Who Moved My Groove?

Peanut allergies are hard. Peanut allergies suck. My child has a peanut allergy. Dealing with peanut allergies.
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My son was diagnosed with a peanut allergy on his first birthday. For weeks, I had planned a special party for him. He is my first child, and as is usually the case, the first birthday party for the first child is pure perfection. It was a Martha Stewart production right down to the hand stamped, under the sea themed invitations.

When the day arrived, we were decked out in nautical attire to match the aforementioned theme. I had Goldfish crackers on the table, a fish shaped birthday cake, assorted adult foods and Ben & Jerry’s Phish Food ice cream. Family and friends crowded our kitchen. It was to be the happiest of days. The house was sparkling clean and drenched in sunshine, all of our favorite people were in attendance, Ian was excited to be crawling around with his little buddies… it was everything we had hoped it would be.

Ian snacked on quite a few of the special party foods throughout the afternoon. He helped himself to fistfuls of just about everything on the table. All of my crazy first-time parent rules such as scheduled nap time, scheduled snack time, scheduled everything went out the window.

Then, it was time for that picture perfect Kodak moment: the cake and ice cream devouring in the highchair. We placed the plate on the tray in front of him, popped a party hat on his head and told him to go for it while we sang, “Happy Birthday,” and clicked through a 24-roll of film — 400 speed for those of you who remember the last century. I still have those 24 pictures of him looking directly at the camera with an expression that says, “These people have totally lost their freaking minds.”

About 15 minutes later, when I was helping him open presents, I noticed his skin was turning bright pink. It was almost the color of a flamingo. He was starting to scratch his face, and then he started to wheeze. Clearly, something was very, very wrong.

My husband and I whipped him into the car and drove to the hospital across town at 50 miles an hour, just slightly yielding at red lights. By this time, he was gasping for breath. I thought he might be dying. I just kept saying, “Drive faster. Drive faster. Please drive faster.”

When we got to the Emergency Room, they immediately grabbed him out of my arms and began treatment. When we spoke with the doctor, he quizzed us on what he had eaten that day (too much of everything) and suggested he might be having an allergic reaction. I couldn’t think of what it possibly could be. Actually, I could hardly form a coherent thought in that moment. He was fine until he ate the cake and ice cream. Oh no… it had to be one of those. He’d had vanilla cake before, but he had never eaten the Ben & Jerry’s Phish Food. When we got him home, I checked the ingredients. There were no clues on the ice cream label, except, it was processed in a plant that also processed peanut products.

OH SHIT. SHIT. SHIT. SHIT.

He couldn’t have a peanut allergy. No. A peanut allergy would be terrible for him, for us, for everyone in our lives at that time and in the future. A few months prior, I had read an article about a lady who had developed a peanut allergy in her late 30s, and the life-changing aspect of this particular allergy had stuck in the file in my brain labeled “Sucky Things That May Happen in Life.”

In those lean times, we ate peanut butter daily, although I didn’t think I had ever given it to Ian at that point. However, he did projectile vomit quite a bit his first year. We had him tested for pyloric stenosis, but that test came back negative. Our doctor thought he just had an immature digestive system and since he was gaining weight, it was more of an inconvenience (I don’t say that lightly as I remember gallons of hot vomit being poured down my shirt on a regular basis in all sorts of venues. Ian could clear out a play date of new moms and toddlers in five minutes flat. SICK KID OHMYGOSH RUNNNNN!!!)

Anyway, I would eat a budget friendly peanut butter and jelly sandwich and feed him baby food at the same time. I never even thought to connect the two things. Remember, this was 1998/1999 and peanut allergies were pretty rare at that time.  In fact according to the Centers for Disease Control, from 1997 to 2007, the prevalence of reported food allergy increased 18% among young people under age 18, with 3.9% of young persons (about 3 million children) reported to have a food or digestive allergy.

A trip to the allergist unraveled the mystery. My baby had a severe/deadly, peanut allergy.

Looking back, he fit the classic profile of an allergy prone kid: blond hair, green eyes, eczema, family history of (non-food) allergies, etc. I knew this was going to change our lives in many ways, but I really had no idea how much it would impact us for the rest of our lives.

(Coming up:  Living with a peanut allergy, the good, the bad and the funny)

I am crying.

Not sobbing. Just sitting on my couch with my laptop while big, fat tears flow down my cheeks. Drip. Drop. Drip. Drop.

Why tears? Not tears of joy. Not tears of sadness. Leaky emotions, I think.

As I sit here, I’m thinking about the unexpected kindness of a stranger. I don’t know her name, and she’ll never know how much her gentle words of encouragement touched my heart.

It has been a frustrating few days. I’ve spent a lot of time cleaning up messes of epic proportions (see previous post for details), wrangling a shrieking toddler, separating two boys who share the same DNA but refuse to share with each other, and trying to enact positive changes in my own life. It’s the last item that makes me feel like my skin has been sheared off, and I’ve been dipped in vinegar. I’m trying so hard to find a little piece of life I can call my own. I turn left. DEAD END. I turn right. DEAD END. My wise friend says there is always a third way, so I try to go up and out of this impossible box. DENIED.

It feels like I’m being pulled in a million directions for hours and hours and hours and hours. Cook, clean, care give, lather, rinse, repeat. There is no end in sight and no help to be had.

Which brings me to Toys “R” Us. After a treasure hunt worthy of Indiana Jones (hey, Toys “R” Us, might want to work on that customer service thing), I finally had my item in hand, and the baby and I were waiting in line. Baby has Houdini-esque skills when it comes to any type of constricting contraption and had managed to wiggle free of the stroller/cart. Off came the shoes, up she went in my arms and then…she ATTEMPTED to RAPPELL from the top of my head to the tile floor using only my jacket strings for support.

The line was six people deep and moving slow. I was sweating trying to contain her. She was flopping around like a suffocating fish and executing, what can only be described as round-off back handsprings, using my collarbones as leverage.

It was then that I turned around, and saw “her” watching us. My angel.

She was tall, maybe 70 years old or so, with warm green eyes, rosy cheeks and the hint of a smile. She said, “It’s not easy is it?”

I swallowed the lump in my throat and nodded.

She continued, “I had five children in six years. Three boys and two girls. It was hard work. I remember. I sure do. Everything is about them right now, but your time will come. You’ll look back at this time in a good way.”

I couldn’t even respond. I was speechless that someone who didn’t know me could be so… nice.  She “got” it. She used her life’s experiences to make me feel better at that moment. Instead of turning around and facing judgement and disgust there was motherly love. It was an unexpected gift.

Perhaps this is why I cry. Because today I looked back and saw the possibility of a way forward.

Dorothy and Bob Part II

(You can find Dorothy and Bob Part I here.)

Bob had a car accident.

Grandma and Bob were driving home from church, and he slammed into a parked car. They weren’t hurt, but his 1992 Lincoln Town Car didn’t survive impact. Grandma told me, “Thank goodness I was wearing my seatbelt. You know I don’t always do that.”  (As an aside, Grandma attends church every Sunday, but admits she only follows the commandments that apply directly to her. Apparently, she doesn’t agree with everything carved into those stone tablets.)

Anyway.

Bob and grandma spend their summers in a high rise in Nebraska and their winters in Arizona. With the car gone, they have no way to get to the grocery, the pharmacy or anywhere else. Their 7th story condo is a prison without bars.

So, grandma devised a plan. They will leave Nebraska ASAP and fly back to Arizona where her car sits in the garage. Conveniently, they have no pesky relatives in Arizona lying in wait to hide the car keys. For her, getting older seems to be all about “threading the needle.” She’s escaped one tight situation after another and has managed to stay a step ahead of anyone seeking to limit her lifestyle. Bob is going along for the ride.

If all goes well, by the first week of August, they will be tucked into her house, driving her car and preparing for an upcoming cruise to Hawaii. Crisis averted. For now.

My grandmother is 90 years old.

Growing up, she was the apple of her father’s eye, the favorite niece of two childless aunts and a beautiful young woman who enjoyed attention.  Her wedding pictures look like Hollywood publicity shots. She gazes soulfully into the light, her face turned slightly upward, just enough to highlight long dark lashes, brilliant blue eyes and a soft pink Angelina Jolie pout.

