Sunscreen & Epipens – Allergy Girl’s Guide to Being a Happy Camper
My name is Olivia. I have food allergies. I am allergic to dairy, eggs, tree nuts, peanuts, and peas, and my little brother. I am sixteen years old and live in Boulder, CO. I am passionate about theater and music and spending time with my friends. I have lived with my food allergies my whole life, so I’ve learned a lot about dealing with the realities of being an Allergy Girl. I carry 2 epipens with me everywhere – had to use them once. I plan to use this blog to share some of the things I’ve learned, talk about the challenges I face, and maybe just share some thoughts to let you know you’re not the only one out there dealing with all the crap that comes with food allergies. I mean, I know how much it sucks to watch your friends enjoy ice cream, how awkward it is to order at a restaurant, and how tiring it is to always have to be “on” when there’s food involved (which, by the way, seems like always).
I also know that routines are helpful, and when summer comes, and school is finally out for the summer (rejoice), all of the routines of the past nine months go out the window. Ah, sleeping in, no homework, the pool – I LOVE YOU SUMMERTIME! Wait, what’s that…camp? Ah, OK. Camp is cool, I guess. I learned to make friendship bracelets at camp. I sang songs I can’t remember. I got bug bites, made friends and rode on a smelly bus. In my younger days, camp meant Day Camp. That was pretty easy – bring your own lunch, avoid snacks that aren’t safe. I’m pretty sure Allergy Mom was behind the scenes working the counselors pretty hard, but it seemed to go pretty smoothly, no matter which day camp I did. I wish I could do s’mores – damn you Hershey’s. Marshmallows are fine, and most graham crackers too – the chocolate (MILK chocolate) is always the issue for me. So too are all of the chocolate faces and fingers once everyone else has gorged on the wood-fired gooey goodness. Ahhh. Like it doesn’t suck enough to watch that go down, I have to feel like everyone has coodies when it’s all over.
Then camp became “sleep away camp”. For four summers, I did a three-week camp at Interlochen Center for the Arts, and just recently I got into a theatre “intensive” at UCLA, though they made sure I knew that wasn’t “camp” but real college stuff. Because they are both so far away from home, there was no brown-bagging these places. I had to eat the food they provide for their students there. At Interlochen, every year before the program started Allergy Mom and I would fly out a day or two early to talk to the chefs beforehand. It helped to meet with them before they were busy with making three squares for all those happy campers. I would strongly recommend this. Whether it be your school or a program you are doing outside of school. Talking to the people who are making your food in person is best – but even over email or phone is better than nothing. We always started with a call or an email so they knew what was coming, and then arranged a meeting time that was easiest for them. It’s a way for you to get to know the chefs and a great way for them to know you and your needs. At Interlochen, I would go back to the kitchen at breakfast, which I provided for myself, and basically gave the chef my order for lunch and dinner. It usually was similar to what they were making for the rest of the students and faculty for that meal but with substitutes for what I was allergic to. I actually had a refrigerator where they kept stuff safe for me! It was a pretty similar situation at UCLA this summer. I would provide my own breakfast, typically cereal with soy milk, and lunch. I would not recommend eating a turkey sandwich every day for three weeks, but hey, whatever works. (Seriously, I may not eat another turkey sandwich, like… ever.) At dinner, it was pretty much the same drill I did at Interlochen, I would go up to the chef and we would discuss what was for dinner for the rest of the students and faculty and what would work for me. I have found that in these situations, and any situation really, takes a lot of prep work on mostly my end but once the prep work is done can be pretty simple. I admit, I feel a little weird being on a first name basis with Lunch Lady, but altogether I’ve done three meals a day for three weeks for five summers – Holy Wow, that’s over 300 meals! And thanks to Allergy Mom and the good folks at Interlochen and UCLA, I’m still here to tell you about it.
I know that it can be intimidating to go away to sleep away camp all by itself, and it is even more nerve-wracking with food allergies. But, I want to personally tell you that it is been worth it. Some of the best memories I have are from going away from home and being on my own. I still stay in touch with friends from Interlochen, and I facetime with my new friends from UCLA who are around the world. I can’t imagine not meeting them, not experiencing the fun, and having spontaneous dance parties. The amount of work that goes into making you safe is worth it.
[If you’re an Allergy Mom, it sure makes us feel safe (and a whole lot less awkward) to have your help in talking with kitchen staffs and cooks. Trust me, Allergy Girl already has plenty of stuff to worry about, dealing with that part… well, thanks for doing all that. I mean, really thanks.]
So, what are you waiting for? Pack up your epipens, your sunscreen and go get mosquito bitten. Make new friends, tell ghost stories and HAVE A GREAT TIME!
– Allergy Girl