Today we are honored to welcome the lovely Laura Lawler to Let's Lasso the Moon. ~Zina
The other day, at the mall food court, my 10-year-old son, Jake, took a big bite from his Subway sandwich (turkey and salami, lettuce, tomato, and yellow mustard, please) and then looked at me, thoughtfully, while chewing. He picked at a small piece from the innards of his sandwich and held it out to me. “Is this cheese?”
“Of course not. I think that’s just a bit of turkey.” Jake shrugged and took another bite, but the seed of doubt had been planted for me. “Hand the sandwich over and let me just double-check.”
He agreeably passed it over and I opened it up to find two big triangles of pepper jack cheese, one of which had a giant, Jake-mouth-sized bite taken out of it. “Oh…” was my brilliant and utterly unhelpful response to this discovery. Meanwhile, as I was plucking the cheese from the sandwich, an elated Jake was turning to his brother and shouting, “I ate cheese! And I’m fine! And it was good. I’d like to have more of that!” Ian, Jake’s 7-year-old brother, was just as excited. “Maybe you grew out of your dairy allergy, Jake! Just like me and my soy allergy!”
I was already on the phone, calling my husband at work. “So… Jake accidentally ate a big piece of pepper jack cheese...”
Jake was yelling in the background, “It was great! I feel fine! My first real cheese!” and I was laughing until I heard my husband’s serious reply: “Are you going to give him the EpiPen?”
[For those lucky readers who are unfamiliar with the world of allergies: an EpiPen® is an epinephrine autoinjector, which is a medical device used to deliver a measured dose of epinephrine usually for the treatment of acute allergic reactions or to avoid or treat the onset of anaphylactic shock.]
I watched Jake merrily continuing to eat his (now cheese-free) sandwich as the reality sunk in. The current recommendation on how to handle known food allergies is if exposure is known, don’t wait for symptoms – administer the EpiPen as soon as possible. Last summer, a 13-year-old girl on a California camping trip had a fatal allergic reaction to a Rice Krispy treat when her father – a physician – waited twenty minutes (until symptoms appeared) before administering three EpiPens. Twenty minutes was too late; the EpiPens – and even the trip to the ER – couldn’t stop the chain of reactions her body had set in motion.
I sat in the mall food court and conducted an inner debate: What do I do? What is appropriate, and what is overreaction? According to most of the medical community and probably all of the food allergy community, administering the EpiPen would not be an overreaction. But then I began ticking off the instances Jake has probably had accidental cross-contamination exposure, and his reactions have ranged from stomach upset to eczema. Nothing respiratory. How do you whip out that giant needle of an EpiPen and stab your son’s bony little thigh when he’s engaging his brother in a round of Doctor Who Dalek impressions? Exterminate, indeed. It seemed rash, unnecessary, and borderline abusive. But, for years now, haven’t I been telling his grandparents, teachers, caregivers, and friends to do just that? Don’t wait, I would say. There’s no harm in giving the EpiPen unnecessarily.
I imagined my own response, and the responses of my friends with food-allergic children, if the unthinkable happened after I didn’t give the EpiPen. But why did you wait? Didn’t you know? I’m admittedly the mom of children with food allergies, but I don’t consider myself a Food Allergy Mom. We don’t let the boys’ allergies define them – or us – and we try to live life as normally as possible within the confines of their somewhat restrictive diets. Some might think I don’t take their allergies seriously enough.
On the flip side is the rest of the population. I thought about how we might appear to the family sitting at the next table over, whose children were giggling at my boys’ increasingly noisy antics. That mom just stabbed her little boy in the leg! Why did she do that? I thought about the inevitable trip to the ER after administering the EpiPen, and the explanation to the doctor on call: “Yes, I gave him the EpiPen after he ate some cheese. No, he was showing no symptoms. No, he’s never shown any serious symptoms from his dairy allergy…” Am I that Mom, hovering over my children and sticking them with needles at the first sign of danger? Am I supposed to be that Mom?
In the end I let the default – inaction – win. I picked at my own lunch while I monitored every breath Jake took – How’s your tongue? Does it feel funny? Are you wheezing? After several hours had passed without incident, I relaxed – but without celebration. While Jake was thrilled with the possibility that one day he might be able to eat dairy, telling everyone who would listen about his delicious pepper jack cheese experience, I was berating myself for taking chances with his health.
You see, there are just so many gray areas in parenting…
When should I start potty training?
How old before my kids can cross the street/stay home/walk to school alone?
When do I give them The Talk?
Are allowances dependent on chores?
Juice: yay or nay?
What time is bedtime?
Should I talk to the school principal about the class bully?
Co-sleep? Cry it out? Cloth diapers? GAH!
Most of these don’t necessarily have a wrong or right answer; most won’t have fatal results if you screw it up. But some can, and some do. Every day we wake up to this terrifying list of decisions involving the lives of our progeny, and if we let the weight of the responsibility of it all really sink in, we might feel nearly frozen with anxiety.
So what do we do? I guess we carry on and we try our hardest to do the right thing, all the while hoping for the best – and a little luck on our side. As Leslie Nielsen in The Naked Gun so eloquently put it: “You take a chance getting up in the morning, crossing the street, or sticking your face in a fan.”
Jake is blissfully unaware that I essentially stuck his face in the fan. He came out unscathed this time, and he’s eagerly anticipating his next trip to the allergist to see about doing a “food challenge” for dairy, while Ian is hopeful that this means he, too, might one day outgrow one of his allergies. Meanwhile, I carry on – and I keep the EpiPen handy.
Laura spends an inordinate portion of her time wondering where did all of this laundry come from. When she's not folding underwear or carting her boys to swim practice, she's working on her first novel.
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