As every mom is scrambling to share her child’s camp bunk and class for next year, I have a pit in my stomach, and my anxiety level increases drastically. If her child is in Austin’s class, then she will be receiving major notifications that there is a child with severe food allergies. It will be imperative that she is very careful as to what she sends for snacks and lunch. Well, that is my child. I am sorry… But, I am not sorry.
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When my first child began eating solid foods, I had described him as a picky eater. It was very challenging to get him to eat nutritious food items, like other toddlers his age. We would consistently put a variety of choices in front of him, and the only thing he took to was peanut butter. He loved it. So we decided that we would just put it on anything and everything to get him to eat different things. We lathered it on bagels, spread it all over crackers, smeared it on bananas, and rubbed it on anything that would get him to take a bite, chew, and swallow food. Let’s be honest. I was a typical mother, who just wanted to make sure my child was getting enough calories to grow, and enough nutrients to stay healthy. I was desperate.
I remember the day exactly. I had met a friend and her son, who was the same exact age as mine, at Barnes & Noble. They were sixteen months old. We picked up bagels for lunch for the boys, and brought a jar of peanut butter with us, in tote, to spread. A typical daily outing for us at the time, the kids would be entertained by the train table in the back of the store, in the children’s section. We would camp out, make ourselves comfortable, and hangout for hours. My son was a nosher. He would pick up his bagel, set it down, and then pick it up again. He put it anywhere. I wasn’t worried about dirt, mud, or even germs really. I just wanted him to eat that bagel!
Peanut butter is no neat food product, either. It’s sticky, gets on everything, and never comes off a toddler’s hands. My toddler was no different. But, again, I didn’t care. I was just so glad he liked something that was nutritious.
A mother came up to me shortly after. She very kindly asked, “Out of curiosity, is that peanut butter he is eating?” I wanted to say, “Duh, of course it is. And, isn’t it great my child will eat it?” But, I didn’t. I responded cordially, and just said, “Yes.” And, that was it. She and her son packed up and left the store. I never thought twice about that moment until two years later.
I had heard of food allergies, here and there. One, for instance, lives in our neighborhood. When asked if I was handing out Reese’s peanut butter cups by a different neighbor, I answered, “Of course! What is Halloween without Reese’s?” She replied, “Well, you know we have a peanut allergy in the neighborhood.” I said, “Ok, so tell her to take M&M’s, or something without peanuts!”
Though, I was aware they existed, a part of me truly didn’t believe this latest phenomenon. Let’s be honest. I didn’t know a single person growing up with a peanut allergy. So why is today’s generation any different? Are these parents sure they are allergic? Have they tried to feed their child peanut butter to see that they would actually, in fact, be fine? My views of food allergies instantly changed two years after the Barnes & Noble incident – that really wasn’t an incident to me, at the time.
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I watched and witnessed my second child go into anaphylactic shock after being fed a tiny morsel of a peanut butter cracker. I mean, t-i-n-y. I had never experienced such utter shock, complete distress, disbelief, and frantic feelings like I did that day. He seemed completely normal for about the first thirty minutes, too. I thought for sure we were in the clear. Until, he started coughing. But, was he just coincidentally developing a cough, or was it related to that t-i-n-y bite of cracker? I felt like the world was crashing down on me. I wasn’t able to see anything or hear anything past myself, my three-year-old and my struggling baby, who was 19 months old.
I did have the strength and sense to call our pediatric allergist. He instructed me to administer Benadryl immediately, and then just watch him; that first time ingestions are typically the most mild of reactions. Well, it progressively got worse, and then, he rapidly declined. I needed help. I called back, panicking, that I needed to bring him to his office, so he could be monitored by a professional. My doctor said, “Go straight to the hospital.”
Let’s review the state I was in at that time. I was panicking, hyperventilating, scared out of my mind that my child was going to die, and I was managing my screaming, frightened, and anxious-ridden three year old. Not a good combination to get behind the steering wheel and attempt driving my children, one of who clearly was having an anaphylactic reaction. My hands were trembling, while gripping the Epipen so tightly in my hand. Should I pull over and do it now? Or can I make it to the hospital in time for them to do it? What if I take the time to pull over, and then do it wrong, when I could have used that time to get to the emergency room? All questions that were screaming so loudly in my mind.
Both kids were hysterically crying at the top of their lungs; one who was watching his brother suffer immensely; and the other, in pain, and short of breath. And, then, one became silent. Did he fall asleep? Or did he stop breathing? After swerving across the road to prevent the fourth almost accident in the previous six minute period, I heard fire truck sirens coming from behind me.
I pulled in the middle of the road, blocking traffic on both sides, screaming and crying for them to stop and help my son. And, they did. Paramedics, firefighters, and three trucks later, my son was rushed to the local emergency room, saved by them and the Epipen that they administered.
I learned many valuable lessons that day. Food allergies are no joke. He happens to have many of them. He is severely allergic to milk, eggs, wheat, peanuts, and tree nuts. They are the one of the most serious, life threatening conditions, that need to be considered, respected, and understood. We are talking about life or death.
I, admittedly, was a parent who disregarded food allergies. I was uneducated, unaware, and unfamiliar with them. Now, as I am confronted with a child with several severe food allergies, and anaphylactic to nuts, I have to continue to remind myself that there are many other parents out there who are just like I was; with no harm wished upon or intended for anyone. But, until you see it, or experience it, it will continue to be very hard for a person to understand the true severity of food allergies, and how it changes a child’s life in one second. I hope that I am the minority, and that other parents are far more considerate and educated than I was at the time. But, I can’t count on it, or trust anyone. I have a responsibility to protect my child in anyway I can: and it is no easy task.
People often say, “Wow, you are amazing,” or, “You are so strong and brave,” when it comes to dealing with my son’s food allergies and health conditions. But, just like every parent out there, we are dealt a hand, and we have no choice, but to handle it, manage it, and make the best of it. And, that’s all I can do, and will continue to do for my son.