I dreamed of it only once.
It happened right after Marie’s diagnosis of severe peanut allergy, a horrible dream. Horrible dreams often sound ridiculous when you explain them. This one did. It struck me, though, and I knew the place it came from.
I knew that by day I maintained and handled the news. At night, though …
That’s when fears emerge.
Peanut allergies can be deadly. The horror stories abound. You read reports on allergic children exposed to peanuts without a life-saving epi-pen. You hear stories of kids at school who put peanut butter in an allergic child’s lunchbox.
Fear an accidental exposure to peanuts when you’ve left your epi-pen at home.
When doctors diagnose your otherwise healthy child, with a peanut allergy, what’s a next?
It’s … a nut. It’s just a peanut. Peanut’s a name for a shivering Chihuahua. When life gets crazy? They’re ‘nuts.’ I use “aw, nuts” as an expletive substitute. We consider nuts diminutive, wacky, or just plain inconvenient.
They ought never to be deadly, or even crippling.
Here’s how my family adjusted to no-nut living.
1. Acknowledge the fear
This allergy sucks. Dangers hide, threats lurk. They cook candy corn on equipment that produces items with peanuts and tree nuts. It’s everywhere. Could peanut products be in your kids’ classroom? Under the chair you daughter pulls up to the table at Golden Corral?
Understand the threats with this allergy. Knowledge is most definitely power. Know what is dangerous, and what isn’t.
2. Stand up to the bully
Respect your adversary. Don’t cower from it. Send your son to camp and school birthday parties. Don’t move to rural Montana and home school. If you turn the allergy into a noose, your child will see it that way, too. Be cautious – don’t miss out on life.
Don’t forget it’s only a sliver of your child.
3. Learn to read
Marie would ask when we shopped for groceries, “nuts in it, daddy?” We read every label, every time. Find allergy information in bold type on the nutrition label. Not there? Don’t trust it. Not all labels list them. You’ll see these warnings:
This item may contain peanuts or tree nuts.
Produced on equipment that processes peanuts and tree nuts.
Contains trace nuts.
Warnings can make the food prohibitive to your child. Check it, every single time.
4. Be absolute
“I think it’s OK” isn’t acceptable. It’s difficult to eat in ethnic restaurants. The standards aren’t the same, and language can be a barrier. We will ask a manager, not a server, if there are peanuts on the menu.
We’ve found restaurants that understand exactly what risk they pose to peanut allergy sufferers.
Make sure trip chaperones and teachers realize a zero-tolerance for peanuts. Ask in every single restaurant, on every visit. If a manager can’t assure you … eat somewhere else.
5. Find ways
Marie brings a baggie of brownies to birthday parties, in case the cake isn’t safe. We buy sunbutter when we can. It’s delicious, with no allergy risks. Note which allergy-friendly foods your child loves. Remember which restaurants understand the challenge. Key on what she can eat.
Marie understands that if we’re somewhere she can’t eat, we’ll make it up to her, on the way home. McDonald’s ice cream, a kids’ meal, a Hershey chocolate bar work wonders.
6. Never back down
People will misunderstand. People will downplay the allergy. It’s inconvenient to some. “My boy loves peanut butter sandwiches. Why should I stop putting them in his lunch?”
My girl loves to breathe. Why should I stop paving a peanut-free path where she goes?
I won’t. I will pester and persist. I will make sure you and those around my daughter understand it’s not just a rash or tummy ache. It’s serious. When we get this right, manage checks and balances, we hardly notice.
We can appreciate so many delicious foods together, if we’re careful.
We can bake wonderful dishes and eat at places we can trust. We just have to find them.
Our Marie has a peanut allergy. When we watch and ask and persist, it’s just a detail.
No bigger than a peanut.