Modern Family actress Julie Bowen makes us laugh out loud in our living rooms each week. But a few years ago, she experienced a very un-funny and serious health scare with her oldest son (she has three boys). Oliver, then 18 months, experienced anaphylaxis, a serious allergic reaction that can be deadly without medical care. Now she’s working with the Get Schooled in Anaphylaxis campaign (Anaphylaxis101.com) to get the word out to parents and schools so they know the triggers and warning signs: trouble breathing, swelling, nausea, and itchiness, among others. She took some time out to chat with Parenting.com about that scary day, the season of Modern Family ahead, and her part in changing old attitudes.
How did you find out your son had his peanut allergy?
I was at work, and my husband sent me a text, with this picture that showed Oliver’s swollen and misshapen face. He had eaten peanut butter and had been stung by a bee at the same time. One or the combo of those things sent him into anaphylaxis. I was definitely more a person who errs on the side of, oh it’s fine. We were lucky his symptoms were so obvious and recognizable because I could have easily thought, this is no big deal--just like the people we’re trying to educate. I want parents to know the signs. And when in doubt, go to the emergency room.
How did you explain your son’s allergy to him?
Kids love to make themselves special, and sometimes they like that drama. They’ll always pretend to be orphans--who wants to be an orphan? Sometimes Oliver will try on the poor-me “I have allergies” persona and we just won’t do that. One in 13 kids have food allergies, so it’s not a big deal. He’s just one of those kids who can’t have nuts.
Do you find yourself worrying about it all the time?
I don’t. We now have a plan, and having a plan goes a long way to keep the hysterics away.
Turning to Modern Family, what does it mean to you to be involved in a show that shows all kind of families?
I love it. I am part of the straight married couple on the show, and I’m like that in real life too. But my kids go to school with all different kinds of families, and it’s perfectly normal for my kids and for me to see all kinds of families, and I love that. There are areas of the country where that is settling in more slowly, but I love hearing stories like, “my parents used to be homophobic but now they’re watching the show.” And they’re just good stories to tell. If laughing at us helps you open your mind, then great!
Has there ever been a story line where you swear the writers have cameras inside your house?
Yes! When Claire couldn’t run any of the electronics in the house. I thought that maybe I had mentioned it, and that how’s it ended up on the show, but turns out that’s everyone.
Your kids are still small, but on the show your kids are tweens and teens. Do you feel like it’s preparing you for the real thing?
I actually do! I’m sure when they are actually teenagers, I’ll realize fake kids on the set did nothing to help me. Areial and Sarah are the closest thing I’ll ever have to daughters--I’m not having any more babies! But I do certain scenes, and then later I experience them in life and then I really know what it means.
Can you share any tidbits about the new season? It feels like there are seeds being planted for another baby for Phil and Claire.
They’ve left the door open, but they haven’t told us.