(originally submitted to clubmom.com for January 2006 publication)
Since the November 2005 well-publicized death of a teenaged girl in Canada due to second-hand nut exposure, my inbox has been overflowing with emails from friends, family, and online acquaintances who want to make sure we heard the news. For the most part, these emailers are waking up to the very real danger that food allergies pose every day for those afflicted by anaphylactic reactions, and they’re eager to let us know that they now understand the seriousness of peanut and other food allergies.
On the one hand, I’m glad that the news is getting out there, so that people will get it—this is a real problem, our family didn’t invent it, and we’re not the only ones that deal with it. I confess that there have been times when our zeal for protecting our son has translated our behavior in the eyes of others as, well…Food Allergy Jerkiness. I don’t know how else to label it. We didn’t want to be spoil sports or party-poopers, but in some circumstances we were presented with a clear choice: cause an inconvenience for others or a possible death for our oldest son. We were firm about which wasn’t going to happen on our watch, and that wasn’t always understood – mostly, I believe, because the specifics we provided of food allergy reactions weren’t believed.
The news of that poor girl’s death in Canada has certainly opened some eyes in that regard.
On the other hand, the publicity around this tragedy brings to light an issue that lies in wait in my family’s future: how to deal with a teenager who has life-threatening food allergies. To be honest, I don’t know if I am ready to tackle that thought just yet.
I have known and loved many a teenager in my short life, and sometimes I even remember being one myself. I was very rebellious & passionate. I met my now-husband when I was but a child of fourteen (and he seventeen), and my goodness, how in love with him I was. I wonder, if I had had peanut allergy and he’d have eaten a piece of peanut butter candy, would I have known to not kiss him? Would I have known and done it, anyway?
I listen to my four year old son and his current list of rebellious incendiary phrases, and I wonder where this is heading, a decade from now. Will he be strong and brave enough to express his dietary needs when he’s in a group? Will he be smart enough to pick friends who listen, understand, and care? Will he be too cool? Too eagerly affectionate, and not ask his teenaged girlfriends if they’ve eaten peanut butter, before he goes in for a kiss?
My plan for now centers around keeping an open dialogue. Listening. Taking nothing for granted. Maybe I’ll be able to get my child’s friends involved, and their parents, too, if possible. I don’t want to be a Food Allergy Jerk. I just don’t want to drop the ball.
Our hearts go out to the family and friends of the Christina Desforges, of Saguenay, Quebec. As a mom, I will do whatever I can to make sure her fate is not repeated.