Why I Worry My Kid Won't Get To See His Next Birthday

by Emily Duty
Originally Published: 
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My son is going to be six years old next week. SIX! And instead of celebrating in that knowledge and reminiscing on the many beautiful things we’ve shared together so far, and the many beautiful things we will continue to share together in the future, my incredibly invasive thoughts won’t rest.

What if there isn’t a future? What if this is the last birthday he gets? What if he eats something wrong at school? What if he suffers anaphylaxis? What if they don’t administer his EpiPen in time? What if they do, but it still doesn’t work? What if I lose him?

I can’t lose him.

What if…? What if…? What if…?

To a non-food allergy parent, that probably seems dramatic. And I get it. The thought of food having the capability to kill someone just doesn’t make any sense.

I spent the first several years of my oldest child’s life trying to protect her from the obvious dangers, like heights, speeding cars, predators, and swimming pools. But then, suddenly, I was given a baby who had to be shielded from food? Food is everywhere! How do you protect someone from food?

He might as well be in the Bubble Boy movie. I mean, seriously. Which doesn’t seem nearly as ridiculous to me anymore, by the way. If I could shove him into a bubble, I totally would. I don’t even care. Who needs life experiences? I just need him to stay alive.

I myself grew up with a shellfish allergy, but seafood is far easier to avoid than milk, eggs, peanuts, and tree nuts. Once you start having to scour food labels and call up manufacturers to question production lines, you learn everything has either been cooked with, nearby, or on a shared line with one or all of those things. You also learn some products don’t clearly label them. Or worse, hide them under other ingredient names.

Fine. So, we don’t eat out now. Or if we do, he brings his home-made dinner. We’ve learned how to make “special” pancakes, and cupcakes and “nice creams” so he doesn’t feel left out. And he packs his lunch for school.

But still, there’s this forever looming fear that even though we are doing everything right. Even though he knows what he can’t eat. Even though I’ve drilled him a thousand times. Even though he carries an epi-pen. Even though everyone around him has been trained to administer it. I can’t shake this horrible fear that one day, it won’t be enough.

What if, he gets older and thinks we’ve only been exaggerating all this time. What if he starts to crave a new “normalcy.” What if he lets his guard down. What if he doesn’t double check ingredients. What if he takes a chance on a new restaurant. What if there’s cross-contamination at a trusted products plant. What if he unknowingly kisses someone who has eaten his allergen. What if someone intentionally swaps his food as a mean prank.

What if…? What if…? What if…?

And worst of all, what if I get so caught up in all of these “what if” scenarios that I completely miss out on the right now? What if I miss out on 6?

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