My children used to play mommy – getting their dolls ready for bed, giving them piggy back rides, even pretending to nurse them. When I went back to working in April of 2012 they would pretend to be on their toy phones and wave me away, saying, “Shh, I’m talking to a client!” Now they give each other speeches about food allergies. When I was driving them to my daughter’s parent teacher conference last week my son asked when we were going to get to the hotel (“No, not that kind of conference,” I clarified.). For 9 months, “the conference” was certainly something that impacted their lives. I have felt selfish as any parent does when they aren’t focusing directly on the needs of their children, home, or family, but I have also been buoyed by the conviction that this was important.
When Jenny Sprague called me out of the blue earlier this year, it was about an idea. She wanted to bring the “food allergy mom army” together in one place. She wanted to look around the room and know that she had brought everyone there. And she wanted that room to be in Las Vegas. That’s where I came in, she explained. Could I help secure a location?
My first thought was that I already didn’t have time to spare. I was consumed with a particularly nasty few cases and rationalized that once the biggest one was done and gone then I could probably make a few phone calls and see what meeting space would cost. I had just learned that a several months long ordeal about a pipe under our street was finally coming to a positive resolution but I was in no condition to be of any help to anyone.
This was Jenny, who had always, always, been available to support me even though we’d never met and only knew one another through twitter and our blogs. Jenny, who has been face to face with the dragon’s jaw more times than I could imagine bearing, let along surviving to still have hope and passion.
“Passion entails working strenuously toward challenges. Maintaining effort and interest over years despite failure, adversity, and plateaus to progress. It is the unwavering commitment to our patients, to our children, and to our readers. It includes thousands of hours away from family to achieve an objective that is bigger than ourselves. Being passionate involves teamwork. Recognizing that in order to do great things, you must surround yourself with talent, with people, with partners. . .who catch the wind of your vision when you cast it.” – Dr. Eric Edwards, November 2, 2013
As I stood in the “Sonoma room” at the South Point Hotel and Casino for the opening night of the Food Allergy Bloggers Conference I could barely believe what was happening. I had helped, I had contributed. . .Dr. Edwards of Sanofi was up in front of the banner Selena had designed, that had sat in my living room waiting to be transported to the hotel, that Jenny had put up behind the stage. The adrenaline was really pumping for me at that point as I wondered what people were thinking, what they expected from the next few days.
That morning I had been on stage at the FARE walk with the rest of the walk committee and my friends and my mother in law were watching the kids a couple feet away. Later they would tell me my daughter had said her mommy was doing important work for kids with food allergies and I was relieved that she understood but also not sure if it was right for me to make choices to be away from my own children at an event that I was doing ostensibly for them. To make their world a little more compassionate. So when Dr. Edwards mentioned being away from our families, the why and the how of it, I thought of how observant my daughter had been just that morning.
Jenny excitedly told me that our friend Elizabeth had spoken movingly about keeping what the conference created going even after we all headed home. I had missed the end of the closing panel because I was turning over the registration desk keys and trying to box things up to take home. I can’t wait to catch the video of it when our videographer sends it along but in the meantime I know that Jenny wasn’t the only one captivated by Elizabeth’s idea. That we didn’t need to ask where to go from here because by coming to the conference and taking part we had laid the groundwork for continued support and advocacy.
I couldn’t bear to look at the conference rooms one last time after our banner had been rolled up and carted away. It seemed strange that a room that felt comfortable and filled with friends was returning to a form I didn’t recognize. The next day I experienced a similar feeling again when I dropped Jenny off at the airport. She was playing Erica Dermer’s wickedly funny YouTube clip about the conference on her phone and we keep saying to each other that what we’d talked and planned for months had succeeded beyond what we’d hoped. I turned from the 15 to the 215 and onto the airport connector. It felt a little like Cinderella was leaving the ball. Which makes the Honda in this situation the pumpkin and me a mouse (or was the coachman the horse?). But I digress and will just say it was bittersweet.
I have been so privileged and humbled that people enjoyed the conference. I haven’t really been able to write something I felt encompassed the entire experience but as Jenny wrote on her own blog, our appreciation is of the people that attended, the people that spread the word, and that were so welcoming and kind to one another.
Susan Weissman wrote in my copy of “Feeding Eden” that she trusted me to read not only with my eyes but with my heart. May we all continue to read each others’ words with our hearts. To reach out and connect. Even when we are crippled by sadness and self-doubt and want to shut away the world there are those that will love us.
I could go on and on, which is funny considering the writer’s block I was experiencing, but I want to end with a few (these are not all by any means, I loved meeting everyone!) notes of thanks:
To Colette, who hugged me when I needed it.
To Elyse, ever smiling, who my kids tried to steal away and make their friend (I don’t blame them!) .
To Selena, who captured the loss of control we all battle.
To Joel, who I respect deeply.
To Elizabeth, for her resilience.
To Libby, for laughter.
To Kim, for frank advice.
To Caroline, for her enthusiasm.
To Keith, who is so ebullient that when Jenny and I expressed our desire to adopt him to his family and without missing a beat they said we’d have to take them too.
To Jo-Ann, who teared up when I told her that she had won a dinner based on her fundraising for the FARE walk because the donations had come from people that had supported her in a very dark year.
To Ritesh, for being awesome.
To Tiffany, who puts herself in the fray with humor and grace.
To the Mehras, who are beyond sweet and compassionate.
To Cybele, for being just as amazing as I’d hoped.
To Lynda, for the support KFA gives us all.
To Steve, for supporting the walk.
To Dana and Duane for believing in this when it was just an idea.
To Alison, for being the whole food allergy mom army rolled into one.
To Debbie and Susanne, for championing safe options for kids with food allergies.
To Jenny, the best business partner a girl could ask for.
To my older sister, who gave of her time freely to set up our business entity and advise us.
To my mother in law and sister in law, for being proud of me cheering me on.
To my husband, for coming through when I most needed it.
To my children, for understanding me better than I understand myself.
I told people over and over at the conference that I made this blog for my children, and it is still very true. I made it so that I could put the recipes together for them in the future and in that full circle way of things it ended up helping me as well. My biggest takeaway was that as much as I thought we needed more after-care for families post-diagnosis regarding food, the next phase may well be emotional and therapeutic support based on the common themes in all our stories.
As always, thank you for reading.