Still, I said yes. I said yes because it's summer. And because Pink is ready. And because I don't want my fears about her asthma and allergies to become her fears. As soon as I'd said yes, though, I knew I needed to pass on some vital information to the other mom. I also knew the information might trigger a panic in the woman. That's the thing about life-threatening allergies and severe asthma--as chill as we try to be about Pink's issues, whenever I start to tell someone else the basics of keeping Pink safe, I am reminded of just how many dangers lurk out there.
"She's allergic to a lot of foods," I start. "I'll send the full list, but peanuts and nuts are the big ones."
The other mom nods. Asks me to just tell her a couple of easy things Pink can eat. How do you define easy? Pizza? Spaghetti? Macaroni and cheese? I'm stumped.
"Fruit?" I suggest. "Fresh veggies?"
The other mom looks as me as if I don't understand the meaning of the words "easy meal." Eventually, I suggest Pink will do fine with hot dogs and hamburgers as long as she doesn't have cheese...or a bun.
I run through a couple of other food suggestions before moving on to the next topic.
"So, do you know how to use an epipen?" I ask as casually as possible.
When she tells me she doesn't, I discretely pull the one I always carry out of my purse so I can show her while the girls are distracted by the vending machine.
"Take off the blue, plunge the orange into the fattest part of the thigh, count to ten, and call 911," I say quickly, matter-of-factly. But, I don't want the mom to panic, so I add, "We've never had to use it, so if you're careful, it should be fine." Before I can slip the epipen back into my bag, Pink's friend spies it and wide-eyed exclaims, "Is that a SHOT?!"
We're in the parking lot now, about the go our separate ways, so I hurriedly mention the emergency inhaler and the Benadryl. I try to keep it casual but by now, I imagine the other mom is screaming "Mayday! Mayday!" in her head.
When we get to the car, Pink is ecstatic. Giddy. She can't wait for the sleepover and vows to pack the moment we get home. I'm spent, and nervous in the way I always get when I walk someone through Pink's safety protocols. When I don't think about it all, I'm cool, but when I re-live it by explaining the precautions to someone else, I'm reminded of how terrified I should be to ever let Pink out of my sight.
Three hours before the sleepover, Pink starts carrying her backpack full of stuff around. Inside, she's packed her swimsuit, pajamas, her stuffed dog, a change of clothes, and Sky's old watch. We have to go home twice before managing to get to her friend's house--once for a hair brush and a toothbrush, and once because I realized the emergency medicine pouch is low on Benadryl. On the drive over, I remind Pink to read labels if she's not sure about food. I tell her to be polite and ask her what she will do if she sees a gun or if someone makes her feel uncomfortable. It's a short drive, so my refresher course on how to stay safe is abbreviated. She asks if she can call me, and I tell her she can in an emergency but that she'll probably be having too much fun to think about it.
When we get to the house, I tell the other mom about the maintenance inhaler and remind her to take the epipen with them wherever they go. The family has a dog and two cats, so I feel like I can see animal fur floating in the air. I imagine stray peanuts on the floor.
"Bye, Pink. Have fun," I say, but she's already gone, her giggles fading in the distance.
I make it until 8:30 p.m. before I check in on her. My biggest worry is the pet dander. I've seen her eyes swell so much that the whites around the pupil seem to bulge, and I'm worried the long-term exposure will trigger an asthma episode. When I text, they are watching a movie in the park, playing with friends from school.
The next day, when I pick her up at noon, Pink has just gotten out of the pool. The other mom tells me she did great, gives me a rundown of all the girls did, starts to tell me about the dog wanting to sleep in the same room as them. In my head, I am finishing this story in a very different way. In my head, the girls start to sleep with the dog, but then Pink's allergies flare, and they have to put the dog in the basement. But, this isn't what the mom is saying, and I don't really register it, until Pink comes over and unzips her backpack. The mom starts to talk about Pink's stuffed animal, and I assume she's going to tell me to wash it because the dog climbed on the bed and slept on it. But then Pink shows me this...
|A dog with a hole.|
At first, I think it's just this hole, but then I realize the eyes have been gouged out as well. So, I, of course, do what I always do in a difficult situation. I laugh inappropriately. As I am trying to stifle my laughter (after all, Pink is weeping beside me), I realize that the mom is telling me that their crazy dog has a button fetish. Pink is weeping, and I just want get out of the house before my inappropriate laughter takes over. As I turn to go, however, the mom says, "Oh, are the eyes gone? Bella, go look under your bed and see if you can find them."
I'm simultaneously repulsed and fascinated by this suggestion. Why does the dog chew off the buttons if not to swallow them? And, do I really want to take home half-chewed plastic eyeballs? Before I can resolve any of these questions, Bella shouts, "I found them!" and runs out and places the eyes in my hands.
It's hard to get Pink to the car because she is still sobbing convulsively. "That was my FAVORITE stuffed animal!" she exclaims.
"I though Fluffy was your favorite," I reason.
"They're ALL my favorite!" she insists.
Sky, who has waited in the car this whole time, can't decide if he should freak out about the dog cannibalism and the chewed-up eyes or if he should reprimand Pink for insisting on her love for dogs even when a dog has done her so wrong. Pink can't find it in herself to dislike the real dog who ate her stuffed dog, and this lack of logic is too much for Sky. The more animated Sky gets about what he perceives as her irrational love of dogs, the harder Pink cries.
I drive home in silence, not sure what lesson any of us should take away from this experience of Pink's first sleepover. I'm pretty sure Pink will forget about the stuffed animal that fell victim to this attack, and I am also pretty sure she will get invited to sleepovers again. That's what we hope for her, after all, a life of friends and freedom from health worries. I guess the takeaway for both of us, then, is that we can overcome even the biggest unexpected challenges as we seek to make that happen.