From Tami: Food Allergies

8th birthday
Allergies are terrifying. When hidden ingredients can send your child into an anaphylactic reaction, it changes your whole approach to food.

I had never really thought about allergies in the beginning of my parenting career. That changed one day, when my now 21 year old was a mere 18 month old ball of energy, and I let him lick a spoon from the batter of a flour-free cake I was baking. I don’t remember now what kind of ground nuts were in the batter, but I will never forget the horror of watching my baby’s face turn beet red, swollen, and spotted with hives within minutes. I knew he was having an allergic reaction, but I didn’t know what to do about it. I knew nothing about allergies — this was before schools went nut-free or gluten-free was a “thing,” back before Google or social media campaigns.

I should have brought him to the hospital or called an ambulance. I may have given him some Benadryl, I don’t even remember. All I know is that I turned to my favorite panic-mode parenting hack, and I threw him in the tub. Honestly, this is my parenting go-to for everything. Can’t tell if baby is lethargic or just slow to wake up? There’s a bath for that. Chest congestion? There’s a bath for that, too. Apparently soap and warm water fix all. On this particular occasion, the bath served two purposes: 1) No clothes, so I could watch his skin for hives, and 2) It kept him in one place so monitoring him was easy. Again, this was my wind-up-toy kid. No way was he going to let me monitor him if he could be running around, so a nice splash with some floaty-boats was definitely the way to go.

Once it was clear that the hives were abating, it was time to deal with practicalities. I had him allergy tested. The verdict: mildly allergic to milk and eggs, potential for anaphylactic reaction to all tree nuts (peanuts were fine). I overhauled my house. Not a nut was to be found. I later discovered that even some of my non-allergic kids developed a bit of a nut-aversion due to the power of the nut-free zone. I got prescriptions for Epi-Pens (which I thankfully never had to use), and I taught all of the kids how to check ingredient lists.

The most frightening thing was teaching him to avoid nuts. He was quick and impulsive, a typical toddler. I watched him like a hawk, but I feared for when he grew more independent, or for those brief seconds that I turned my head.

I started working with him, helping him understand that he always needed to ask me before eating anything, because sometimes food might make him sick. As he got older, and his comprehension improved, he learned to ask people whether there were nuts in foods before he ate them. I was very proud of him for his care and caution.

What I didn’t realize was how he was internalizing the message of eating nuts = getting sick. Once, when he was probably four or five years old, my sweet baby caught the flu. Feeling miserable and feverish, he lay in bed watching me with glassy eyes and tearfully asked the question that broke my heart. “Mommy? Is it my fault that I’m sick? Did I eat a nut?”

Wow, guilt. WOOOW GUILT.

I explained to him that of course it wasn’t his fault, and I hoped he believed me. But at the end of the day, the guilt was outweighed by the knowledge that I was keeping him safe. He’s an adult now, and has never needed the Epi-Pen. He knows what he can and can’t eat, and the world is much more allergy-friendly than it was in those days.

I still get choked up, though, when I think of the fear in those early days: the little boy with hives and wheezing, and the panic that his snacks were somehow contaminated. And I still get a bit sad and guilty when I think of how desperately he wanted to be a good boy, and his anxiety when he thought that he was at fault for his illnesses.

I guess once an allergy mom, always an allergy mom.

How about you, SuperMoms? What kind of food restrictions do your little ones have? What kind of systems have you developed to keep them safe and healthy? I know you have some good ones.

That’s why you’re a Super Mom.


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