It’s nuts. Absolutely nuts.
The thought that a peanut – the epitome of the tiny, poster child for the puny – could stop a kid in her tracks. Represent such a threat to a child’s existence that even its airborne presence could result in anaphylactic shock. Restrict her eating habits for the rest of her life. A peanut. A damn peanut.
That you’d need to check every label, fret over every birthday cake, worry about what’s really in the rice in the Chinese take-out or in the enchilada sauce in the cantina because really, how do you ask if the kitchen uses peanut oil or has any chance of contamination from peanuts, when you don’t even speak the same language?
How do you stress how crucial it is to know – really, life or death?
I realize there are other food allergies – dairy and wheat, for example – but when your kid receives the diagnosis that she’s allergic to peanuts, in the most severe degree, everything changes.
My kiss is toxic. Well, once it was. Two hours after I ate a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich, I planted one on Marie’s cheek as I put her into her car seat.
Nearly instant hives followed, as did other signs, as time went on: Belly aches after a cupful of Chex mix recipes. Feverish conditions with each order of Chick-fil-A nuggets – her favorite. The tests confirmed it.
It’s a simple existence, really: Read, every label on every box and every bag.
Remember, every time – EVERY TIME – to ask the manager, or the chef, not just your waiter, about nuts, peanuts, tree nuts being used in the kitchen.
Look for ice-cream scoops used in nut-containing ice cream.
Learn to jab your baby’s thigh with a possible life-saving dose of steroids, because even when you read and you look and you ask and you learn, there’s a chance someone deep-fried a Snickers bar in the fry grease, or the last kid to sit at that table smeared peanut butter on the chair handles.
Marie’s sisters have been stellar. So has Marie. I couldn’t pick up a box on the cereal aisle without being asked, “nuts in it, daddy?” They’ll nag me to ask about peanut oil, because of that one time we’d gone to KFC and learned they just made the switch from vegetable oil, that week.
Hey, peanut oil is cheaper than vegetable oil.
A boy in Marie’s kindergarten class once held out a Butterfinger, still wrapped, from his Lunchable to the teacher. He treated it like nuclear waste. He gave it up because he didn’t want Marie to get sick.
You appreciate the advocates. The man in the bakery bound and determined to find a pack of cookies without nuts, just for Marie. The mom who saves the pretzel bag at the school dance for us to check. The snack families who phone the night before to make sure what they bought is OK.
Nut allergies do polarize, though.
You will have ugly moments: The classmate who brandished the PB&J in the nut-free classroom at Marie’s table, and when Marie reminded her she was allergic, sneered, “Just hold your breath.”
Adults who fuss about a peanut-free classroom, citing the hassle of having to spread mayo and ham on a sandwich instead of daring lunch moms to stop the influx of the nutty contraband.
“I don’t check everyone’s lunch,” one mom said. “I doubt anyone else does, either.”
Hey, her son really likes peanut butter.
My daughter really likes to breathe.
When you’ve had a day in which paramedics had to administer oxygen to your kid because some way, somehow, her “peanut-free” lunch of school chicken nuggets, eaten in a “peanut-free” classroom, still resulted in a reaction that compromised her oxygen levels, you’ll understand that maybe your “harmless” lunch might have contaminated the wrong table on the wrong day.
There are no colored wristbands for peanut-allergy awareness.
No trendy 5Ks to run.
No celebrity spokespeople championing the cause of responsible peanutting.
There are heroes, though.
There are teachers who, when they learn they have a peanut-allergy child in their class, declare their classroom peanut-free and even post signs. Then, when the push-back began from parents who needed to not only know why and how but, really, who would have the gall to deny their angels their peanut-butter crackers during those terribly long school hours, gave them the ultimate reason:
I’m the one who’s allergic, she said.
End of story.
Well done, Mrs. Sizemore.
You’re absolutely nuts, you know.