I can be pretty persuasive. Especially when it comes to my daughters’ food allergies.
I convinced myself it was alright to give my younger daughter a drop of peanut butter because, I told my husband, laughing, “We have Benadryl in the house!”
I convinced myself that my older daughter wasn’t, in fact, having her first allergy attack in a Thai restaurant.
“Your lips aren’t swollen, sweetie,” I said, annoyed. “They’re just chapped.”
I even persuaded myself that my children’s food allergies would define them if I didn’t take a laid-back approach. That I would telegraph my anxiety to them, and they would become social outcasts.
Besides, I didn’t want to be “that mom.”
The mom who talks about her kids’ food allergies until people’s eyes glaze over, who details every close call, every allergic symptom, and every graphic online story about anaphylaxis. The mom who is front-and-center checking ingredients at every school and synagogue activity. The mom who defines herself by her children’s condition.
Until the cake.
After a summer of stress and worry, with a move and lots of unanticipated work on our new home, I decided Labor Day would be the perfect time to relax at my parents’ home. Swimming, lounging, and a barbecue was everything I needed.
As I felt some of my stress melt away, a cake on the counter beckoned. I had one small slice, then another. My older daughter asked if she could have a piece. I asked if the cake contained nuts, and after a brief exchange with my parents and nothing that I, myself, detected, I cut my daughter a small piece.
Two bites later, she put down her fork on the table forcefully.
Her defiant 12-year-old voice said, “Mommy, I have the taste in my mouth like I just ate nuts, and I am NOT OK.”
With no Benadryl or EpiPens with us—who would need those at Grandma and Grandpa’s house?—we raced to the nearest pharmacy. I grabbed the Benadryl and, panicked, could barely read the correct dosage on the box. Before I even paid for the medicine, I gave the Benadryl to my daughter, a little less than she might need because I didn’t want to overdo it. I paid for the medicine and we walked to the car.
“This is going to make you tired, sweetie,” I said. “Are you ready to go home?”
“I’m not ready, Mommy, and I’m not alright. You need to take me to the doctor.”
Sweating, yet forcing myself to be pretend to be calm—grinding my teeth to a pulp, yet trying to smile at my daughter—I drove like a freaking bat out of hell. When we arrived, I cut a long line of parents registering their children to be seen by the emergency pediatric staff. They took my daughter in immediately.
Then came the gagging, the vomiting. Bye, bye, Benadryl. I tried to convince my daughter—and mostly myself—that it would be OK as I cleaned the vomit from her hair and listened to the doctor say that my daughter needed epinephrine.
My daughter complied as the needle went into her arm. Then I learned that the EpiPen only buys about 15 minutes during an allergic reaction, so the medical staff also had to administer both Benadryl and a steroid to reduce the likelihood of a rebound reaction. After she had thrown up, taking the medicine orally wasn’t an option. Did I prefer for her to have a shot of the medicines in each leg or administered intravenously?
“Explain it to my daughter,” I said. “She’s calm and understands what’s happening. She can decide.”
She opted for the IV and was monitored every half hour for a few hours. I turned off the cartoons and darkened the room so she could rest. When my guilty head wasn’t in my hands, I listened to her groan and watched her wrestle with the cumbersome, painful IV.
I realized I chose the wrong time to relax and the wrong issue for relaxing. And my daughter paid the price.
While my daughters’ condition doesn’t define them or me, my actions surrounding them do. It’s my job to protect and advocate for my children, and just as important, for them to see me doing it at every school and shul and family event. Every day.
Now every handbag I carry accommodates Benadryl and two epinephrine injectors for each daughter. I’m trying to persuade our synagogue board and catering committee to make our shul nut-free. I’m telling everyone about our experience so it never happens again. I may be “that mom,” but I wouldn’t have it any other way.