In elementary and middle school I was part of a close-knit group of girl friends. The four of us were always together during class, lunch, recess, after school and on the weekends. We had each other to rely on and then a larger group of friends outside our circle that we spent time with at sports practices, parties, and movies on the weekends. My friends knew about my allergies, how to use my epinephrine and ways to keep me safe and protect me. Back then they were some of my biggest advocates, and still to this day remain that way. Girl friendships can be tough, and though these friendships had their moments, these girls have had my back since the beginning and as an adult they are some of my biggest supporters and closest friends.
Friday evening, May 1996
I gently leap onto my parents’ bed and sit with my legs tucked underneath me as I watch my mom put on a long silver necklace by her vanity. I am twelve, and nearing the end of seventh grade. I have plans to go to a party at my friend Jillian’s house. At school that day there had been excitement and anticipation from my other friends as to the expectations of participating in “Spin the Bottle” that evening at the party. I knew Jillian had a finished basement and that was where “the game” would take place. I always knew how to keep myself safe at parties with the strategies and guidance that my mom had taught me starting from a young age. Little did she know there were other hurdles ahead that night and I wasn’t sure I knew how to correctly handle them, especially with my allergies.
My stomach is in knots as I try to figure out how to ask my very important question. This age is already awkward, just imagine adding anaphylactic food allergies to the mix! Never mind that I can’t go anywhere without my epinephrine and that I still always pack myself an extra snack just in case I am hungry. To me, it felt like everyone else always looked so cute and comfortable, no bag to carry, no anything to carry, and I felt uncomfortably awkward with my purse, food, and the occasional parent reminder about my allergies.
I re-position my legs that have now fallen asleep while waiting for courage to replace the anxious anticipation and uncertainty of what to say. I sit, legs outstretched on the bed, left foot bouncing next to my right as I nervously play with the words in my head. What is the best way to phrase this question? I don’t even know if my mom thinks I am old enough to be kissing boys. What age is that appropriate? I think back to some vague memory that my mom had once shared with me of being kissed in kindergarten by some boy under a table. Obviously a very innocent five-year-old kiss, but still. If she could have that happen at five, I am sure almost thirteen is old enough to play Spin the Bottle!
Ugh. I feel a bit nauseous having to ask such an uncomfortable question. Finally my mom turns to me, “What’s up honey? You ready to go to Jillian’s?” I hesitate. “Yeaaaah…” I drag out. “Well… so the girls were talking and apparently we are going to play Spin the Bottle tonight at the party…” My mom looks interested, not surprised or worried, thankfully. “So, I am not sure about kissing with my allergies,” I stammer. Ugh, I got it out!
“Well, I think it is up to you, sweetie. I have raised you to make decisions that are right for you and keep you safe. I trust that you will do that for yourself tonight. I don’t know what would happen if you kissed a boy, but I do trust that whatever happens, you will do it safely.” She says all of this with no sign of apprehension, no air of concern, no worry of my age. We briefly discuss strategies, such as not kissing anyone who ate something at the party I was allergic to. “Anything else?” she asks turning back to me from her dresser. “Nope,” I say with more confidence and a feeling of exhilaration that the conversation I thought would be uncomfortable was over. “Let me know how it goes!” she says with a conspiring smile on her face.
An hour later my mom drops me off, wishes me luck and sends me on my way, Epi-pens, Benedryl, and snack in tow. Many of my friends are already there when I arrive. I walk down the staircase to the basement. There is a table set up with snacks and soda. Eying the food, I notice a bowl of regular M&M’s and potato chips as the major allergens. I carefully pour a cup of Sprite and stand around chatting with my friends. “Did you check with your mom?” Shannon asks. “Yeah, she said she trusts me to decide. I think it will be okay as long as no one is eating nuts,” I say.
Soon enough Jillian announces we are playing Spin the Bottle. To my surprise and exasperation, my friends have decided to go around to every boy at the party making sure they have not eaten the M&M’s, potato chips, or any other nuts, peanuts, or fish that day. I am both thankful and completely mortified! I hear my friend Jenn next to me grilling our friend Christopher about what he had to eat that day. “Are you sure you had no peanut butter?” I hear her ask him emphatically. I guess it is one way to get to the bottom of this in a quick and deliberate fashion. It is certainly not the way I had envisioned, but hey, they know what is important and the safest way to make sure that happens. After the questioning, a few boys are eliminated from my pool of potential kisses, but most were good to go!
I eye the empty Coke bottle in the middle of the circle. After a few spins and the kissing begins, I feel a bit less jumpy. Baby butterflies are still tickling my stomach as I anticipate what a kiss will feel like. Paul spins and it lands on me. We both lean in. Our lips meet briefly. We both pull away. I smile. No reaction! Okay, I can do this!
As an Allergic Reactor and someone who had a successful first time kissing with food allergies, along with many, many more successful kisses to follow with each coming year ;), I can to this day appreciate my mom’s advice. She trusted me. She gave me the tools to trust myself and know what to do. I was always prepared with Epi’s and supportive friends. I had the confidence to advocate for myself when needed and the knowledge to teach others how to keep me safe. I have had three serious relationships so far in my life. Each of these was a chance for me to learn how to teach someone who would become a significant part of my life about my allergies and how to keep me safe. I feel thankful that I found these amazing guys, and I feel confident that your Allergic Reactor will too find someone that will learn to understand and keep them safe!