By: Barbara Matousek
Last week I ventured out for our first social function as a family of three. I dressed Sam in his Packer jersey and wrapped Eva in yellow and green. I changed my own clothes a dozen times trying to find something that would make me hate my post-pregnancy body less. I filled the diaper bag with Size-One Pampers and a thick stack of wipes and a bottle of breastmilk and a change of clothes for both children and the camera with a fully charged battery. I always charge the battery before Sam and Lucy get together.
“I love her, mommy. She is my best friend,” Sam had told me the night before as we wrapped her birthday present and made her card.
When we got into the car to head to the party I wasn’t even thinking about Sam’s peanut allergy. I was taking deep breaths and trying to remind myself that it was going to be okay, that I could handle two children out in the world, that if Kate Gosselin can manage eight, I can certainly manage two…especially when one of them can’t walk.
We climbed the steps of the lodge that Lucy’s parents had rented for the party. Sammy held on to the railing with one hand and carried Lucy’s present with the other. (“Can I help her open it, Mommy?”) I carried Eva and the diaper bag. We entered a party filled with soft lighting and pink lollipops and strawberry frosting and toddlers running in every direction. Lucy greeted us as only Lucy can –sure and confident and approachable
–and Sam’s fist immediately gripped the material of my pantsleg. He gave her the present and we hung our coats on the back of a chair.
Eva slept contentedly in the car seat bucket under the pink blanket I’d gotten from the hospital and I tried to encourage Sam to go run with the other kids. I pointed out Gedion and Arie and Quinn, all racing in circles. Sam leaned his head against my leg and said nothing. I told him I was going to catch him, and we chased each other for a while until he was comfortable going off on his own, hiding with the other kids behind the stacks of folding chairs leaned against one wall. I sat near Eva and wondered how anyone could sleep with all the noise. And when Sam sat down to drink pink lemonade out of the can and eat Nerds and Smarties out of the box, I wasn’t thinking about the half-dollar-sized welt a tiny piece of peanut protein had raised on his back six months earlier and the way the doctor had said “Imagine that happening to his throat.” I was listening to Lucy explain that Arie was from the neighborhood and Nora was from Wednesday night Daddy and Me and that girl over there was from Montessori.
And this is where everything becomes a blur for me. I know lollipop centerpieces stood in the middle of every table, and lollipop cookies on sticks were laid out near the kitchen, and in the corner was a gorgeous cake with delicious strawberry frosting. And there were shiny white plates with silver piping around the edges. And the entire room smelled of warm spices and fresh baked bread. But that’s all I really remember in detail after that.
“Hey, Sammy. Go get some treats,” Gedion’s dad said. “Did you see the chocolate covered peanuts?”
And some kind of anxiety that I have never experienced before shot through me.
“Peanuts? There are peanuts here?” I said. “Sammy can’t have peanuts.”
“Oh that’s right,” Gedion’s mom said.
This is the point in the story where I should have stopped and thought to myself, “Okay, find the peanuts and see if we can put them away.”
But I didn’t.
Instead my postpartum hormones took over and I rushed around the room and pushed the peanuts back from the edge of the table and sighed and sweated and hoped that none of the twenty sprinting toddlers would be eating them or carrying them or rubbing them on Sam’s skin. Instead I hovered near Sam all night and thought of his cousin who had gone to the hospital after a peanut reaction…from a kiss. Instead my heart raced and sweat ran down my chest and I had to take off my gray and green Packer sweatshirt. Instead I sat in a chair by the door and felt the enormity of my life fold in on me.
I wanted to leave. I wanted to go home and pull myself into a cocoon and protect my son from peanuts, protect myself from chaos, protect myself from life. But I didn’t.
Here’s the thing I did do right: I stayed. I let my son climb on the metal chairs and roll the balls on the pool table and spin the rods on the fuseball table. I let him eat too much sugar and drink too much pop and lick too much frosting off cake he didn’t really want. I let Sammy be a kid.
The next day at work I talked to a friend whose 11-year-old son has lived with allergies since he was a baby. When Sam was first diagnosed she had given me books and links and advice on Epi-pens and which kind of Benadryl to keep in my purse. She had talked to me about medicalert bracelets and immunotherapy. She had warned me about Dairy Queen and Chinese food and ice cream processed in facilities that process peanuts. The day after Lucy’s party I asked Laura how to handle such a situation, how she deals with it, what she would have done.
“What you have to realize, Barb,” she said, “is that even though Sam’s peanut allergy is very real and very scary to you, it is not even a blip on the radar screen to other people.” She told me to think of all that I had to do to get ready for Sam’s party last month, to think of all the things I had to remember and manage. She reminded me that other people are in the same place dealing with their families, raising their own children, doing the best job they can.
Lucy’s parents love Sammy and they would never do anything to harm him. And he is so much more than a blip on a radar screen to them. They are bend-over-backwards kind and generous to both Sammy and me. They are bend-over-backwards generous to everyone. And they had made sure all the other food they served, including the cake, was peanut-free. But our first outing as a family of three reminded me that I, alone, am fully responsible for my son; I, alone, need to pay attention. I wasn’t prepared for how out of control life could feel when there are two children and one mommy and a body full of post-partum hormones, but with the first adventure out of the way and many lessons learned, I think we’re going to be just fine.