Saturday, December 10, 2005

He Giveth, and He Taketh Away...

Children have the gift, however suspiciously viewed by their loving parents, of sending a parent on an emotional rollercoaster trip of mammoth proportions. We discovered this when our first child was born, again when we changed his first diaper, watched him refuse to breastfeed in any useful fashion, and of course when he was diagnosed with hemophilia. Whee. But what I have discovered this week is that two children means two rollercoaster rides. And I suspect that they occasionally hold meetings and plot strategy on this one, since this week my two boys sent me on opposite rides, on the same night.

(I love my sons, I love my sons, I love my sons. ...would girls do this?)

The very night that the baby decided to sleep for 6 hours (a miracle that he then declined to repeat - harrumph), his older brother reinvoked the specter of Mummy Past. Most mamas wear a number of hats. I, personally, am Chef, Book Doctor, Mama Fixit, Jack Of All Housework and Dr. Mum. I am also, occasionally, the Food Detective.

The Food Detective is the hat worn by most parents of children with food allergies, and it is the hat you wear while scrutinizing labels for hidden allergens, and translating 'casein' into 'milk,' or 'from vegetable source' into 'from something that grew but we won't say what,' or 'flavorings/spices' into 'it's proprietary and even if you call we probably won't be too forthcoming.' The Food Detective is the person who knows also what companies are good at labelling for when allergens are present in the plant, manufactured on the same line of machinery, etc. So, in my role as Food Detective I know that Trader Joes, for example, is great about labelling their dried fruit, while Tofutti does not label to warn about the present of nuts in their ice cream plant, or worse - the manufacturing of a peanut-flavored Tofutti cutie on the same machinery as the rest of the little ice cream bars. Nor will they put their refusal to label into writing, and yes, a kid has had a life-threatening (anaphylactic) reaction to Tofutti Cuties. And yes, that kid has a peanut allergy. As the Food Detective I know the trustworthy companies (any brownie mix manufacturer who labels for the possible presence of nuts) and the untrustworthy ones (a major cake mix company that doesn't). It is my job to navigate the grocery store and to come home with simple, safe foods that won't lead to an ambulance ride and a rather large needle in my kid's leg.

[Sidebar: yes, I know that I'm barely funny about this. In fact, I'm furious. Exactly how hard is it for companies like Tofutti to admit that yes, they package nuts in their ice cream plant? It's one line of print, and it could save lives. Wake up, people - what exactly is holding you back?]

Am I exaggerating? Oh, I wish. No added drama is needed for this post, alas. My older child is allergic to (hope you are sitting down) peanuts, tree nuts, sesame, poppy, pumpkin, zucchini, dairy, beef, lentils, chickpeas, green peas, mustard and two classes of antibiotics. He has had anaphylactic reactions that threatened to cut off his breathing three times, and a fourth one that actually had him turn blue. Not an experience I recommend. So, if you invite us to dinner I will usually try to figure out a way to politely talk you out of it, and perhaps ask you to come to us for a meal? Because that soup you made might be delicious, but do you know exactly what's in it? 'Bouillion' can be from any number of sources, you know... Luckily, our friends are wonderfully understanding, and some are even trained to feed us safely and oooh, but you should'a seen the allergy friendly bash my sister-in-law threw for Thanksgiving! Ever seen Thanksgiving without pumpkin and pecan pies? No worries - she pulled it off in grand style.

But back to the point. So, on that glorious night of sleep, my older child ate his leftover chicken crockpot dish with pleasure until he stopped, put his spoon down, and uttered the dreaded words, 'my throat feels funny.' My husband and I froze and then, carefully, carefully, I said in my most casual voice, 'Oh? Funny in what way?' I took a chug of soup, to show that I was not overly moved by the situation. 'It feels funny,' he repeated, and turned his face towards me for emphasis. On his face, under the assorted debris of small child dining, I saw red skin. 'Whoops,' I said, 'you've got some schmutz on your face. Here, I'll clean it off.' I wet a napkin and wiped off his mouth and chin, uncovering a series of small hives. My face was, I hope, expressionless. "Aaaah!' said the small boy, and raced upstairs to the toilet, where he noisily set the final seal on the coffin of our crockpot.

In the kitchen, the Food Detective went to work. Was it the chicken? Unlikely. The beer I'd dumped in? Nah. Same for the carrots and potatoes. The pinto beans and the butternut squash, however, are suspects, as they belong to two families already indicted in our Allergy Hall of Fame: legumes and gourds. After tossing out the soup, I trudged upstairs to email our allergist. We'll set up and appointment to test the kid and figure it out. And when you are already well past the shock of double digits, what's one more allergy on the list? I will miss the butternut, though, but maybe it'll prove to be the pinto beans instead. And at least later that night I was to recieve the gift of sleep...the boy giveth and the boy taketh away. Blessed be the boys.

Food allergies in the news:

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