A Dairy-Allergic Child Learns to Fly Solo

in Your Stories
Published: July 12, 2012

My daughter, Arielle, who was spending a semester in Australia and taking a side trip, sent me the link to her itinerary for New Zealand.

“Extreme Adventures” appeared at the top of the page, followed by a list of activities on the tour. I held my breath as I read the descriptions, to the effect of:

“Travel through river canyons at 100 kilometers per hour in a jet boat!” “Bring your courage along as we bungee jump over Queenstown!” “Fall out of a plane from 14,000 feet over magnificent scenery.”

I stopped there. “Are you crazy?” I e-mailed back my then 20-year-old. “I hope these activities cost extra, and you can’t afford them.”

“Everything is included except for skydiving,” she replied, inserting a smiley emoticon.

Wired to Worry

Not only did I think she was nuts for considering jumping off a mountaintop attached to a rubber band or parachuting from a plane, but also for sharing this information with me. Having grown up watching me deal with her severe milk allergy, she knew I was wired to worry.

When dining out, I’d interrupt while she was ordering, urging the waiter to check the dish’s ingredients before she had a chance to ask herself. Once the meal arrived, I’d lean over her plate to inspect the food for any trace of butter or cheese.

But that anxiety was nothing compared to what I felt after Arielle, at age 16, had an anaphylactic reaction requiring three doses of epinephrine and hours of monitoring in the emergency room.

From that day on, whenever she was headed out to meet friends, I’d stop her at the door and ask where she’d be eating and if she had her medications with her. She’d glare back at me. “You can’t keep me in a bubble for the rest of my life.”

Followed to France

She was right. Ultimately, I wanted what she wanted – for her to enjoy the same activities and freedoms as any teen. I worked on backing off, and reminded myself that she had always been careful: checking labels, alerting servers and managers to her allergy and passing up a food when she couldn’t be certain whether it contained dairy.

With planning and proper precautions, she spent two weeks without incident in Provence through a high school exchange program. (Full disclosure: my husband and I followed her to France. We stayed approximately 30 miles from her home base and never saw her, but felt reassured that we were only a car ride away in case of an emergency.)

Arielle’s transition to college went smoothly, too. She found plenty of safe foods in the dining hall and learned to cook when she moved off campus in her sophomore year.

When she pleaded with us to study business in Australia, it was hard to say no.

Skydiving at 15,000 Feet

Arielle texted us when she arrived in New Zealand and then five days later. “Just went skydiving from 15,000 feet! It was amazing!”

My heart raced. I texted back: “OMG! U really did it!” Our exchange was brief, since she was on the road.

She said she’d fill us in on the jump when she returned to Brisbane. Knowing she was now safe on the ground, I felt calmer.

In the days that followed, I pictured my daughter falling through the sky in tandem with an instructor. I thought about her fearlessness. I considered that perhaps when you’ve experienced real fear – an itchy tongue that in seconds becomes something worse, like the tightening of your throat – you have fewer imagined fears.

Or maybe you become determined to live life to the fullest, traveling halfway around the world, surfing, glacier hiking, bungee jumping and skydiving.

Skydiving Video

Back in Brisbane, Arielle called us through Skype to video chat. After sharing the highlights from her trip, she asked, “Want to see the skydiving video?”

We watched her take off on a twin-engine plane with a few of her travel companions. Then came the jump.

Geared up in a silver jumpsuit, helmet and goggles, she went free-falling through clouds. In a close-up, she was smiling, exhilarated.

Suddenly, I was overcome with awe as well as joy for her. I wondered if she could see me tearing up through the pixilation of long-distance video.

Then I noticed Bon Jovi’s “It’s My Life” playing with the footage. I listened to the words:

My heart is like an open highway
Like Frankie said, “I did it my way”
I just want to live while I’m alive
’Cause it’s my life.

It was the perfect anthem for Arielle.

Melissa Sodowick is a freelance writer who lives in Washington Crossing, Pennsylvania.