A couple of days after news broke of the 13 year-old girl who died from anaphylaxis to peanuts despite three epipen injections (scaring the poop out of every parent of a kid with a peanut allergy), we ordered carry-out from a regional fast food place near our house. Generally, I like the place. There are pictures of trains on the walls, and you can get gluten-free buns. But, on this day, Pink noticed that her sandwich seemed to have cheese on it. She's prone to exaggeration, so I didn't believe her at first. I mean, I was pretty explicit when I ordered "hamburgers, no cheese." But, upon cursory inspection, it was clear that the burger had had cheese and that said cheese had been scraped off. When I called to complain, I was offered a $5 coupon and told I should be more explicit about our allergies in the future. This response infuriated me. Do I really need to offer a list of all my kids' food allergies every time we go to a restaurant? Can't I just order something without said allergens and assume it will be okay? I mean, I'm careful, of course. I know which restaurants use which kinds of oil, and I know where to go for gluten-free, dairy-free cooking. But I didn't know I had to spell out why our hamburgers shouldn't have cheese.
None of my kids have a life-threatening dairy allergy, but that's not the point. The point is that we are trying to live our lives without becoming totally consumed by the kids' food restrictions, and we are often thwarted by a general lack of care like we experienced at this restaurant. I know I'm being a total Pollyanna when I say I wish folks not directly affected by food allergies and sensitivities would adopt an "it takes a village" attitude toward the ever-expanding number of kids who are. These issues are real and life-altering for some people, and the chances are very high that if your kid doesn't have a severe food allergy, there is at least one kid in his class that does. Probably more. No one is immune from this. Am I saying you should change what you do to help my kid? In a way, I guess I am. I mean, at least, be aware of the highest risk foods and choose not to send them with your kid to school. You can still eat them at home. I don't even care if you send them to an afterschool activity that is more closely monitored than lunch or snack time at school. Most schools don't want to tell you you have to be nut free, so let me. Leave the nuts and the peanut butter at home. You don't want your kid to die from a food allergy any more than you want your kid to be the cause of another kids' death.
And that's what we're talking about here -- life and death. Because, see, there are the allergies that make life miserable and then there are the ones that kill you. I can tell you from experience that both kinds stink, but the whole death thing is worse. And, it's not like I'm making this up. I'm not some hypochondriac, helicopter parent hoping for your sympathy by announcing my child's food allergies. Actually, food allergies are a huge pain in my butt. Plus, they can kill my kid. There's always that. They can kill my kid. Can you imagine sending your kid out into the world knowing that a stray peanut could take them from you? Knowing that a well-meaning grandma with a peanut butter and cheese cracker could lurk around any corner, threatening your unsuspecting child? Sending my kid into a cafeteria where other kids are eating peanut butter is a lot like sending her into a cafeteria full of kids wielding knives. I try not to over think it, but when I do, this is the kind of stuff I think about.
When Sky was two, Ren and I took him for a walk near our house. Just as we got to the sidewalk near the end of our driveway, he darted across the street. It happened so fast that neither of us had time to stop him. Within seconds, I held him safely in my arms again, but the image of him running in the street played itself over in my mind in an endless loop. Sky knew better. We'd been on hundreds of walks, and we'd talked about pedestrian safety numerous times. And yet, in that split second he made a choice that could have been the end of everything. As I tried to figure out what went wrong, I had a revelation that has become fundamental to the way I parent.
I am not really in control.
Everything I'd done to keep Sky safe, to teach him, to feed and clothe him didn't change the fact he made a bad choice. And, if a car had been coming around the bend just as he dashed into the street, none of my best intentions would have meant a darn thing. That's when I realized that all of my best efforts will only ever go so far, and the way things turn out in the end are dictated just as much by my kids' free will (i.e. Sky's choice to run across the street) and the hands of fate (i.e. the fact there was no car coming) as they are by me.
Between the asthma and the severe food allergy, Pink P will never be totally safe. I cannot control what she does, much less what people around her do. But, if I am afraid for her, she will be afraid for herself and that fear will keep her from achieving her highest heights. The trick, then, is to learn how to parent without fear. Most days, for me, this simply means staving off the panic moment by moment. Others I do better. I remind myself that people have been rearing kids for a long time, and, as far as I can tell, the human race is no closer to extinction than it's ever been. On the really good days, I manage to remember that I was never really in control anyway, and on those days, I'm able to let go because I know that I have taught them the best way I know how and that they are in the hands of God, anyway.