Well. That was a tough one! I struggled to write this post before today because emotions were running high and hitting me when I least expected them to. What a difference a day makes though!
Prior to Day 1, we had done all the prep work we could think of to make Osh’s transition to school as smooth as possible, from meeting with his teacher and AlnCo at the end of last term, to role playing scenarios with Osh where he would need to be assertive and inform classmates of his allergies.
We formed links with fellow new starters in his reception group and had a playdate before school started so that Osh would spot some familiar faces when he arrived. We followed all the steps in my Getting Ready for School post and asked all the questions we could think of.
We even threw Osh a ‘Time for School’ tea party last weekend to make starting school a fun, exciting event rather than one he needed to fear.
So, what actually happened?
I’m so proud to say that all of the above paid off! My sometimes nervous, timid little dude acted like a child double his age this morning and confidently walked into school. He gave his dad a cwtch and said ‘bye bye daddy’, turned and said ‘bye bye mummy’, and hugged me. Then, lunchbox in one hand, he took his new classmate’s hand in the other and off they went. Down the steps and into class. A quick turn to shout ‘bye mummy’ and wave and my little buddy was gone to his next adventure.
The range of emotions I felt was so complex and conflicting at this point. Unabashed happiness and pride that he had walked in without fuss or obvious anxiety. Overwhelming relief that the moment had finally arrived and gone smoothly. Fear and trepidation about what is to come in his school years. Guilt that I have now lost control of his environment and can’t take it on my shoulders to keep him safe anymore during the day. I’ve had to hand over that responsibility to people I don’t really know, in a place I’m pretty unfamiliar with, which isn’t accessible to me in the same way that private nursery was. And that’s tough. Really tough. But as a mum, I have to accept it because I know this is a crucial step in Osh’s development into an individual who can take responsibility for his own safety and allergy management.
I spent the morning bursting into tears at random moments, thinking about how fearful I was of getting ‘the phonecall’. I.e. The call from school telling me that Osh is having a bad reaction/has accidentally been exposed to one his allergens. Osh’s dad and I have resigned ourselves to the fact that the phonecall will inevitably come at some point, but when my phone rang after lunch on Day 1 and school’s number flashed on the screen, my stomach lurched. I felt such a sense of dread on answering and felt sick when it was Osh’s teacher, telling me he was rashy, red, itchy and sneezing. She asked if it was ok for her to give him antihistamine.
Of course I agreed and then in true allergy mummy style, spent a few moments feeling sorry for us all because “oh my goodness…if he can’t get through a day there, how’s the rest of school going to be?” I even debated going to school to see him for myself, but I’m glad I didn’t. Osh and his teachers have to be able to work together when he is at school and although I’m always available, I don’t want to rush in every time there’s an issue.
Initial panic over, I think it’s fantastic that on day 1, Osh’s teaching staff recognised he was struggling and followed his healthcare plan. On Day 1! They barely know him yet they’ve noticed subtle changes and acted on them. Brilliant!
When I collected him that afternoon, he bounced out of school, admittedly looking a little puffy around the eye and very sneezy, but his teacher reassured me that within 30 mins of having his anthistamine, his symptoms had started to calm down. There’s no obvious allergen that we/school could pinpoint, so for the moment we will carry on and monitor any repeats if/when they happen. Osh’s teacher also told me she was going to be calling me a lot to check things, while she got to know him and what’s normal for him. This was soooooooo what I needed to hear!
Osh woke up and said a couple of times that he didn’t want to go to school today, but his cousins arrived to walk to school with him and this was soon forgotten. Just like yesterday, he took his lunchbag from me, put his schoolbag on his back gave me a hug and toddled off down the steps to class. He turned by the door, waved, blew a kiss and shouted goodbye, then in he went! His teacher told me that he had a few tearful moments during the day but this is normal starting school stuff and I can totally deal with that! My little warrior is definitely ready for this new ground.
I’ve thought a lot over the past few days about the terminology many of us allergy parents use when describing our kids. Warrior. Soldier. Superhero.
I’ve always seen the relevance of every one of those descriptions, because our kids fight every day against their allergen enemies. They also fight to be “normal”. They fight to be included. They fight to be believed and taken seriously, as do we, their parents, at times.
However, I’ve never before felt the ‘combat’ analogy as keenly as I have this week. As families dealing with life-threatening allergies, we live with a constant threat to our status quo. There are known, but often unseen, enemies lurking in the most unexpected places and we are always ‘on guard’ for them.
As a mum who now waves her son off to school with an encouraging smile on my face, whilst inwardly praying “please stay safe and come home to me tonight”, I can only imagine what the parents of service personnel going off to fight must feel. The very real fear of losing your child any day never diminishes and all I can do is learn to accept the fear and live with it as my current reality. Meanwhile my little warrior will continue to bravely confront his allergens every day as he lives his new school life. I couldn’t be prouder.