When my son was 21 months old, we took a trip to visit my husband’s family in Buffalo, a 7-hour car ride from our New York City home. We really tried to make this visit count, planning activities, meals, and spending as much time with our relatives as possible. But on one rainy day, when we decided to hit an indoor bouncy playhouse with our kids and their cousins, my toddler almost died. Not from a bad fall off a bouncy slide, but from a snack I gave him. It was a mistake that almost cost my son his life, and after I caught my breath from the ordeal, it made me realize some very important things.
I always hear, “It shouldn’t take a tragedy for you to realize [fill in the blank of whatever horrible thing about yourself you need to fix].” Honestly, though, it’s kind of true. My son is my second child, and my parenting approach has been more relaxed than it was with his older sister. I’ve lived through one toddler, and I’ve learned as a result. The problem was, my kids are two very different people, and I shouldn’t have assumed I could parent them in the same way.
While we kept peanut products away from our daughter until she was over 3 years old, on this trip I had a peanut butter granola bar in my bag. It was from a variety pack, and those were the ones left in the box. My daughter, 4 at the time of this particular trip, wasn’t allergic, and though I didn’t intend to give our son, not quite 2 years old, any peanut products yet, I wasn’t really worried about him being allergic either. No one in our family had a peanut allergy, so my default thinking was that my son wouldn’t have one either.
I was wrong. Dead wrong.
Around mid-morning, he was hungry, and we were about an hour away from having lunch. Breastfeeding him wasn’t going to sate his appetite sufficiently, so I rummaged through the diaper bag for a snack. All I had were the peanut butter granola bars, grabbed in haste as I hustled to get everyone out the door to make the most of our morning. I knew full-well that my son hadn’t ever had a peanut product before in his life, but at this moment I just wanted to be able to feed him.
He started nibbling, enjoying the new flavor. He was about halfway finished with the bar when I saw some red dots starting to appear on his hands. He began rubbing his eyes, but continued munching on the bar. Minutes later, his eyes started swelling up. He clawed at his throat but he wasn’t crying. He looked, well, bad.
I quickly shoved a boob in his mouth, hoping breast milk would start to work its magic while I signaled my husband to come over. “We have to get him to urgent care. I think he’s having an allergic reaction to something.” Something. In reality, I knew exactly what he was having the reaction to.
We coordinated quickly with our in-laws for them to hold on to our daughter while we rushed my son to the urgent care center about 10 minutes away. He was seen quickly, given a mega dose of Benadryl, and kept for observation for over an hour; me sweating and pacing the whole time. My son whined and cried, hungry from missing lunch, and tired from having his nap time delayed. When the swelling subsided, the physician discharged him, ordering us to follow up with our pediatrician when we returned home later that week. Sure enough, when he was tested, we learned our son was deadly allergic to peanuts and requires an Epi Pen wherever he goes.
While my son has no memory of this event, I can replay it in vivid detail. It is etched into my memory, yes, but it hasn’t traumatized me. In fact, it was almost a learning experience. Because of that near-fatal mistake I made, I have learned some very important lessons: