Our refrigerator was covered from top to bottom with brightly colored alphabet magnets and an array of faded pictures.It was the perfect snapshot of life with two young kids, smiling faces and the chaotic remnants of my daughter’s Word of the Day efforts. Amidst the family portraits and the mermaid stickers, there now sits an 8 x 11 sheet of paper documenting a food allergy and anaphylaxis emergency care plan.
Shortly after his first birthday, my son was diagnosed with a life-threatening peanut allergy. He suffered a mild reaction after eating peanut butter for the first time. Out of an abundance of caution, we visited an allergist the following day for testing. A positive skin test and blood work later confirmed the allergy.
Tears rolled down my face as I called to tell my husband the news. I knew enough about food allergies to understand the threat to my son’s life. The realization that a measly peanut, a food so ingrained in American culture, could cause him serious harm was (and remains) really difficult to wrap my head around. I walk through the grocery store now and nearly gasp when I see a bag of peanuts. Pushing aside the big fears we all have as parents, I am petrified my son might simply take a bite from a peanut butter cookie. The threshold for keeping him safe has become significantly lower and the pressure to do so that much higher.
It has been a few months since his diagnosis, and thankfully we haven’t had any issues. We are slowly adapting to our new life as an “allergy family” and learning the ins and outs of what that label really means. We are educating ourselves (and those around us) about cross-contamination and EpiPen procedures. It’s a constant battle between obsessing over the allergy and not being careful enough. It’s finding the balance between not alarming everyone around you and treating his allergy more like a personal dietary choice. When I see Nut-Free signs posted around our neighborhood in my daughter’s school and dance studio, my heart nearly skips a beat in relief.
When my son was first diagnosed, I told my husband that I didn’t think I was cut out for the role. I spent many nights wondering whether or not I was strong enough to advocate for him; whether I would ever be able to overcome the anxiety a food allergy brings to a parent. But a mother’s love is truly stronger than any fear. Through this experience, I have found a voice for my son. I am met with daily challenges and situations to navigate on his behalf. I have called countless companies (regarding their handling of allergens), visited doctors, and researched every possible avenue to help him.
Caring for a child with a food allergy is not easy. Food allergies are not linear or neat; they do not follow a reassuring and predictable pattern. It can feel like you’re constantly living with an elephant in the room, but the good news is that eventually the elephant kind-of becomes your elephant. You learn to adjust and discover a new version of normal.
When I thought ahead about my son’s future, I never envisioned a food allergy – that curve in the storyline didn’t fit into my unicorns and rainbow theme. I saw a lot of laughter and smiles shared with his big sister and probably some type of delicious cupcake in his hand, frosting smeared across his face. So now, I still hear that same laughter and see those smiles, but maybe he’s just holding a balloon instead.
My now 15-month-old son is blissfully tottering around and mischievously plotting the ways he can pester his sister. He is incredibly fortunate to be healthy and completely unaware of his allergy. For now, I am his voice and his protector. There is great hope in the future for him and for the food allergy epidemic.
So, maybe we will get our rainbow after all.