For nearly 2 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 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 had repeated conversations with close relatives about why they must not ever bring food to my house. I have heard (secondhand, thanks to my sister) the eye-roll-inducing commentary from my parents about how paranoid I am when I insist that they go over Epi-pen procedures again if they want to babysit. They're right. I am paranoid. And if they ever want to spend any time alone with my son, they will go over the Epi-pen procedures again.
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 nervewracking thing we regularly do; it's the most dangerous place on earth.) Halloween--don't get me started. I have told my son that he can't have the birthday cake being served at the party. I have denied him treats from the ice cream man and vending machines. Just today, the guy at the YMCA offered him a cookie. "No thanks, we have food allergies!" I said firmly. In uttering this, 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 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--think of me! And enjoy a Reese's for me.