My toddler and I were playing at a local indoor play place when I sensed danger. Now, eight years ago, danger smelled delicious. I loved peanut butter in all its glorious forms, but now when I catch the scent, my adrenaline pumps and I go into mama bear mode.
"Do you serve nut products here?" I asked the woman behind the counter.
"Oh goodness, no," she replied.
I relaxed, but the scent was in the air and I knew my little boy could have a problem.
A quiet voice spoke up from the corner of the cafe section. "My son is eating peanut butter on crackers as a snack," she said.
I nodded and tried to reply as politely and non-judgmentally as I could. "Please don't take this the wrong way, but I have to go now. My son is allergic, and if he touches anything your son touches, it's an ER trip."
Her face fell and I felt my heart sink. I felt horribly about being "that mom", but I genuinely thought we were all aware by now about the true dangers that face so many children with allergies. Sadly, over and over, I'm proven wrong about this.
Just a few months ago, a mother at my six year old's soccer practice brought peanut butter crackers as the team snack. I was dumbfounded. Even if my son, who is bright enough to read labels, avoided the snacks - any one of his teammates could have come in contact with him and caused a reaction that could be fatal. That's right, regardless of blood tests, you don't know how allergic your child is until the moment of contact or ingestion. Right now all four of my children are allergic to nuts, but I will not know how badly they react until it happens. And I hope it never does.
So I have to speak up now, at the most wonderful but dangerous time of the year for children and families living with food allergies. Here's a little story about some of the less obvious dangers of what could happen when you bring something with nuts to a family gathering or party with friends.
***So, your Gramma Gertie made the best brownies on earth. In her memory, you bake them every year. Everyone in your family loves them, and they praise you for your culinary finesse. You credit Gramma, of course, and happily watch as everyone gobbles up your annual treat.
This year you're invited to a mom's group Yankee Swap for your kiddos. Everyone raves about your brownies, but they have nuts, so you label them. If kids are allergic, you assume, there's no need to worry. They know not to take them.
THIS IS NOT THE PROBLEM.
The problem is contact; the problem is cross-contamination.
The tray of cookies that abuts your brownies touches the edges of three cookies that are now contaminated enough to send eight-year old Liam to the emergency room.
The little pigtailed Christmas angel who ate a brownie is playing with the legos she hands to her friends. Six year old Riley could pick up one, and start to itch. His throat may close up. His mom may have to jab his thigh with a $400 Epi-Pen and race him to the closest hospital.
Then there's the frantic scramble around the popcorn bowl. One little brownie-speckled hand touches a few kernels that Ronan ingests, and boom, here come the hives and labored breathing.
And the sweet, wide-eyed toddler who ate a brownie and kissed her best pal Winnie full on the drooly mouth, well, I don't even want to say what could happen here. I can't make my fingers type the words, but I know you've all read stories about tragedies like this.
I used my own children's names for a reason. They all live happy, full lives, and I stand in the corner watching over them like a good mom. But a nervous mom, one who knows that because of their allergies, she'll never be able to fully let down her guard. All of the examples above would be things I wouldn't necessarily notice or think about...unless I had allergic children.
And if you think I sound like a paranoid mom, I feel you. I never gave any of this any thought until one day when my brother-in-law kissed my eldest's baby belly and we watched as, seconds later, hives bloomed all over...and my brother in law had eaten cashews five hours earlier. It's not just ingestion, folks, the microscopic oils and particles are enough.
So now you know. It's not just about labeling something, it's about bringing it altogether. Please, this holiday season, leave the nuts at home and be an #AllergyAlly.
Gramma Gertie will understand.
Please share this article as widely as you can. The more people that are aware, the safer kids with allergies are. Post it on friends' feeds, tweet about it with the hashtag #AllergyAlly, do what you can so that moms like me can breathe a little easier.