Courage to be Catherine

Catherine and Daddy FARE

Emmy dresses
royalty marathons
picking coach for mommy
dancing around people protocol
knowing when to tip
talk
touch her throat
princesses
tangled with mermaids
surrounded by sentinels
she knows what to eat, drink
sample
she knows the safety
of one hundred orange shirts
cruisin’
for the courage to be Catherine

There’s this little girl, four years old who sings this song: “Milk, eggs, wheat and beef! Milk, eggs, wheat and beef!” Her name is Catherine and those are her food allergies. She stood on the stage at the Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) walk and sang the song, bobbing her head from side to side. “Come on everybody, sing it with me!” The song has helped her remember her allergies.

Catherine is typically a shy and polite little girl. To see her on stage and to see her take it all in with grace: that she was a race ambassador (thus the green sash) and that she had her own “Cruisin’ for Catherine” team, well, it makes you know that some are born with old souls. And I think it’s an old soul that can handle the precautions she and her family have to take for her life-threatening food allergies. That’s right. It’s a matter of keeping her safe and alive. I have watched her mother, one of my dearest friends, become a major advocate for FARE, and in the process educate everyone around her. This year, she emailed us an article titled,  “What it’s like to be an Allergy-Mom.” For all that I thought I knew, being an emotional support during various ER visits or tests to see if she might age out of one of the food allergies, this article gave me new insight into my friend’s daily life.

As an added twist of kismet, during the last year, Catherine’s dad was diagnosed with serious food allergies as well. And do you know what his reaction was? I’m paraphrasing, but it was basically: “I have nothing to complain about. Catherine deals with this every day. Now she’s not the only one, she’s not alone.” The amount of planning and pressure that her mother goes through is just part of how she breathes everyday. I saw her zip through the grocery store with cases of the foods that her family can safely eat. I’ve known her to laminate instructions for family members and caregivers.

Food is the center of my family’s life. It’s how we celebrate. And today, on Thanksgiving in the U.S., the entire day centers on food, football and oh yes, gratitude. At a recent Weight Watchers meeting, we reviewed all the holiday activities typically scheduled and how many of them revolve around food. One woman talked about her family’s stuffing recipe and how it’s been passed down through the generations and now there’s a granddaughter with Celiac disease so the matriarch doesn’t know how to adjust the recipe and have it taste the same. Here’s my suggestion to anyone facing this dilemma: Start some new traditions! Some can be food-related, visit www.foodallergymama.com for Kelly Rudniki’s most recent post featuring allergy-friendly Thanksgiving recipes or check out innovative yummy products from folks like Dr. Lucy. And think about some non-food related celebrations. This year, we are having the Recycled Box Car Races at my house. It helps me deal with my artistic obsession with cardboard. (I always want to make things out of all of boxes coming from Costco!) And my son can’t wait to beat me in the race. He’s already trash-talking my “Bodacious 8” racecar.

So today, I sing your song, Catherine, “Milk, eggs, wheat and beef!” and I say, thank you for teaching me courage by just being yourself, every single day.

Matriarchs FARE

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