The newsletter from my oldest son's pre-school came home. Sure, the newsletter was a happy color of yellow with cute little pictures of smiling kids on it, but what was typed in dark black letters had the potential to ruin our lives forever! It read, “Due to the increasing number of allergies amongst children, for the safety of our pre-schoolers, we are going peanut free.”
What?????!!!!! How were we ever going to survive? Andrew was the pickiest of picky eaters, and the only sandwich he would eat was peanut butter and jelly. And those delicious mini-Ritz crackers with peanut butter in the middle, how could we possibly go a whole five hours without those? Then there are the mouth-watering Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, and the endless delight that peanut M&M’s could bring. My son was going to starve, I was sure of it. I could already picture him running out to the car after pre-school, and I would need to immediately hook him up to a peanut butter IV.
I mean, are severe allergies even real? We never had allergies like this when I was growing up. Was this a case of crazy, over-bearing parents that had nothing better to worry about? How is it even possible for a little peanut to cause so much harm? It is just food.
I was sure my concerns were justified. And then it happened to me.
Our youngest, Noah, was born a happy, healthy baby. Since I had a child with autism, I was determined to do everything right. I delayed vaccinations, I required him to be engaged with someone at all times, and I only let him watch right-brained videos. I was not going to let this child slip into autism as Lizzie had.
Around two months old, Noah started to have minor allergic reactions. He couldn’t lay on the carpet because he would break out in hives. We had a stack of 100% cotton t-shirts at the front door that were washed with dye-free, scent-free detergent. If anyone wanted to hold him, they would have to wear this pre-approved shirt because he would break out in hives from any fabric other than cotton and any perfumes. It was no big deal. We were sure he would grow out of it, so we just temporarily adjusted.
Pretty soon his body was covered in eczema, and he wouldn’t sleep for more than 45 minutes at a time. When he was six-months old, I gave him a Bitter Baby Biscuit in Wal-mart, and he immediately broke out in hives and started to swell. Thankfully, Benadryl did the trick.
At that point we had him allergy tested, and the results were shocking. He had severe allergies way off the charts, about 30 of them, including a life-threatening allergy to peanuts. How was this even possible? We were prescribed and EpiPen Jr. and told to keep it with Noah at all times.
At home, I was careful to keep him away from all the allergic foods and careful not to cross contaminate the family’s food with Noah’s. Knowing Noah had a peanut allergy, I only sent Andrew’s favorite peanut butter sandwich in his lunch box when he was eating outside of our home. For a year and a half we coasted along with this new food arrangement. It was tough, but manageable.
One afternoon Andrew was just home from kindergarten, and I was busy packing to go out of town. I wasn’t watching the kids as well as I normally do, and all the sudden I heard a shrill scream come from the living room. I ran to see what was going on, and there was Noah sitting on the floor with Andrew’s lunch box. The box had a tiny smudge of peanut butter on it, and Noah had put it in his mouth.
I will never know if Noah just got it on his lip, or if he actually swallowed a tiny bit of peanut butter, but it didn’t matter. Whatever it was, that was enough. The urgency of his screams alone told me that something was very, very wrong. It was as if something was burning him from the inside out. His lips puffed up three times their normal size, and his neck and face slowly began to swell. He started wheezing and only when his eyes were almost swollen shut did I really start to panic.
The EpiPen! I needed the EpiPen! I ran across the house to find it. I tried to keep my shaking hands steady long enough to jam it in Noah’s thigh. Within seconds his face started to look recognizable, and within minutes he was back playing as if nothing had ever happened.
I thank God for Noah’s early eczema and minor allergy attacks that led us to get him allergy tested and have an EpiPen with us at all times. I try not to let myself think about what would have happened if I didn’t have his medication in close proximity that afternoon.
Now when I see someone carrying around peanut butter Ritz crackers or a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, I don’t see innocent snacks. I see a loaded gun that could accidentally kill my child with the wrong aim.
I am embarrassed by my earlier judgment and selfish thoughts when Andrew wasn’t able to bring his peanut butter sandwich to pre-school. It is tough for a parent with a child with allergies to be completely on guard, watching their child’s every move at any event involving food. The very least I could have done was to have my family learn to love a little ham and cheese!
Julie Hornok has been married to her wonderful husband, Greg, for 14 years and is the mother of three children, Andrew, Lizzie and Noah. Lizzie was diagnosed with moderate autism at 2 years old and now, at age 9, is mainstreamed in school and enthusiastically enjoys relationships with friends and family. Julie feels blessed that her daughter has come so far and enjoys spending her free time helping moms with a new autism diagnosis and sharing the small bits of wisdom she has learned along the way. Julie also loves to give back to the community by putting together special needs events. Feel free to see Lizzie’s progress on video on her blog www.lizziehornok.blogspot.com.