“A mother wants her child to be healthy and not suffer – there is no greater pain than when your child is not totally healthy. How would you feel if your child couldn’t attend a bris or birthday party? That is why I will never stop advocating for allergy kids.” ~~ Paulette
Meet Paulette Cohen, aka The Nut Job Mom. When her oldest daughter, Elizabeth, was diagnosed with severe allergies 11 years ago, Paulette decided things were going to be different for her child. She turned the worst situation in her life into the best one. Educating and supporting allergy moms and their families, schools, and the community became her life work. Paulette certainly educated me!
Please join me in traveling back to Paulette’s childhood and following her on her journey to becoming an allergy coach, consultant, blogger, and influencer with thousands of followers. Paulette has not only introduced dramatically positive changes to so many kids’ lives, she has also been instrumental in saving lives. Allergies can be a matter of life and death. Let’s see how Paulette’s passions and values developed and learn about the role models who inspired her.
A Little History
Paulette, one of four children, grew up in Deal, New Jersey and attended Hillel Yeshiva from grade school through high school. “I loved growing up in Deal, it’s so laid back and there is an effortless mentality and vibe there.”
One of the first things Paulette told me was that she wouldn’t be the person she is today without the immense support of her family (including her two brothers and sister), husband, and friends.
Very early in our conversation, I noticed that Paulette was so poised and present for a woman of 33. She confided she gravitates to older people because of her strong desire to grow and to constantly learn.
Paulette’s mom recalls that Paulette was a sweet, quiet, calm, and kind child, the type who gave away her party candy bags to her siblings. Her father called her smart and said she could achieve whatever she applied herself to. She found her voice as a teenager and blossomed into “a confident person, a force to be reckoned with, not afraid of challenges, and succeeding at whatever she was passionate about.” One of Paulette’s main passions was medicine. From an early age she was always interested in all things medical.
Paulette’s mother and grandmother were strong role models while she was growing up. They had a knack when it came to diagnosing childhood illnesses based on reported symptoms. Paulette insists she inherited this trait from them.
She still chooses to read a medical journal over watching a movie. Paulette says, “I am also a very no-nonsense person. People say I am real. I wear my emotions on my sleeve, but I do have a good sense of humor. I surround myself with positive people. Laughter is the best medicine in my opinion.” Her friends describe her as authentic, bursting with life, energetic, outgoing, fun, kind, quick witted, confident, and smart.
Paulette’s dream was to become a doctor or a psychologist, but she also yearned to be a mother. Fate intervened and she met her naseeb, Sam Cohen, seven years her senior, at a wedding in Brooklyn. The couple settled there and have three girls – Elizabeth, 12, Bette, 9, and Ali, 4. “Sammy is my rock, the love of my life, he believes in me. I wouldn’t be successful without him. Being a mom is everything to me, my children are my greatest accomplishments and make me feel alive.”
Getting the Allergy Diagnosis
Back to baby Elizabeth. She was turning one when she had her first allergic reaction. It appeared when Elizabeth was eating sesame chicken on Shabbat. The doctor diagnosed her with allergies to nuts, sesame, and environmental irritants. Four years later, Elizabeth developed asthma. Paulette experienced multiple emotions when she heard the diagnosis.
“I grew up with allergies and asthma. I understood what it meant to have life-threatening allergies. I felt so helpless and depressed. You don’t want your child to suffer, you just want your child to be healthy, not to have to carry a life-saving EpiPen.”
Paulette, who was only 20 years old, resolved that she was going to do everything within her power to make her daughter’s life as normal and anxiety-free as she could. What is normal? Having play dates, going out to family Shabbat dinners, attending camp, school, and family semahot.
Some allergy kids have severe reactions to ingestion of food that they are allergic to and also to airborne allergens. That was the case with Elizabeth.
Paulette began her research, studying whatever she could find on allergies, interviewing doctors, therapists, and nutritionists, and educating herself about food product ingredients. She went to community stores and talked to managers advising them which products are allergy free. It was easier to control her home environment when Elizabeth was young, but so challenging when she started school or visited a friend. When a mom sends an allergy child out of the house, she worries, “Will I get a call?”
The Nut Job Mom is Born
As Paulette became experienced in managing her own daughter’s life-threatening allergies, she was compelled to share her lessons learned with other allergy moms and dads. Paulette wanted to help young mothers navigate the unknown and terrifying landscape of serious allergies. Her expertise did not develop overnight, but was gained by relentlessly acquiring self-education and by real-life experience. Why “The Nut Job Mom”? Paulette was confiding to a friend that she felt like a nut job, always running around, checking food labels. “I realized I am a nut job mom! I owned it, I love it, and I would do anything to keep Elizabeth healthy and safe.”
Paulette discovered that it was difficult for people to understand what it means to have an allergy child, to see them struggle and fear for their lives. “Some people don’t get it! They say, ‘Just give the child Benadryl, it’s no big deal!’ A little deal, an allergic reaction, can turn into a child not being able to breathe!”
So much of Paulette’s work involves educating the allergy child, the family members in the household, mothers of non-allergy children, and the school administration and teachers. Paulette’s mission and strong desire to advocate for allergy children came from being highly allergic herself and then coping with her own child’s allergic conditions.
The Nut Job Mom involves several components. Paulette is an allergy coach, consultant, and blogger. She also partners with food companies (only kosher ones) to share with allergy parents which products are allergen free. “Moms are spending so much money on food. I take the guess work out of shopping for them.”
The coaching Paulette engages in with the allergy child and family is simultaneously laser-focused and heart-centered, with the child’s best interests at the forefront. When she meets with a child and parents for the first time, her goal is to enable the child to have a normal life and avoid anxieties and possible disorders. Paulette has an aptitude for listening, zoning in on the issues, and developing a plan to resolve them, while respecting the family’s privacy. “Witnessing the constructive changes in their lives is so rewarding!” Paulette may recommend another doctor if the mother expresses that her child’s physician has given up on her. Paulette clearly states that she is not a doctor and whatever recommendations she shares should be verified with one’s own doctor.
Balancing Family and Career
Paulette’s husband and children are very proud and supportive of her work. “If I have to leave the house unexpectedly during dinner to help a client, Elizabeth lights up and totally gets why I am needed,” Paulette relates. “Ali is too young to understand but Bette is very empathetic towards Elizabeth and explains to her friends that if she eats nuts, she won’t be able to hug her older sister.”
Paulette sees that she has been changing the community view about allergies by educating members to understand how allergies impact the affected child and the family. Communication with both the family and the community is key and can lessen or prevent a child’s anxieties and other serious issues. Paulette also arranges programs with the Sephardic Bikur Holim Allergy Division and local yeshivot to educate people in the community. She shares her knowledge and tools in magazine articles, provides support for allergy moms via a WhatsApp Chat group, and much more. Paulette has trained the allergic child, parents, housekeepers, nannies, and grandparents in using the EpiPen, how to maintain an allergy free home, and has demonstrated how to make celebrations allergy free.
To unwind, Paulette loves to listen to music and dance. Music helps her to focus and clears her mind. Paulette is an avid reader and enjoys reading novels in addition to books on health.
What’s next? Paulette confessed that several doctors have urged her to enroll in medical school, saying she has a gift. She admits it’s a definite possibility.
Please connect with Paulette on Instagram @Thenutjobmom.
Ellen Geller Kamaras, CPA/MBA, is an International Coach Federation (ICF) Associate Certified Coach. Her coaching specialties include life, career, and dating coaching. Ellen works part-time as an entitlement specialist at Ohel Children’s Home and Family Services. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org (www.lifecoachellen.com).