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Our allergic kid is starting school for the first time

DREW SHANNON/The Globe and Mail

The Essay is a daily personal piece submitted by readers.

My son runs toward me, his arms outstretched, and I lift him, up, over and upside down into a perfect flying somersault. "Again!"

We have done this countless times, and like all gymnastics it is a mixture of pure, necessary concentration and zoned-out meditation, just the kind of energy you want to get going before bedtime, one of our favourite times of the day.

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It's a game I remember playing with my dad when I was also three. He would lie on the floor and I would race toward him to be lifted, then suddenly flying, my tummy swirling, upside down and over onto the braided rug. "Again!"

I had to roll away quickly because my brother would be flying over right behind me, then my other brother behind him; all of us in a line for what seemed like hours, but never long enough. My father in those moments was the benevolent master of the universe, the centre of our world.

The closeness, the safeness I felt floating on the palms of my dad's hands was incredible – it was like being on a cloud together. I get that same feeling now, as the parent. Though I don't get to fly anymore, I am part of the cloudscape. In fact, our family spends a lot of time in the clouds. But that is about to change.

My son starts school next week and, as he's a kid with severe food allergies, it is especially hard to let him go.

He has been home with us his whole life, and to keep him safe, my husband and I have created a nice cloud surrounded by beautiful blue sky where he has been able to fly and always land safely in our arms.

When we learned of each new allergy, we recalibrated our world to keep our son away from the types of situations that could send him to the emergency ward. We shied away from using babysitters. We didn't really eat out. We avoided certain play places that would inevitably be strewn with food he might, as a toddler, pick up and put in his mouth. We taught him earlier than most not to do that.

We taught him to say no to the candy offered by the neighbours or the Goldfish cracker from the girl at the bottom of the slide. Yup, we have the kid who will end up in hospital if he eats a Goldfish cracker. And yup, we got pretty tired of explaining it to every new parent who opened up lunch bags to us at the playground.

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So, some days (Okay a lot of days) we skipped the drop-in centres, the play places and even the playgrounds. Our play dates were more likely to be outdoors, at provincial and city parks where, thankfully, food is not the centre of childhood activity.

My son's two BFFs are home-schooled kids, whose parents (for other reasons) also enjoy the expansiveness of nature.

We learned bird calls, watched beavers building dams, climbed to tiptop branches without a glance downward, and raced through the thick grasses of summer fields as grasshoppers leaped against our bare legs. We studied the stars.

Our home-schooled friends, living on the periphery by choice, wonder why we have now chosen school for our son. I wonder the same sometimes. He is just turning four, and still learning about what is safe to eat, and how to ask others for help.

Severe anaphylactic food reactions happen in moments, and even adults may have to rely on others, sometimes even strangers, to inject the life-saving epinephrine they carry to treat these reactions.

For kids with major allergies to such foods as milk or eggs, you have to carefully examine the labels of things like art supplies to check all the ingredients. As parents, we squint to read the fine print. But will every teacher do that? Every staffer?

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And if something happens, will they have the fortitude to administer the EpiPen?

We are at a crossroads between the duty to protect our child and our responsibility to empower him. He can have a normal childhood, but we have to trust a lot of people along the way.

It took some looking, but we found the right school for him. The school is ready for us. I have to get ready too.

I think of the phrase "comfort zone" as I roll my son out and over onto the rug behind us. It is way past his bedtime, but we are boisterous with giggles, and the game stretches out much longer than I remember my father ever allowing.

I am loving it here in the comfort zone of home with my little guy, and I don't want it to end. Some day I won't be able to carry his weight in the palms of my hands. And I want him to fly.

Anne Borden lives in Toronto.

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