I am reminded of it every day when I put the sani-wipe in his lunch bag, so that he can, hopefully, wipe off any allergens that he may come contact during the day, before he uses his hands to put food in his mouth. I am reminded at school parties and social outings, and vacations, at baseball games, and at dinners out, that danger lurks around every corner. We have been lucky. He has not had a reaction since he was two, but I have also been vigilant. I do not take chances, not with my son’s life.
All of this does not mean that I expect the world to bend to my son or that I’m looking for some sort of tree nut ban, after all, I send him to school with a peanut butter sandwich every day. He is not allergic to peanuts. Peanuts are a legume. He is a allergic to pecans, and walnuts, and almonds, and macadamia nuts and every other tree nut, and sesame.
However, I do expect some things. I expect food manufacturers to accurately label their products. I expect them not to use may contain statements just to cover their asses. I expect to be able to find at least one item on a menu that can be prepared safely for my son. I expect that my friends and family love us enough that they provide something safe for my son to eat if we are invited for such an occasion, and I expect them to understand when I need to read the label for the fiftieth time or question their food practices. I also expect, that when class parties are held and parents, who were previously asked not to send in products containing, or cross contaminated with tree nuts or sesame, won’t, especially when I have offered to bake or buy any and all treats if need be. I also expect a teacher, who assures me that she has the same allergies as my son, and will therefore look out for my son, not to bring in cupcakes on the last day of school that he cannot eat.
However, it doesn’t matter what I expect or how reasonable or unreasonable my demands may be, because I have pretty much learned that I cannot expect anything. From family members who want to know if I have “tested” to see if my son is still allergic (by feeding him a nut), to parties held by people we know, who can’t tell me if there is something safe for my son to eat, to parents who insist on buying chocolate chip cookies with warning labels on them when there are brands of cookies, including chocolate chip, that are safe for nut allergic children to eat, to a teacher that brings in cupcakes for the whole class to enjoy, except for my son and one other child because they suffer from nut allergies. From products that we have previously consumed that now have warning labels on them for no apparent reason, to restaurants that assure customers on their websites that a manager will be able to assist in making safe food choices if one has food allergies, only to arrive on a slow day, pre-dinner rush and find the manager anything but accommodating. The world of food allergies in frustrating!
I teach my son not feel sorry for himself. He’s not a victim, neither am I, but in truth, I feel sorry for him all the time. Why should a kid have to be burdened with food allergies? Why should a cookie or brownie or cup of coffee for that matter be able to kill my son? It sucks.
People who don’t have to deal with food allergies, for the most part, can’t stand to hear it. Talk about something like juvenile diabetes, autism, or asthma and everybody is rallying for the cause, talk about food allergies and all types of nuts (no pun intended) come out of the woodwork. I once read an article about food allergies where a guy commented that he better not be on a plane that has to make an emergency landing for a kid if he goes into anaphylaxis. Funny, but if someone was having a heart attack would he feel the same way? It’s not my kid’s fault that he has food allergies. What if the person having the heart attack smoked? Or was overweight? Or never visited the doctor? Should the plane land then? What if it was the idiot himself? I can’t even type the choice words I felt about the loser that made those comments, but you can imagine what I was thinking. Then there’s the morons who talk about survival of the fittest and let the gene pool die. I’m sure they never seek medical attention for any ailment. They must just survive, right?
Comments like those will never stop shocking me, but food allergies is a loaded topic, because it deals with infringement and people fear infringement, like how dare you infringe upon my child’s right to eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich? Fear makes people say weird things. I get it. No one wants to be told what to do, or better yet, no one wants to be told what they can’t do. So, I usually don’t ask people to do or not do anything, instead I offer, I explain, I bake, I buy, I plan, I educate and I always have alternatives, for days like today, when on the last day of school, my son was left out, one last time.
This is not to say that we haven’t encountered wonderful people. I have put my trust in great parents who have reached out with recipes and asked questions, all so my son wouldn’t feel left out when their child was bringing cupcakes to school. I can’t tell you how much that means to my son. Unfortunately, I have also put my trust in people, who assure me that nothing will have nuts in it, only to find out that again, it wasn’t safe for him to eat. This happened two days in a row this week. I would have baked my own batch of cookies had I known. Lesson learned, next time I’ll just bring something even when I’m not supposed to.
And that’s what living with food allergies is like, learning as you go, hoping for the best and never taking chances. The margin for error is nonexistent and the consequences for making a mistake, devastating. It is a frustrating and sometimes scary ride for my son. It is all that and much more for me, where the fear of what if can make my blood run cold. I’m not complaining, we all have our burdens to bear and my son is blessed in many ways.
All I ask is for a little compassion (and please just let me bring the snack), not for myself, but for a seven year old boy, who tries to act like it doesn’t bother him, but feels the sting each time he has to go to his “treat” box while the rest of his class indulges, in what looks like to him, the best cake ever.