My husband, Joel, cursed our son Laszlo. While I was pregnant, he wrote a column in which he said that the rise of nut allergies in children was a figment of everyone’s imagination. Or something like that. I don’t really read his columns too often. When he told me what he was writing about, I said, “You’re going to doom our unborn son to have nut allergies.”
I was kidding. I come from hearty stock. I’m about half German and the rest of my heritage is comprised of other bad-ass peoples like the Irish and English who are tall and ruddy-cheeked and can survive in sub-zero temperatures on cheap cuts of beef, potatoes, beer, and whiskey. While people of my heritage may be plagued with a predisposition to alcoholism and depression (note the booze and cold weather stuff), they are not prone to allergies. Joel, meanwhile is 100 percent Jewish — a people who are kind of known for their allergies. And the fact is, that if one parent has allergies of some sort, their kid has a 50 percent chance of having an allergy as well. And not necessarily the same allergy. So Joel’s allergy to cats and his hay fever has translated to Laszlo’s allergy to nuts.
When we found out about Laszlo’s nut allergy, I got mildly depressed for a little while. Not because Laszlo may never get to eat nuts again. I panicked because Laszlo has an obvious and immediate Achilles' heel. Someone could bring him down. I pictured him becoming a powerful man, perhaps a ruler of some Germanic country where tall and ruddy-cheeked peoples enjoy cheap cuts of beef, potatoes, beer, and whiskey. And like all powerful men, he becomes undone by a spy from enemy territories who slips a nut into his drink. Laszlo, reaching for his EpiPen, remembers he left it in his other castle and keels over. Maybe I’ve seen The Princess Bride and that scene with the Iocaine powder too many times.
Once I got past the distorted imaginations of enemies bringing him down, I found that the hardest part about having a son with an allergy is the feeling like you’re being a real party pooper. When we signed Laszlo up for a temporary daycare program, they had to send letters home to the families of the other kids stating that nuts of any kind were no longer welcome. We felt like the bummer family. While sunflower seed spread really does taste a lot like peanut butter and is actually better for you, there’s the feeling that when it’s suggested as a substitute, people act as if you’re taking away their right to vote.
At an orientation for our son’s preschool recently, a director at the school asked if anyone has a child with food allergies. My hand shot up and as soon as it did, I got that party pooper feeling. Thankfully, another parent raised her hand as well. Her kid’s allergy was peanuts. Phew, I was not alone! The director said, “OK… No peanut butter.” I said, “No! No nut butter! All nuts!” My husband, whose fear of being socially ostracized might override his fatherly protective instincts, said, “Um, other kids can have nuts. Our son can be around them… He just can’t eat them.” Joel defended the class rights to nuts because he doesn’t want to be a party pooper.
Then a dad at the orientation shouted out, “Um, my kid is allergic to broccoli… and basically all vegetables.” He was deep in the sea of parents and I didn’t see who he was, but I will find out. And I will let him have it. Or, more likely, I will just give him a lot of searing looks. Broccoli Dad’s attitude reflects the other major reason why it sucks to have a kid with allergies: I get the feeling sometimes that other parents think we’re just being paranoid or sort of making it up. As if “allergic” means he might get a little rash or some mild sneezing. And we’re just bringing people down for no good reason.
Which isn’t true. When Laszlo was 1 year old, I gave him some mixed nuts and within the next couple of hours, we were at the ER. He started off with a weird and constant sneezing that didn’t stop. Then the shrieking started. Then full-body hives. His face puffed up. Have you ever seen a whole face puff up? It’s scary. His eyelids got so swollen that upper and lower lids met in the middle and his eyes disappeared from view. He gasped for air. By the time we got to the ER, he threw up at the entrance. We were rushed in because his oxygen levels were low. The whole thing was definitely not made up.
We don’t want to ruin the whole party of life with our (delicious) Sun Butter. We’re sorry if you think your nut butters are so important during that half hour of the day. And personally, we’d actually be cool with you bringing your nut butters to school. Laszlo won’t have a reaction to it from its mere presence in the room. But most schools just want to avoid any potential fiasco and keep it away altogether. I’m sorry we’re such party poopers, but I swear that the allergy is a real and a dangerous thing for Laszlo. Well, I apologize to everyone except Broccoli Dad. He was such a jerk about it. — Cassandra Barry