My hero is 15 years old, wiser than her years, and stronger than a girl her age should be. She is beautiful, brilliant, kind, empathetic, sarcastic, and comes with an excess of attitude. I think it is this attitude and strength of will that I cherish the most. This 15-year old is my daughter, Jaimie.
Jaimie is highly allergic to 31 foods, including milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, peanuts and other legumes (including soy and peas), kiwi, sesame and sunflower seeds, banana, avocado, mustard and more. She has had anaphylactic reactions, and we remember them well. Jaime has eczema and asthma, and is so allergic to cats that she may require epinephrine during a reaction.
Five years ago, she also developed cold-induced urticaria, a form of hives that are a response to drops in temperature. It’s heartbreaking to witness as her body reacts to what she loves the most – the winter. She was prescribed antihistamines to take daily to control the cold urticaria, but in Jaimie’s case, they weren’t effective.
Cold Hives, Going Mute
Still, my child won’t let this condition stop her. On a day when she knows there will be time to recover, Jaimie will bundle up and head outside with her brother, then they will immerse themselves in the icy wonderland. When she comes back inside, I ache to see her swollen, hive-covered, distorted face and hands. Yet there is always a smile.
Jaimie was also diagnosed with selective mutism at 3 years old. This is an anxiety disorder, linked to social anxiety, which renders an individual unable to speak in certain situations. That means from pre-nursery to about Grade 6, she was wordless in the classroom. In kindergarten, when she dislocated her elbow on a slide, nobody knew until I picked her up from school, and she told me. When she caught her fingers between two chairs, no sound came out of her mouth.
Frankly, it has been petrifying as a parent, knowing that you are sending your child to school, with a long list of allergies, two epinephrine shots, some puffers, and the knowledge that should an emergency arise, she would probably be unable to tell anyone.
Finding Her Voice
When she was 7 years old, Jaimie, who was active in ballet, informed me that she wanted to audition for the associates program of Canada’s National Ballet School. I gave the worst parenting advice; I told her that many people audition and don’t get in and that we shouldn’t bother. She said she didn’t care, she would just try again the following year if she wasn’t accepted.
I was humbled – more so when she auditioned and was accepted the first time. My daughter is now in the seventh year of this program.
Jaimie was the child who was not invited to parties because parents were afraid. When she began to speak in school, she explained to her friends that we have a safety plan. To this day, she always brings her own food, which means that nobody needs to be concerned about preparing food for her.
Our safety rules have never failed us. The key one for us has been: No Epinephrine = No Food. Regardless. At friends’ places, parties or celebrations, Jaimie only eats food from home.
Facing Up to Backlash
My daughter’s most severe allergy is to milk. At her first dance studio, we requested a milk-free environment for a few hours each week. A father, a dentist, told me to withdraw her from the studio as we were inconveniencing everybody.
At a recital, a parent ignored the milk-free request, and spilled dairy-filled coffee all over my child’s costume. In the washroom, I overheard mothers complaining about the difficulty of the allergy rules. I interrupted to explain just how difficult it was for these children to live with allergies.
On her own, Jaimie decided that she would overcome the selective mutism. Painstakingly, she has practiced, pushed herself, persevered and blossomed.
She still has her 31 food allergies. But two weeks ago, when I dropped Jaimie off at high school, she saw one of her friends up ahead. She called out to her – loudly – with all the other students around.
It was the first time I had ever heard my daughter use her voice loudly in public. I cried with pride, all the way home.
Lisa Nackan and her family live in Toronto.
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