while she was still just learning to speak, we could decipher that she felt like something was happening with her tongue.
While my husband has actually gone into anaphylactic shock as a 7 year old myself (he, too, has some allergies), this took us by total surprise as I looked at my daughter without any preparation and we made the trip to emergency room.
On that day, we learned that our daughter, Maggie, had a variety of allergies to various foods, including fish oils, shellfish and peanuts.
Now, I fully appreciate that in the grand scheme of things, this condition is not debilitating. She can walk, run, play games and goof-off like any ordinary kid. The only difference is we are a peanut free house and an Epipen and Benadryl travels with Maggie everywhere. However, the consequences are dire if someone who does not know her condition were to give her Thai food that has peanuts or fish sauce in it, or a Ceasar salad with anchovies.
So as a parent, my husband and I find ourselves coaching every individual we leave her with. It probably is overkill and when the leaders of one of her afterschool activities had her wear a giant peanut picture around her neck, I thought that I probably caused that humiliating situation for my daughter. But, our family experience with allergies defines how we operate Wilderness Adventures, and our approach to children with food allergies.
More than most things, I want my children to experience camps like Wilderness Adventures. I want them to run and be free and have adventures that grow their self-confidence and spirit. And I want them (and my husband and I) to be worry free in the process. Tom and I believe this is possible for all kids, with allergies or not.
That is why we take every allergy very seriously at WA. As we are not a traditional residential camp program, we can tailor the menu of each trip to meet the needs of the participants on that specific trip. Moreover, we make sure our trip leaders know the dietary needs and restrictions of each child just like we know what our child can and cannot eat. We train our leaders to not only be their role models, but also their guardians, their advocates and act in the place of parents that deal with this condition on a daily basis.
Is their risk involved? Yes. As a parent, and a registered dietician, I know there are risks involved. And there will continue to be risk involved as we send Maggie to not just her camp programs but out in the world. But we hope to be the program we seek for our children: one that takes into account the full scope of the child, without the big peanut picture hanging around his/her neck.