Monday, October 29, 2007

My Hate Affair With Peanuts, 2007

In honor of Halloween I decided to put up a reprise of a post I wrote a couple years ago. I've edited it somewhat for this re-posting.

I admit it. I'm terrified of a legume.

For 3.5 years, I have nosily demanded to know the lunchbox contents of strangers at the playground, fought down panic every time a candy wrapper from some neighbor's garbage floats into our yard and brushes my son's shoes, and obsessively stared at random toddlers playing near us in public in an attempt to determine if the sticky residue on their hands could be something contaminated with peanuts.

I have given up going to Chinese restaurants and buying food from a deli or bakery. I buy nothing at the store without having scrutinized ingredient labels and probably having researched the item online first. In fact, going to the grocery store is probably the most nerve-wracking thing we regularly do; it's the most dangerous place on earth for him.

Halloween--don't get me started. I have told my son that he can't have the birthday cake being served at the party (we always bring a safe substitute). I have denied him treats from the ice cream man and vending machines. Once, the guy at the YMCA offered him a cookie. "No thanks, we have food allergies!" I said firmly. In uttering this well-worn phrase, I modeled to my son the actions he should take, reminded him never to eat anything that hadn't been approved by me or my husband, and felt that now-familiar twinge inside my body. That twinge is part heartbreak, part pure terror, and part relief because I know that there are much worse things than an allergy to peanuts.

I remember the taste of peanuts very fondly. I even went through a brief period of time after his diagnosis where I actually craved PB&J sandwiches like I never had before. I remember the smell of Jif. I remember the particular peanutty sweetness of a Reese's (especially the Easter Eggs). I remember Planters' honey-roasted peanuts and chocolate-covered Goobers. I remember my favorite pregnancy snack--apple slices with peanut butter. If I really concentrate, I think I can even taste it all.

Today, the thought of eating anything with a peanut in it makes my stomach turn.

How many close calls have we had? There was the peanut M&M that he almost touched. There was the piece of a cookie that he found in his seat in the grocery cart and ate before we could stop him. There was the time there were peanut shells all over the ground near the pond in our neighborhood. There was the day when some unthinking kids left dozens and dozens of peanut shells scattered all over our front yard and driveway. There have been several incidents of "mystery hives" all over his hands. There have been many times other kids have been holding or eating something with peanuts within feet or inches of my son. Most of the time, I'm composed. Every now and then, it's too much.

I'm so grateful for the waiters and restaurant managers who have taken our questions about the menu seriously and have bent over backwards to ensure my son's safety. It's wonderful to meet others who care enough to ask me if something they have made is safe for him to eat. I was so touched when some of our neighbors directed him to the peanut-safe candy on Halloween. It's more reassuring than I can express that there are peopleguys who invented a life-saving device called an Epi-pen and that having it and using it improves his chances of surviving an accidental exposure vastly. I feel so enormously happy that we have friends and relatives who are willing and able to watch our son, who enthusiastically ask us to demonstrate the Epi-pen again. I feel pride and sadness all mixed up together when I listen to my son explain how his "football" (so-called for its shape) bracelet helps protect him from peanuts, and how the paramedic peopleguys came to our house one night with all the lights and sirens.

I don't know how to end this other than to say that if some strange person pounces on you suddenly upon hearing you unwrap something to eat in a public place and demands the ingredient label while simultaneously shielding their child with their body--please don't take it personally! And enjoy a Reese's for me.

* * *

Some kind soul left this comment on the original post just a few weeks ago:

Anonymous said...

"How many close calls have we had? There was the peanut M&M that he almost touched..."

Seriously ... you need to get some therapy. You sound like a truly troubled woman, and it's amazing that your family or any of your neighbors doesn't roll their eyes directly at you and walk away.

I *long* for the day that you come at me on the playground about my child's snack food. Just once ... bring it on.

