Samantha Yaffe’s frank take on motherhood with allergies
“There’s nothing there.”
“Right, there’s nothing there.”
“I don’t get it, there’s not even milk.”
“Not even milk.”
“Oh, but what’s that little bump?”
“That’s the control test. Proves you didn’t give him an antihistamine before you came in today. That’s the bump you want to see.”
I’m stunned. Speechless. Even still confused. In fewer than five minutes, I’ve gone from being mother of two severely allergic little boys to mother of one 5-year-old riddled with allergies (peanuts, tree nuts, egg, mustard, poppy seeds, kiwi and environmental) and one 2-year-old who was allergic to milk, but now is unexpectedly, inconceivably, miraculously free to eat whatever his little heart desires.
“OH MY GOD!” It sinks in, a bit. Honey looks at me and smiles, subtly but with glee. I temper my elation or, rather, my elation is tempered when I catch a glimpse of older brother Lucas’ back full of welts. I forgot about him for a minute there. His was mostly a re-test and I didn’t expect him to have outgrown his allergies, but we did add shellfish for the first time and I was kind of hoping.… For Lucas, no such luck. Whatever we test him for, he has, in spades.
Judah on the other hand, little Judah who has been allergic to milk since he was three weeks old; who has suffered through what seems like hundreds of pizza parties, chocolate-treat deprivation and acute grill-cheese envy for as long as he can remember; who has also been treated as peanut- and nut-allergic since day one on account of my reluctance to test him until now; who has been told over and over again that he can’t have cow’s milk or he’ll get a really bad tummy ache (aka violent vomiting, diarrhea or worse); whose milk allergy, coupled with all of Lucas’ allergies, has caused us double the hardship, double the concern, double the dinners for more than two years; he now tests negative to all the usual suspects.
As you may recall from an earlier column [Entry No. 5], we chose not to test Judah for anything other than milk, which he’d been reacting to since birth, in an effort to buy ourselves some extra years of bliss. We figured – OK, I figured – our lifestyle was as peanut- and nut-free as possible and that as long as he wasn’t out of our sight, we were armed and ready to deal with any possible reaction. So why test when we could keep ourselves unburdened by the news of more allergies that I expected but didn’t feel ready to handle emotionally? I believed that we were better off not knowing, even if that meant having to treat a non-allergic child as allergic.
Boy, was I wrong. Big time wrong. Instead of spending the past year and a half freed by the knowledge of Judah’s non-allergic condition, we kept the daunting question mark alive and kicking, creating more stress. Still I’ve never been so happy to be wrong.
It has been two weeks since the day of discovery. I still can’t find it in me to give him something without reading ingredients, much less serve him a tall glass of milk or an actual peanut. The milk I’ll have to take slowly anyway. A few sips at a time, the allergist suggested. Don’t want to overwhelm his dairy-free system and still want to remain cautious. As far as the peanuts and tree nuts go, my feeling is that as long as Lucas remains allergic, we are an allergic family – we don’t eat his allergens in the house or in his presence. But cow’s milk is no longer culpable in our home, so you’d think weuo;d be living in a kind of Dionysian dairy fest with yogurt and cheese lining every plate, filling every bowl. Well, we’re not.
Truth is, we all seem to be experiencing a bit of phantom allergy syndrome. The whole notion of having a child without serious allergies is foreign, almost unnatural, to me as a mom. We are totally out of step with this new lifestyle. In a good way. My workload as a mom has literally just been cut in half. My stress load halved as well. I keep telling myself this, telling everyone and anyone who might care (of course not in front of Lucas, who is a little upset by the news but is doing everything in his 5-year-old power to pretend it doesn’t bother him, which of course kills me). But it still feels a bit contrived and unconvincing.
Every few hours I’ll come out with a comment like, “oh my god, we don’t have to meet with the director of his camp to discuss how to modify the menu.” Or, “oh my god, he doesn’t have to take his own cupcake to Dylan’s birthday party.” Or, “oh my god, he’ll be able to live a normal life without fear and paranoia and yearning and EpiPens and antihistamines and milk substitutes and a big red flag sticking out of his forehead.”
“Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god.”
And then it’s these little liberating moments that make it more real every day, like when we’re on a playdate and the mom asks if Judah can have these crackers and I look at the ingredients, see buttermilk listed at the top and say, with full self-consciousness and a deep (oh my god!) breath, “yup, no problem.”