Ella & her best friend Nathaniel on the 1st day of Art Camp
A couple of months ago, I debated whether or not to send Ella to an art day camp for the summer. The camp was to feature fun activities for children ranging from wood working to drumming to cooking classes. My daughter is very creative; an amazing artist. She loves music, she loves to cook. It seemed like it would be the perfect fit for her. But I hesitated because she also has severe food allergies. Ironically, I was more concerned with the notion that we might be a burden to whoever was teaching the cooking class. No one knows better than I, how difficult it is to prepare a meal that is free of wheat, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, sesame and eggs. And I didn't want Ella's circumstances to limit the experience of those around her.
A few of her friends from school were going to be doing the camp and she really wanted to go. So I decided to fill out the online application, including a lengthy medical statement. I had no doubt that we would be rejected. Shockingly, they decided to welcome us with open arms. As it turns out, we were not the only family in the program to have food allergies. I discussed the situation with the cooking instructor and we decided that Ella could prepare the items even if she did not consume them. They had a strict, no nut policy, which is always the biggest of my concerns. And she has never had a problem touching wheat or soy, so that helped, too. I just asked that she not be allowed to touch sesame or sesame oil. And if she cracked an egg, she would have to wash her hands immediately with soap and water. (As many of you know, not all food allergens can send a person into anaphylaxis. That depends on the severity of their particular allergy. Thankfully, wheat, soy and eggs are the lesser of her allergies. This is a very complicated thing to explain to most people who are not living la vida loca, like we are. The allergies ARE real, some of them just take a few days to show their effects. Others, take minutes. So we have learned to prioritize these things to not make everyone around us crazy and it also helps Ella to feel like a normal kid.)
The art camp was the greatest thing, EVER. Whenever we dropped her off in the morning, she was practically floating on air. And when I picked her up each day, she was still skipping around, talking as fast as she could about all of the fun stuff that she had done that day. They had pajama day, they had crazy hair day, they studied Japanese art, hammered together wood picture frames, ate ice cream, danced and had drum circles. It could not have been a better experience. I am so happy that I decided to give it a try.
Yesterday was the last day of camp. The kids put on a drum performance for the parents, wearing black and faces painted like native Americans. It was adorable. When Ella was done she ran up to me and said, "Mommy! Guess what I got to do today? I got to decorate a wheat free cupcake! My teacher made one for me. And it was delicious!" I was so moved by the teacher's gesture. It was so loving and considerate. And it rocked Ella's world. No doubt, she will be talking about her experiences at camp for a long time to come.
This whole thing reconfirmed my belief that just because you have food allergies, doesn't mean that you have to stop living. And I think that it would be really sad if Ella had to miss out on these important parts of her childhood, just because she is a little more vulnerable than someone else. It was also a valuable lesson for me in letting go; trusting that the camp counselors would protect her when I was not there. It wasn't easy. But it paid off, BIG time.
(Note: We happen to live 1/4 mile away from her school. I had my cell phone on me at all times. The office had her emergency medication bag. If something bad had happened, we would have all been able to assist her and quickly. All of this eased my stress and helped me to let go.)