My response back was much nicer than it needed to be, looking back in hindsight. I considered blowing the comment away at the time, but I decided to keep it as a reminder to myself and others that there are people in this world who Don't Get It and they are just mean.

But despite the fact that there are awfully mean people out there, I am comforted by the knowledge that most people have been so accommodating and kind and that this is the norm. While struggling to protect Ryan and teaching him how to protect himself, we will of course have to educate him about jerks like the one above. But it's very reassuring to me that he can count on so many people to be supportive and help him out. Grandparents, Aunts and Uncles (you know who you are), Friends (IRL and online), Peopleguys of all kinds (paramedics, grocers, etc.): THANK YOU.


The Glasers said...

My daughter has not touched peanuts in years or wheat or cow milk or apple juice . . . Now that she is older and more mature and understands why she must stay away from certain foods I can relax a bit. . .

Rational Jenn said...

Yes, things are definitely easier now that our son is getting older. Although it's a challenge with his younger sister, who doesn't understand why she must avoid touching, well, anything at the grocery store! She also doesn't have his natural caution or (vague) memory of being sick, so she must be monitored closely--Halloween this year should be interesting!

Richard said...

I cannot remember if it is Neilson or Nestle, but one of them has come out with a peanut free assortment of Hallowe'en products... if you are interested.

Gideon said...

You have my deepest sympathy. We are fortunate that as far as we know neither of our children has any allergies (so far). We do have friends whose daughter has an allergy to wheat, so everything must be gluten-free. She had to eat a special cake at my daughter's birthday party. My mom, used to work at a pre-school and remembers an incident when they were playing (a counting game or something similar) with nuts and it turned out one of the kids was allergic and had rubbed his eyes, which proceeded to swell up to the size of a small apple. Emergency services had to be called.

I have nothing but contempt for the creature that commented callously when you first posted this. I have trouble imagining someone with kids having this kind of insensitivity to a mother concerned with the health of her child.

Monica said...

*Whistle* Wow. How exactly do you deal with Halloween? I imagine it must be pretty much impossible for him to stick his hands in any candy container, or for the adult giving the candy to place it in his bag. Then there's the issue of candy that's touched other peanut candy.

I'd be curious as to the logistics of this.

Flibbert said...

I don't understand these people. Don't they understand that your child could DIE if exposed to this stuff? Even trace amounts of aflatoxins can cause serious illness.

Before bringing peanuts into my office I asked everyone around my cube if they had a peanut allergy, just to be safe.

When I invite people over to my house for dinner, I am always careful to inquire after any dietary restrictions.

I've never had a food allergy and I don't know if I've ever known anyone with one, but allergies are serious and aflatoxin allergies can be particularly dangerous. I suppose there's no reason that I should exercise as much concern as I do.

But a dead child is a total downer.

Rational Jenn said...

Again: THANK YOU. Mean people are irritating, but, hey, they happen. I'm so happy that nice people happen more often!

It's difficult to convey the seriousness of food allergies and the level of vigilance we must maintain without coming over as Mad Eye Moody on steroids. I'm bound to be misinterpreted from time to time. I think I'm fairly level-headed about this--overall--I have my moments of Rant. I hope anyone reading my blog will learn a little bit and keep it in mind, because Flibbert is right: A dead child IS a total downer. That's what we're trying our hardest to avoid.

Anonymous said...

Have you discovered DIVVIES yet? It is a fantastic nut- and dairy-free gourmet bakery that delivers their products (even cupcakes). Check them out if you get the chance Our friends who are fortunate to not have any food allergies love all of DIVVIES products. It is wonderful to see our daughter who does (have food allergies) enjoy the same treats as her family and friends. Keep up the great work! Love your site!

Rational Jenn said...

I have heard of Divvies, but we haven't tried them yet. Thanks for the link! We'll give them a try!

We have turned many family and friends on to Sunbutter, similar to your sharing Divvies with your friends. I think Sunbutter is fantastic myself.