Tuesday, December 28, 2010

dangerous sweets

If there's one thing I shouldn't hate about Christmas, it's the cookies.

In fact, I love the cookies, the candies, the sweet and elaborate creations that come from the kitchens of those amazing people who manage to carve out time during the busy holiday season to slave over double boilers and bubbling confections.  YUM.

But with Jabber's confirmed peanut allergy and both kids untested for all the tree nuts, I sort of find myself hating these goodies, or at least hating the danger and uncertainty they add to my son's life.

The thing is, we don't know--and I'm hoping we never find out--what will happen if Jabber eats a peanut.  We carry our epi-pens and antihistamine and keep our house safe from cross-contamination.  We set up health plans in the school and accompany him to birthday parties with his own safe cupcakes.  But even with all our preparations, there are so many things that could go wrong, so many variables we can't control.  And that's scary.

Christmas Eve, for example.  Jabber feels safe with all his family around, and I looked up and found him eating one of Grandma's sugar cookies.  Instantly, I jump up, confiscate the cookie, track down the plate he got it from, and inspect it for nuts.  Sure enough, there were peanut-butter cookies sharing the plate, but my mom assured me that she had personally chosen a cookie that wasn't touching any of them.  How sure am I that the cookies hadn't shifted at some point?  How do I tell my son, who is insisting he feels fine--and of course he insists, since those are good cookies, and everyone else is eating them!--that I don't feel comfortable with him eating it?  How do I explain later, when my grandma offers both boys cookies from another plate, that they aren't allowed to eat any of the treats?  How do I keep him safe from this entire family of people, all of whom are now potential dangers, walking around with peanut-butter cookie crumbs on their clothes, peanut proteins on their hands? 

It's hard to find the balance between keeping my child safe and depriving others (demanding that everyone wash their hands and all surfaces they have touched, locking the unsafe foods that people slaved over in a forbidden cupboard?)  It's hard to explain why we won't let Monkey eat any of the foods, either, even though we're not sure if he's allergic (why risk it?)  It's hard to speak up, and it's even harder when it's not family. 

At one point during the festivities, another child was eating a slice of potica at the "kid table", where Jabber and Monkey were eating, too.  I watched the crumbs going all over the tablecloth and imagined how someone could scatter those little walnut particles all over the living room with one unthinking movement as they collapsed the card table and got the room ready for present opening.  I thought about how my kids could be sitting there on that deep shag carpeting, opening their gifts, and have a reaction to the tiny allergens.  And it was so sad to have this delicious food suddenly turn in my mind to a very frightening enemy, as I carefully gathered up the cloth, washed the table and chairs, and double-checked that the bottle of antihistamine was handy.  What if I wasn't there?  What if I didn't see the potica, or know that it has nuts in it? 

How many people in Jabber's life will be walking around completely unaware of the fact that their food is potentially dangerous to him?  Is this any different from the hundreds of thousands of other dangers that could befall my children?  I'm not trying to be overly dramatic in this post, but I know parenting is a fearful journey for everyone--there is only so much we can do to keep them safe, and it only gets harder as they get older and move away from our control.  Sigh.

I don't hate Christmas cookies.  Thank you, to all those wonderful people who stirred and dipped and frosted and rolled and sprinkled and arranged their holiday sweets.  They were delicious.  And I'm just a little bit glad that they are gone.


Anonymous said...

there is really no easy answer to this, is there? I have family members that do not eat pork; so considerate family members do not cook it, or label it as "contains pork". Or, when my aunt was a vegetarian, people included vegetarian dishes (or again, labeled). But my family's experiences do not involve life threatening allergies; just preferences...
You have a difficult road to travel; your boys are fortunate that you plan for the journey and are looking out for them.

Lisa H.

Lisa H.

Shana said...

I am so sorry that this is something you have to worry about. I can only imagine how fearful you must feel in those situations. I honestly think that people truly don't understand the danger for Jabber in these situations. I know I didn't when we first started getting to know each other! Or, maybe they do know, but choose to not believe it. I've heard of family members of other allergic kids doing just that.

I remember feeling horrible after a birthday party that you all came to years ago, because I had a treat with pb in it and I honestly figured that it would just be a matter of Jabber not eating it. Kind of like me just not wearing jewelry with nickel because of my allergy, but not needing everyone around me to leave their nickel ridden jewelry at home.

A few weeks or months later when I realized how severe his allergy is and overall came to understand the danger of peanut allergies, I was horrified and mad at myself for having such a thing at the party. It wasn't until then that I realized you were probably a hot mess at that party trying to keep Jabber safe! And now all I've talked to all of our kids about Jabber's allergies, so they know that if we are with Jabber we have to be super careful about the foods we have around.

Anyway, I hope that for future events people around you will develop a better understanding of his allergies so that you can relax and enjoy your time more.

Elissa J. Hoole said...

Lisa, thanks for commenting! I know that many of our teachers have recently gotten a lot more aware of the extent of this issue, and maybe this will carry over into more awareness overall.

and Shana, I honestly don't remember the peanut butter treats at the party--honestly, it's something that happens so often, I just try to be aware and cope with it as best as we can. I don't think anyone would knowingly put kids in danger, but you're right; not everyone is aware how even their own kids eating pb or whatever can impact kids with allergies. I sure didn't before Jabber was diagnosed!

Kristan said...

Wow, Jabber's allergy is that bad?? I know tons of people with food allergies, and for them it's a simple matter of avoiding it themselves (and not sharing forks or straws -- or sucking face -- with people who partake). I have to admit, I had no idea some people needed that level of "security" from their allergens!

Oy, I can't imagine as a parent how difficult that would be. Yes, there are tons of dangers (car accidents, violent criminals, etc.) but they are not nearly as prevalent as frickin' peanuts. :(

Well hey, you know what, you do what you can to protect your family, and don't worry about people's "feelings" being "hurt." I think your "feelings" would suffer a lot worse if anything actually happened to Jabber.

This might be lame, but maybe send a note/email a couple days beforehand to anyone you're inviting over with a standard, simple reminder?

Susanne Winnacker said...

My husband is allergic to peanuts but it's not so bad. He just scratches himself if he eats a peanut, so no biggie. I'm so sorry that Jabber has such a bad case of allergy.

Elissa J. Hoole said...

That's part of what's so frustrating about all of this: we don't actually know how serious his allergy is, except that his blood test is "severe" enough that the doctors aren't willing to let him try a little bit, even at the hospital, to see what happens. He has some pretty good early warning signals of swollen ears and hives around his mouth, but we've never been able to pinpoint exactly what triggered those reactions--it could have been something as simple as eating off a surface that had peanut proteins on it, or it could be something else entirely.

I wish we knew how much he could tolerate, but at the same time, I obviously don't want him to experience a severe reaction so that we find out how bad it is. Instead, we just have to act like every exposure is a serious threat.

But I mean...he once took a bite of a cookie that had peanut butter chips in it. We gave him antihistamine, and he was okay (he didn't eat the chip itself). I didn't actually make my family wash their hands or put away the nutty cookies, so he was sharing the same air and surfaces as people who were eating peanut butter, and he was okay. it's just such a gamble all the time.

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