Wednesday, May 8, 2013

A decade of love on and off the court

It is not unusual for my son to beat me when we play tennis and for my score to remain at "love" the entire game. The word "love" often is used in a positive way, but unfortunately for me, not when it comes to tennis scoring. That's OK. The tennis court is a place that makes my son the happiest and for that, I'm fine with having the "love" score because of the feelings I have had for my son for a decade.

We just celebrated Joseph's 10th birthday. Ten years ago when my tiny baby came screaming into this world (right along with me), my husband and I had no idea that we would soon be entering life with food allergies. He had 10 tiny toes and 10 perfect little fingers. Our biggest debate was whether he would be a Penn State fan like his Mama or a West Virginia fan like his Dada. Well, even that turned out to be a surprise — my child is a Gators fan.

Within Joseph's first year of life he had his first anaphylactic reaction to dairy. One small teaspoon of yogurt and suddenly we were going down an unfamiliar, scary path. During the past 10 years, we have learned so much about Joseph's life-threatening allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, milk, egg, soy, sesame and mustard, along with his asthma. As our son has grown, so has the world of food allergies.

During Joseph's life, the number of people with food allergies has increased to about 15 million Americans, including 1 in 13 kids, according to Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE). With that growth has come more allergy-friendly products, advances in research regarding food allergies, laws to require better labeling and to ensure that epinephrine is required in more schools across the country, and even more options in the type of epinephrine self-injector available to save lives. The amount of support and resources has increased too, especially thanks to social networking. There are several products geared toward food allergies, such as cookbooks, children's books and even music, especially the songs written and performed by food allergy musician Kyle Dine.

But there is still much work to be done. For example, more research is essential to find a cure for food allergies. There is a need for more education about food allergies so that our children are not bullied and so caretakers understand all of the foods and products in which allergens show up, and that even one tiny speck of that allergen can mean the end of a child's life.

We have had plenty of challenges (both medically and emotionally), scares, trips to the emergency room and doctor visits. My love for Joseph makes my heart break when he feels anxious about unsafe food being near him, isolated when he's left out because of his food allergies or scared when he has trouble breathing.

But those challenges are just a part of living with food allergies. We have navigated food allergies and asthma while nurturing our sweet, funny boy and fostering his positive attitude while teaching him how to safely enjoy his life. As I watched Joseph play in a recent tennis tournament, I was thrilled to see him healthy and happy as can be running around the court.

I am so proud of my 10-year-old boy, whose inquisitive mind makes him a joy to talk to, whether we are discussing a book he's reading, trivia he has learned about his favorite tennis player Novak Djokovic or the latest Lego creation he is dreaming up. Just like lots of kids his age, he likes when I make pizza for dinner, has fierce competitions with his Dad on the Wii, cheers for his favorite hockey team, plays with his little sister, rolls his eyes when I embarrass him and has fun with his friends.

The day before his tenth birthday Joseph wrote in his journal: "When I'm 10, I want to read more, make more Legos, play more tennis, have fun and be a kid."

So as Joseph stands across from me on the tennis court and serves, — 15-love, 30-love, 40-love, game — I'm just happy to be a part of a game he loves.

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