In 1938, at 19 years old, she married my grandfather. A young Dorothy sailed down the aisle of the church swathed in ivory satin and carrying Calla Lilies flown to Chicago from California — in November. My grandmother was the original high maintenance bride.

She married her handsome prince and they lived happily ever after.

The End.

Except.

Grandma was born 50 years before her time. She wanted to go to college. She wanted to be an accountant. She most definitely did not want children.

That’s what she wanted. This is what she got:

Grandma spent the first 20 years of her married life as a housewife raising four sons. She wanted a daughter so badly that the fourth son slept in a pink bassinette and was blessed with a girl’s middle name.

My grandpa talked her into the first child. They had been married three years and it was high time to settle down and get on with the business of having a family. She liked working in downtown Chicago at a large bank, but gave it up to become a mother. There wasn’t much choice.

She says when she left the hospital with her first son, the nurses told her they’d see her in two years. She says she laughed out loud and thought, “Not me. There’s no way in hell I’ll be back here in two years.”

She didn’t see herself in those other women on the maternity ward, some her same age with three children already. She was different. She had bigger plans.

She wouldn’t be back in two years.

She was back in 18 months. 

“And you know what?” she always says to me about her second trip to the maternity ward. “I threw that damn diaphragm in the trash after I had your father. I was so mad at that thing. It didn’t work worth a darn.”

Two babies under two years old. Two more to come.  Birth control was Russian Roulette in the 1940s.

Life had its ups and its downs. They raised their kids. She went back to the bank after her boys told her they didn’t think she could get a job. After all, who would hire a housewife? She showed them.

When I talk to her now, I sense great frustration that there were so few choices. She wanted career and travel and excitement. She got diapers and carpools and teenage sons who didn’t have respect for their mother’s sacrifices. I think about this sometimes. I think about her story and it makes me realize that even though some of my days are difficult, I had the choice to make mothering my main focus right now. The life I’m living in 2009 is by my own design. I have the freedom to choose what I really want.

In 1976, grandma and grandpa retired to the warmth of Arizona where my grandfather had a few good years and then spent a decade suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

This is where a typical “suburban couple raises a family” story takes an interesting turn.

My grandmother continued working in a bank to help pay for very expensive nursing home care. The bills almost left her destitute, so she took a calculated risk after grandpa died.

She took the last of her pennies and at the age of 73, had a full face lift.

She invested in herself because she knew those still bright baby blues could land another husband. She was finally going to get what she really wanted all those years. A little glamour and a little excitement. Grandma is smart. Her investment paid out more than any mutual fund in the history of the planet.

Husband number two had no children, but he did have a comfortable bank account. He liked a pretty lady on his arm. She liked financial security. Two months after they wed, he died of lung cancer and left her everything.

A couple years later, she married again. This time it was a family friend, a true gentleman and gentle soul. He also had no children and a good sized savings account. He didn’t live to see their fifth wedding anniversary. She buried her third husband, shed some tears and later told me, “Life is for the living. Don’t ever forget that.”

If life is for the living, Dorothy decided to grab what was left and live it to the fullest. She traveled all over the globe. She had fantastic life experiences and no one to answer to. She likes the company of a man, someone to squire her around on cruise ships, so she found a companion four years her junior. “Maybe this one will take care of me,” she confided.

Grandma and Bob moved in together eight years ago. She won’t marry him. She has her paperwork in order and doesn’t need another husband.

Bob is a dapper fellow. He wears a tuxedo on formal dinner night on the cruise ship. I imagine they make quite the pair with Dorothy decked out in her favorite sequined saphire gown (to match her eyes) and Bob in black tie and tails. He helps her put on her shoes and pulls her up from her chair. He drives because she can’t. He takes care of her, and she takes care of him. They struck a fragile balance to compensate for failing eye sight, stiff limbs and fading memory. The two of them together almost make a whole. Not quite, but good enough. Neither one could live alone, but together they reach the bed at night intact.

But, the hourglass is slowly running out of sand.

He has signs of Alzheimer’s disease. She is having little health hiccups. Her systems are starting to wearing out.

Their struggle to push and pull one another up and into the next day is one of the saddest things I’ve ever seen.

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