Before I had Joe — well, before I knew Joe had a potentially life-threatening allergy to tree nuts — I was right there with parents who are annoyed at peanut and other nut restrictions in some public places. Our former pediatrician's office forbids peanut products and bananas. "Give me a break," I sighed while complying with this annoying rule. My kids loved bananas and PB&J and with those often-interminable delays spent in the waiting room, it would have been mighty handy to be able to pull out a banana and hand it to them.
I obeyed similar restrictions when my older child, Laura, entered kindergarten. She could have nut products in her lunch, but no nuts in the classroom. I never complained out loud — but in my head? I was a little annoyed. "When I was a kid," I'd think, "we sure didn't have all this allergy crap to deal with. What is going on, and why do I need to be inconvenienced by someone else's problem?"
Yeah, I was kind of a brat. Then, a few months short of his third birthday, I learned by way of a Nutella sandwich that Joe was at least allergic to hazelnuts — which puts the "Nut" in "Nutella". A fun morning of testing at the allergist's informed me that he was allergic to just about every tree nut there is.
Suddenly my perspective changed. I was no longer smugly observing at all those "EpiPen kids" and feeling a mixture of compassion and irritation. I suddenly had an EpiPen kid of my own and vigilance became my new mantra.
Those first few years after Joe's diagnosis were pretty stressful. He was too little to have any understanding of his condition and could not vet food offerings. Fortunately, he is a very picky eater and not likely to grab a handful of something iffy, like trail mix, or any other unfamiliar food, for that matter. Big sister Laura looked out for him a bit, but it was mostly me asking questions, requesting labels and no doubt annoying many a parent of non-allergic kids.
We've been lucky and Joe has only had one other reaction in the six years since the Nutella episode. Benadryl saved the day and the EpiPen has never been used. But I still keep it on hand, 24/7 because, you know, it could be life or death.
What does it do to a kid to grow up knowing that an innocuous food product is deadly, knowing that a bite could kill them? I don't know, but it has to be a heavy burden. Way heavier a burden than skipping the allergy-provoking ingredients when you bring goodies in for a class party. Way heavier than the irritation of swapping out PB&J for cheese. I'm sorry, guys, to be that pain-in-the-butt parent, but I have no choice.
The slightest slip up, you see, could mean death for my child.